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Gandia, An Alternative and Relatively Unknown Destination on the Spanish Costas
The Town of Gandia
Last night at about half past six, It was a Saturday night, we had nothing planned, we had been working during the day and were bored.
Now we live a few miles inland on area of Spain that is variously described as the Northern Costa Blanca, Costa Valencia or Costa Azahar, more precisely it is in a little known area called La Safor. The nearest town is also a relatively unknown place called Gandia.
So we decided to go into town and just go for a stroll. Now Gandia is a town of about two hundred thousand people and I would estimate that at least a quarter of them were also out last night.
The shops were open and busy, the City Centre playground was full of chattering children and others just learning to ride their bicycles, the pavement cafés were heaving with friends and families eagerly chatting, as only the Spanish can. There were groups of teenagers, totally unthreatening, just having what seemed to be innocent fun.
We strolled down the main Paseo, a tree lined Grand Avenue with fountains, ample seating under the trees and fancy paving, it was heaving with people, a local guitar duo were playing to the public from a gazebo, there were stalls selling books and the roadside cafés over-spilled onto the central area of the Paseo. We went past the Cultural Palace with its gardens that are used during the summer for outdoor concerts, past the main town theatre, both venues proudly proclaiming that Gandia is Valencia’s City of Culture.
A uniformed drum marching band went past, led by a boy holding a tall pennant, people were falling in behind them, eagerly taking pictures on their mobile phones.
As we wandered, the restaurants were just setting up, most of them would not start serving customers until about ten o’clock in the evening.
Down the Carrer Major, the main shopping street, groups of people were stopped just chatting, whilst children stood close to their parents eagerly chatting amongst themselves. There were several buskers, of a vastly differing standard, but the last one we heard was a fantastic Flamenco Guitarist.
We passed by the famous Borgia Palace, which was still open for visitors and onto the Plaça Major, the main square with its Grand Town Hall. We stopped at a pavement café for a glass of wine and a tapas of thinly sliced Iberico ham and olives. We sat there for a good half an hour just soaking up the atmosphere.
Oh and I do not think there was a single tourist in town last night.
I should also explain that I am writing this in the middle of November. Yesterday during the day the weather had been beautifully warm, around 75 degree farenheit in my garden, so warm that I had actually had a doze outside in the warm sun. Last night, yes, there was a slight chill in the air, but provided you wore a jacket then it was easily warm enough to sit outside in the night air (one thing that makes me laugh with the Spanish, is that if the weather is anywhere below stinking hot, you will find them wrapped up wearing winter coats, hats and scarves).
Grau de Gandia (Port)
Gandia has two distinct areas, the town, which encompasses the old town where we were last night and the port and beach area, the southernmost point is the fishing port and dock. This area is actually called Grau de Gandia and is a couple of kilometres from the town itself.
And though the south side of the docks are what you would expect
of a working dockside area, the north side is developed with bars, restaurants
and shops. It is another lovely area for an alternative early evening stroll
Head down towards the sea from the Grau, and the first thing you
see, where the road turns to the left is the Real Club Nautico de Gandia. The
range of boats and yachts in the marina is pretty impressive though does not
accommodate the superyacths ones sees in places like Palma de Mallorca.
It is from this area that the new ferry to Ibiza departs.
Following the road past the Marina, the impressively wide beach begins and goes on for miles. Pure golden sand, backed by a broadwalk, which is lined with tall palm trees. Behind this is the road, and on the opposite side of the road to the beach are numerous shops, restaurants and pristine apartment buildings.
The beach scene is broken up with occasional white wooden Chiringuitos, beach bars, where you can sit and enjoy a coffee or a beer, together with occasional Miami style Lifeguard lookout posts.
