Where once a river ran through it, now 9 kms of park snake through the heart of the city. The Editor explores Valencia’s green belt by bike, finishing the day at the sensational City of Arts and Sciences…

It’s T-shirt weather in Valencia in December, as I pedal from my hotel to the nearby Turia Gardens, a nine kilometre long stretch of parkland with a surprising history. This diverse urban space has been slowly developed over the last 30 or so years along the dry bed of the river Turia, after authorities redirected its course further south following severe flooding in 1957, changing the city’s landscape forever.

In fact I am no stranger to the Turia, as I have fond memories of playing football and hanging out in these gorgeous gardens during the summer I spent in Valencia in 2005 – but I only saw a small portion of them back then. Today it’s my self-appointed mission to run the whole green gamut by bike, heading first west until I reach the new Bioparc on one end and then doubling back on myself to arrive at the world famous City of Arts and Sciences on the far east of the park before sunset. I want to see everything these gardens have to offer, and hopefully get an insight into why they form such an important part of Valencia’s life and identity today.

This diverse urban space has been slowly developed over the last 30 or so years along the dry bed of the river Turia…

Maybe because it’s a holiday today, but when I descend from street level into this depressed leafy strip I’m surprised by the number of joggers and cyclists out for a spin. We outnumber casual strollers by far, with the joggers flooding the inner lanes (often with dogs happily trotting along in tow), and cyclists zipping quickly along the outside ones… it’s all very organised. The gardens’ large network of walking/jogging/cycling paths criss-cross over and around scenic patches of grass, shrubs, flower beds and trees and plenty of funky urban architecture as well, and it’s a fun ride weaving in and out of lanes – and it’s not so busy that anyone cares if a cyclist meanders along on an interior path, or a pedestrian dares to step onto a bike path.

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A rollerskating jam named… Tuesday

As I pootle along, stopping every now and again to take photographs or to peel off another layer of clothes on this warm winter day, I enjoy my submerged perspective of the city, ducking under both medieval and modern bridges (including the Calatrava-designed Alameda Bridge and Metro Station), and espying centuries-old church bells and spires glinting in the sunshine on either side of me.

I stop for a while at each to breath in the atmosphere of dreams, camaraderie and glory that exude from the turf.

Amongst the many leisure pursuits on display, I pass people playing volleyball, basketball and boules, practicing yoga, slacklining and strength-training, having an amateur photo session, or simply enjoying a picnic and a lie down; plus there are an abundance of designated play areas for children fitted out with climbing frames, slides, swings and skateboard ramps. The gardens are also wide enough to accommodate serious sports facilities, and along my way I also pass full-sized football pitches, a beautiful athletics track and even a baseball field. There’s not much going on a bank holiday like today, but I stop for a while at each to breath in the atmosphere of dreams, camaraderie and glory that exude from the turf.

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Field of dreams, sweat and glory.

That so many important facilities for the life of the city are situated within this verdant urban belt makes it hard to believe that this park nearly didn’t exist. “The first project for the old river wasn’t any garden; the first thing they wanted to build was a highway in the middle of the old river. But because democracy came back to Spain in the ’70s many people went to the streets asking for many things and in Valencia they said: the river Turia is ours, and we want it green.”

“…democracy came back to Spain in the ’70s many people went to the streets asking for many things and in Valencia they said: the river Turia is ours, and we want it green.”

This snippet from Valencia’s history was told to me by Alejandro, a native to the city who works as a tour guide. He is one of many modern Valencians who are very grateful for their parents’ role in bringing to life this vast recreation space. “Thanks to that generation we enjoy the nine kilometres garden that is used especially now days for running, jogging and a lot of sport – it’s a really nice place and we can enjoy it practically the whole year.”

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A poignant war memorial.

As I continue on my journey west I come across something I definitely wasn’t expecting: a miniature lake. Ducks bob along by the reeds in the expectation of being fed, and one man is steering a remote controlled submarine in the water’s murky depths. There’s also a cafe, with that rare facility: a Valencian public toilet. A well timed appearance!

Ducks bob along by the reeds in the expectation of being fed, and one man is steering a remote controlled submarine in the water’s murky depths.

Just by the lake is a small amphitheatre and something is going on… I clamber up a grassy knoll with my bike to get a look and find a waggish entertainer enthralling kids with a comedy/magic crossover performance. Sadly for my inner child the show is soon over though, so I press on. In fact I press on a little too far, accidentally exiting the Turia, as I’m not able to locate the Bioparc, which my map assures me is at the end of the gardens. Finally someone points me on my way, and I locate the entrance, but whilst I’d love to stop and check out this innovative zoo, where natural landscaping forms the enclosures, rather than cages, the short daylight hours of December mean I have to start heading back to my final destination, the City of Arts and Sciences.

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Man vs. lizard at hide and seek.

The going is quicker this time, although not without some surprises. At one point a handsome little lizard, buoyed no doubt by the unseasonally warm temperatures, challenges me to a game of hide and seek around a gnarled tree trunk. I get a good photo of him before he plays his trump card and disappears into a hole.

…a handsome little lizard, buoyed no doubt by the unseasonally warm temperatures, challenges me to a game of hide and seek…

Later I am passing back under the Puente de Serranos for the second time today when I hear the sound of music and laughter and decide to climb up onto street level to see what’s going on. A large group of 20- and 30-somethings are holding an impromptu swing session, blasting music out of a stereo and dancing in the twin shadows of the Torres de Serranos (well worth climbing these for views over Valencia by the way, which I did at a later date – it’s free with a tourist card!). I linger for a while to enjoy the atmosphere.

