Visitors to Valencia inevitably end up going in search of the best paella in Valencia.
After all, the iconic Spanish rice dish hails from Spain’s third largest city, making a trip to Valencia without paella the same as a trip to Mexico without tequila.
However, what most people visiting Valencia don’t know is that the best paella in Valencia is not actually in the city centre, but in a small village in the middle of the Albufera Natural Park called El Palmar.
After almost 12 months of living in Valencia, I decided that it was finally time to visit Albufera Natural Park and El Palmar to see what all the fuss was about, and trust me when I say that I did not regret my decision.
If you’re visiting Valencia and want to discover the origins of Valencian cuisine while connecting with nature and exploring a sleepy Spanish pueblo, just keep reading because this one is for you.
Albufera Natural Park and El Palmar, Valencia – Home of Paella
Albufera Natural Park
Albufera Natural Park (Parc Natural de l’Albufera in Spanish) is one of the most valuable coastal wetlands in the Mediterranean basin and home to the largest lake on the Iberian peninsula.
The colossal freshwater lagoon is separated by the Mediterranean Sea by the pine trees sand dunes of Saler, and one of the most popular things to do in La Albufera is to enjoy a boat ride at sunset (which we’ll get to later!).
With rice paddies, hiking trails and over 350 species of birds to spot, Albufera Natural Park spans over 21,000 hectares and is a true escape from the hustle and bustle of Valencia.
El Palmar, Valencia
El Palmar is a sleepy fishing village in the middle of La Albufera, just 15km from the city of Valencia.
It is an island surrounded by rice paddies and vegetable gardens, and people have actually been fishing in the area since prehistoric times!
Lining the streets are dozens of restaurants specialising in paella and other rice dishes, and no matter when you choose to visit El Palmar, you are sure to see Spanish families sitting outside on plastic chairs, sharing huge portions of paella, drinking local wine and enjoying the sunshine.
In fact, despite having a population of only 755 people (2017), El Palmar Valencia is actually home to 30 restaurants, showing just how much love the village has for its food!
Every day it welcomes tourists, both international and Valencian, yet despite its growing popularity, the village of El Palmar has retained its charm, with fishermen and rice farmers going about their business as usual.
To reach El Palmar Valencia, Ethan and I took the number 24 bus from the city centre directly to El Palmar.
The drive was around 40 minutes with lovely countryside views, and we were dropped off right at the edge of the village.
El Palmar itself is very small and you will have probably seen most of it in 10 minutes. It makes the tiny town of nearby Oliva look comparatively huge!
Stroll by the canal, admire the traditional tilework on the old Spanish houses, and see if you can spot any barracas.
Barracas are the traditional fishermen’s houses in the area. Made from materials easily found in the area such as mud, reeds, cane and straw, barracas are few and far between these days, but they really are pretty.
Once you’ve had a nice walk around the village, it’s time to get down to business – food.
Paella and more in El Palmar Valencia
Ethan and I had lunch booked at one of the most popular restaurants in the village, Restaurante La Albufera.
We had found a great deal on Groupon that included a full meal and boat trip, but even if you don’t manage to snag a Groupon deal, I still recommend this restaurant anyway as it isn’t expensive and the food was delicious.
To start, we shared four tapas plates – Valencian tomato carpaccio, steamed mussels in garlic butter, deep fried squid and Iberian ham croquettes.
Of course, I forgot to take a picture of the squid because I was too busy eating it!
We were then able to choose one rice dish from the menu to share as a main course (paella is always shared in Spain).
Although the traditional paella Valenciano is made with chicken, rabbit and beans, we decided to go for the seafood paella instead (paella de marisco) as La Albufera is also famous for its delicious fresh seafood.
Despite us both later lamenting our decision to not get Valencian paella whilst in the literal home of Valencian paella, we thoroughly enjoyed our seafood paella, and I have to concede that it is indeed the best I’ve ever had.
Not only was the seafood plentiful and fresh, but the socarrat (the crispy, caramelised rice on the bottom of the pan) was toasted to perfection, and the flavour was exquisite.
Regardless of the fact that the seafood paella is not the ‘original’ paella, the fact that it was made by El Palmar locals in the traditional way meant that it really didn’t matter, and besides, I’m sure Valencians in years gone by were partial to a bit of seafood too!
We ended our meal with cheesecake and finished our bottle of rosé wine (Ethan likes red and I prefer white, so we compromised).
It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed watching the locals and tourists, equally relaxed as they wandered around the village enjoying the sunshine.
A boat trip on La Albufera lagoon
As I mentioned earlier, taking a boat trip is one of the most popular things to do in La Albufera Natural Park.
Most people like to do this at sunset, but unfortunately we were given a slot right after our lunch, so our boat left the dock at 4:30pm.
There are several boat companies that you can enjoy a trip with. All last around 40 minutes and cost 6 EUR if you don’t pre-book, and 5 EUR if you book online first.
Ours was included in our Groupon deal (we paid 40 EUR for two boat trips and lunch for two with wine), and so we strolled down past the various companies lining the canal until we found the one that we had a reservation with.
There were only a handful of other people on our tiny wooden boat, and the lady steering us pointed out various points of interest on our journey such as the traditional barracas, the Valencian skyline in the distance, and several ducks – over 350 types of bird and we only found some ducks!
Although Ethan was bored after approximately 27 seconds (it takes a lot to get him away from his PlayStation), I really enjoyed the boat trip, and despite not being able to catch sunset, it was lovely to feel the sun on my skin after the wettest Spanish March in 72 years!
Getting to Albufera Natural Park and El Palmar Valencia
As I mentioned earlier, El Palmar Valencia is super easy to reach.
El Palmar will take you around 30 minutes to reach by car, or you can take the number 24 bus from Navarro Reverter which will take 40 minutes.
Bus tickets are 1.50 EUR each way, and you can buy tickets directly from the EMT app.
Accommodation in El Palmar Valencia
Most people visit El Palmar as a day trip from Valencia, and one day is definitely enough to get a feel for El Palmar and La Albufera Natural Park.
However, if you want to really disconnect with city life, there are a couple of options close by.
Casa Pescadores de Vallterra is a 5km walk from the village of El Palmar, just steps away from the quiet Recati Beach. It has a roof terrace where you can enjoy dinner with sea views and is beautifully decorated inside. With five bedrooms, Casa Pescadores is the perfect place for a summer holiday for all the family.
Apartamento Calipso is also located near Recati Beach, and is a sunny, two-bedroom apartment with a balcony and gorgeous sea views.
Albufera Natural Park and El Palmar, Valencia | Final Thoughts
Albufera Natural Park and El Palmar Valencia make a great day trip from the city of Valencia.
Whether you want to connect with nature or dive headfirst into traditional Valencian cuisine, you won’t be disappointed with a trip to El Palmar.
Thank you so much for reading this post and as always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section below!
Until next time,
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