Gandia is unusual in that the vast majority of its’ tourists are from other areas of Spain, places like Madrid. Now the Spanish invariably take their holidays in the months of July and August, when it is just too hot to work. So Gandia is really busy for those two months and then pleasantly quiet for the rest of the year. For me it is too hot to roast myself on the beach in July and August anyway
No visit to Gandia would be complete without mentioning the food. Gastronomically Valencia is a unique area, as it is the home of what many believe to be Spain‘s National dish, Paella. A dish borne of poverty, and yet despite its humble origins as a lunchtime dish for the workers in the fields, this one pot meal has now been altered and refined and now graces the tables of many fine restaurants.
Close to Gandia, you will find the numerous rice fields on the coastal plain before you reach the mountains. Rice that is often used in Paellas and its numerous off-spring, dishes like Arroz Abanda, Arroz a la Horno or the very filling Putxero.
Gandia is also renowned for its Fideuà de Gandia. Apparently the legend has it, that a cook on a fishing boat once forgot to load the rice for the Paella. In desperation he found some macaroni style pasta on board and used that instead of rice. This dish is generally served with seafood and cooked in a seafood broth.
Of course, Ganda has its usual mix of Chinese, Italian, Pizzerias and Mexican restaurants, though annoyingly it does not have an Indian restaurant (the piquant spice is not generally to the Spanish peoples' liking).
One thing you will soon realise about the Spanish is that their eating habits are totally different to most other Nations.
The main meal will often be at a late lunchtime, where many restaurants will offer a Menu del Dia (menu of the day). Expect to pay between eight and fifteen euros for a three course lunch, possibly including wine/beer and a dessert or coffee. Move slightly away from the coast, even to the old town of Gandia and you will get great value for money.
It also must be said that any self-respecting Spaniard would not eat a Paella of an evening. They believe it is just too heavy.
Meals also tend to be more expensive of an evening.
The Spanish, of course love to party and Gandia is no exception.
What is great about their fiestas is, that they are normally for everyone. Most do not really kick off properly until after ten o’clock at night and yet you will see families with small children, people who have work the next day and Grandparents all out enjoying themselves.
The fiestas are many and varied, not just in Gandia, but go to the surrounding towns and they will have completely different fiestas on other dates!
Here are some of Gandia’s best:
Fallas - Basically about 23 local ‘committees’ design and have built a Ninot, a huge cartoon type statue up to 10 metres high, made of cork or paper mache. These brightly coloured creations are invariably satirising some famous person (though unfortunately the information tends to be in the Valenciano language , so is somewhat lost on me).
The main date for this is nineteenth March and in the weeks leading up to the grand event, an array of very loud fireworks are let off daily.
In the week before the main date the Ninots are put out onto the streets at various locations around town, making navigation around the town 'interesting'
Now, here is the great part, on the main night, accompanied by fireworks galore, music and dancing, they set fire to all of these statues.
The fires are incredible, and are so close to the buildings, that the fire brigades have to hose down the buildings to stop them catching fire.
Last March a friend, who is a retired fireman, came to this fiesta, it is fair to say, that he was in a state of shock for days afterwards.
San Juan 23rd June and we have the night of San Juan.
Basically everyone along the whole coast heads to the beach and has a party
with bonfires and barbeques, then at midnight, everyone is expected to jump
through the fire and then go into the sea and jump three waves. Please do not
ask me why, but it was good fun.
Fira y Festes This is a huge fiesta which takes place in the days
running up to 3rd October.
Medieval markets, street food, buskers, full bands, marching bands, and a massive funfair. This really has the lot.
Inland from Gandia
A short drive inland from Gandia and you are in the heart of the La Safor Region, a beautiful verdant area of orange groves and mountains. Small villages abound, each with its own personality. The locals are gregarious and where they can speak any other language they are more than pleased to show off their skills. In this region there is walking, Cycling and mountaineering amongst a plethora of other sports. The area is also noted for being on the Migratory routes, so is a must for bird watchers.
There are also historical castles and monasteries to visit as well as some pretty unique bars and restaurants.
If you visit this area be sure to bring a camera!
© 2017 Dave Proctor