From market to plate there is nothing fresher or more vibrant than Valencian cuisine. The legendary huertas – market gardens, orange groves, paddy fields and Mediterranean orchards – are the city’s larder. Valencian markets are some of the most beautiful in the world; the Gothic silk market is a World Heritage Site.
The tour includes experiences such as market shopping with a Michelin-starred chef, exclusive backroom access to the fish auction at La Lonja in Dénia, and tasting unctuous goat’s milk cheeses dribbled with thyme honey in the mountains. There is hospitality at great bodegas like Casa los Frailes, source of wines served to visiting heads of state at Madrid’s Palacio Real. There are also low-key everyday experiences – a refreshing horchata, a tiger nut milk pick-you-up; an Aqua de Valencia, a fresh orange-based cocktail; and rifling the wine cellar, feasting on organic potatoes and nibbling at a perfectly burnt brandade at Casa Montaña, arguably the best bar in the world.
Valencian cuisine is both ancient and new. Wind-dried octopus prepared to a 3,000-year-old Phoenician recipe is a revelation, as are the sweet luxury of almond biscuits accompanied by an ice cold Moscatel. The Moors held the Levante for 400 years and the phantom flavours live on. We feel the weight of Borgia rule and the Naples connection, and taste history with alioli-steeped fideuà – Europe’s first pasta dish? There are Baroque splendours, shimmering Valencian tiles and the hedonistic sun-drenched canvases of Joaquín Sorolla. There are back streets and museums and hideaway cafés to be explored: the Jewish call, the Almohad Arab walls, the twelfth-century Christian settlement. Dénia’s museum contains artefacts from the Romans and the Iberians, who were pressing wine 5,000 years ago. The final lunch is provided by 3-star Michelin chef Quique Dacosta, a whirlwind of inventive brilliance, theatre and caprice.
Listed in the Sunday Telegraph's 10 Great Ways to see Spain
Valencia. Fly at c. 11.45am from London Gatwick to Valencia (British Airways). First of three nights in Valencia.
Valencia. Peruse the produce in the fine modernista-style Mercado Central with a Michelin-starred chef, to learn his zero-kilometre philosophy. Mercado Colón is home to the Ricard Camarena cooking laboratory, where there is a cooking demonstration followed by lunch. Evening brings a private visit to the IVAM (Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno) with its superb collection of cubist sculpture by Julio González.
Valencia. Visit the Museum of Fine Arts, one of the best in Spain, with works by Valencian, Spanish and Flemish masters; and the National Ceramics Museum, housed in its exuberantly Churrigueresque palace. Paella originates from La Albufera, a freshwater lagoon nearby on the Gulf of Valencia. Taste this authentic rice dish, cooked over a wood fire, before a sunset cruise on a traditional fishing boat. Dinner is in La Sucursal (1-star Michelin) housed in the Veles e Vents building on the Marina.
Fontanars dels Alforins, Cocentaina. Leave Valencia and drive south, stopping at Fontanars dels Alforins for a wine tasting at the prestigious Casa los Frailes. Continue to Cocentaina, located between the Sierra de Mariola and Serpis river, for lunch at the family-run L’escalata restaurant (1-star Michelin). Drive to the coast for the first of four nights in Dénia.
Gandia. Dating from the 14th century and home to the Borgias, the Palacio Ducal de Gandia displays Gothic architecture, with Renaissance and Baroque additions. Gandia is also where the dish fideuà originated, a noodle dish usually cooked with seafood. Return to Dénia in time for the arrival of the fishing boats and exclusive access to the fish auction.
Dénia, Parcent. A morning walk takes in the historical centre of Dénia, including the 11th-century Moorish Castle. Ascend into the mountains through orange and almond groves to Parcent for a wine tasting, cooking demonstration and lunch at Bodegas Gutiérrez de la Vega, a family-run business famous for their sweet Moscatel wine.
Dénia. The morning is free. Take a walk before lunch along the impressive coastline of Las Rotas before continuing to Quique Dacosta’s restaurant (3-star Michelin). Dacosta combines local, seasonal produce with cutting-edge creativity and technique.
Drive north to Valencia for a tapas lunch at Casa Montaña and a walk through Calatrava’s science park. The evening flight arrives into London Gatwick at c. 9.30pm. Participants combining this tour with A Festival of Music in Toledo take the AVE (high speed train) from Valencia to Madrid (c. 1 hour 40 minutes) and then travel by coach to Toledo (c. 1 hour), arriving c. 10.00pm.
Gijs van Hensbergen
Art historian and author specialising in Spain and the USA. His books include The Sagrada Familia (2017), Gaudí, In the Kitchens of Castile and Guernica and he has published in the Burlington Magazine and Wall Street Journal. He read languages at Utrecht University and Art History at the Courtauld, and undertook postgraduate studies in American art of the 1960s. He has worked in England, the USA and Spain as exhibitions organiser, TV researcher and critic and is a Fellow of the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies at the LSE.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £3,290 or £3,160 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,560 or £3,430 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller, economy class) British Airways (Airbus 320); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation; breakfasts; 7 lunches and 2 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all wine and food tastings; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer.
SH Hotel Inglés, Valencia: a 4-star hotel installed in an 18th-century palace in a very central location next to the National Ceramics Museum. Rooms for single occupancy have queen-size beds. La Posada del Mar, Dénia: a 4-star hotel located near the historic centre and overlooking the harbour.
Coach access is restricted in historical centres and there is a fair amount of walking and standing around in museums, vineyards and at cooking demonstrations. Dinners tend to be at 8.30 or 9.00pm in Spain, so you might get to bed later than you usually would. Average distance by coach per day: 40 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.