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It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing…

Next I pass a dusty open field where I recall playing one or two games of football with my fellow language school students back in 2005. In fact I distinctly remember forming a formidable defensive partnership with a towering Icelandic girl, who, as well as being a more commanding aerial presence, was also stronger and technically better than me. Ha! At any rate, we were reminiscent of Campbell and Toure in their prime!

I try to peer through the leaves to see what breed of mutant squirrel is causing all this kerfuffle…

After this nostalgic flashback my next mini-adventure occurs when, further down the park, I hear a loud rustling high up in a thickly foliaged, column-shaped tree. I try to peer through the leaves to see what breed of mutant squirrel is causing all this kerfuffle when two booted shoes descend from the boughs to my eye level. Wtf? I step back and allow this tree-dwelling tramp to drop back down to earth. He looks at me suspiciously, sits down about 10 metres away and lights up a cigarette. I pretend to take some photos of some nearby plants before awkwardly going on my way.

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View over the Turia
View over the Turia

Next I come to one of my favourite spots in the Turia so far. A wonderfully peaceful set of neo-Grecian (as I will dub them) stoas bookending a shallow rectangular lake, which in turn reflects the form of the Palace of Music that overlooks this part of the park. A blonde girl is reclining against a pillar studying in the last of the afternoon sunlight. Not a bad spot to brush up on your notes, I think to myself.

This vast colourful sculpture in the form of Jonathan Swift’s trussed adventurer serves as a playground for Valencia’s children to clamber over…

By now I can see the City of Arts and Sciences in the background and I am keen to get there before the light goes, but I do stop for a second to check out “Gulliver”. This giant fibreglass sculpture in the form of Jonathan Swift’s trussed adventurer serves as a playground for Valencia’s children to clamber over – before sliding down his limbs and hair. I am tempted to join in but there are no bikes allowed and a security dude tells me to park mine or leave… which is my cue to get a groove on.

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Gallivanting over poor Gulliver.

And suddenly there she is right before me… the most beautiful example of urban design I have ever laid eyes on. Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences.

And suddenly there she is right before me… the most beautiful example of urban design I have ever laid eyes on. Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences.

This magnificent mini-metropolis within a metropolis was designed by the Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava and is the undoubtedly the cynosure of the city (…and would be even if you transported it to London, Paris or New York!). It is a uniform ensemble of eye-catching buildings all with a distinct purpose. They include El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, which serves as a performing arts centre and is reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House. L’Hemisfèric, an IMAX theatre, its curves tracing the shape of an eye. El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe which is the largest building, almost skeletal in form, that houses a three floored interactive science museum. L’Umbracle, a landscaped walk with indigenous plants and modern sculptures. L’Àgora, a midnight blue coloured forum for concerts and sporting events. And finally L’Oceanogràfic, the largest oceanographic aquarium in Europe designed in the shape of a water lily (this time by Felix Candela) with 500 different species including dolphins, walruses, sea lions, seals, penguins, turtles, sharks and rays.

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Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía Valencia
Worth the plane fare alone!

The whole city is one congruous urban space with water features reflecting forms that seem at once earthly and organic and at the same time otherworldly and divine. Desperate to take it all in I find myself hurrying around the entire perimeter trying to catch everything with my lens before the light completely fails on me. Eventually, with at least a couple of good shots on the memory card, I decide that, having made it all the way here, I’d better go inside. With some difficulty I find the bike parking (which is with the large, but discreetly disguised, car parking) and head to the science museum. Sadly I have only got time for a brief jaunt around (in any case it’s my second visit), but I do enjoy playing several of the interactive games designed to demonstrate to visitors some of the more curious principles of physics, and I’m also taken by the exhibits on radio and communication which even feature a German enigma coding machine from WWII.

The whole city is one congruous urban space with water features reflecting forms that seem at once earthly and organic and at the same time otherworldly and divine.

When I come out at dusk I snap another shot or two before heading to the L’Hemisferic to catch The Flight of the Butterflies movie. Strapping on my futuristic headgear, I lean back in my chair to enjoy the incredible migration of the Monarch butterfly in surround sound and vision. An hour later and it’s now completely dark, although the City of Arts and Sciences looks just as majestic… but this time ghostly and ethereal as its flowing forms are subtly underlit with white and red lights. I take one more photo before pedalling back through the hushed park to my hotel, thoroughly exhausted but happy. That my friends was one hell of a ride.

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The Agora Valencia

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Goodnight Valencia! You’ve been gorgeous!

Duncan travelled to Valencia with The Travel Mob, on invitation of the Valencia Tourist Board, who have a tonne of great advice on their website as well as on their blog. He stayed at the Hospes Palau de la Mar 5 Star Hotel and is grateful to Solution Bike who delivered his wheels to the hotel (and collected them again at the end of the day).

You can check out even more stories on Valencia here, or on The Travel Mob’s Valencia page (coming soon!). Plus you might just enjoy this video below introducing not only the Turia Gardens but nine more of the city’s best sights:

3 thoughts on “Valencia’s Turia Gardens: Riding The Riverbed

  1. The city of Valencia is very beautiful! Apart from the eye-catching architecture I love the Turia Gardens better! Having such a lush green and beautifully maintained park gives a relaxing feeling.

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