Everyone who’s heard of it insists that, if given the opportunity, you MUST experience Valencia’s Las Fallas festival, a crazy Spanish competition of hand-made paper monuments that results in large public burnings and incomprehensibly loud explosions. Apparently it’s crazy – something you have to see.
I, however, tend to shy away from chaotic environments and don’t really get the point. Maybe if the event is relevant to my interests, culture, or experiences it’d be worth the trouble, but spectacle-hunting is not my thing. Further, even though I’d planned to see Valencia a week before Las Fallas officially began, the entire month of March is festive, with daily fireworks in a central plaza and carts set up at practically every street corner selling freshly fried buñuelos. I’d originally planned to spend five nights there, exploring the different neighborhoods, trying different restaurants, and attending Couchsurfing events, but the festivities clogged up all the accommodations, and there was no place to stay. I’d wanted to visit Xátiva, a small town of about 30,000 roughly an hour outside of Valenica, anyway, so I set up shop there and made Valencia a (too short and rainy) day trip.
Xátiva is in the middle of a cluster of tiny towns. My host lived in L’Alcudia de Crespins, which is a different place than Canals, where she proudly says she’s from, even though it’s just a couple of blocks away. She was an enthusiastic host, who rallied her friends to give me tours, take me hiking, and cook and eat dinner with me. It was definitely a team effort, and consequently, I saw several towns that are so small and so close that I wouldn’t have been able to distinguish them. Some only span the length of a 1km street which includes a town hall, a church, and enough houses to call it a distinct locale. The roads are so narrow in places that order depends on someone pulling off the road to allow oncoming traffic. And we had to stop at one point to allow the flock of lambs to cross, herded by an old man and his small dog. These were interesting experiences, but what the smallness of Xátiva really meant for me was that the activities available were more about meeting people with very different lifestyles from my own, exchanging stories, and appreciating the beautiful landscape.
My favorite thing there, besides hearing the personal accounts of the towns from my various tour guides, was walking through the area around La Cova Negra, through small mountains, past several caves, and along the river.
Xátiva itself is small and quiet — a place where the rhythm of life occurs naturally and with no thought for the few tourists wandering around. Perhaps not quite understanding that I was content to just hang out and walk around, my hosts seemed at a loss for how to entertain me, given the small tourism presence. The good news is that there actually is tourism infrastructure in place. The bad news is that the economic crisis left it unattended. Even the brand new tourist information office is never open.
We did take one afternoon to climb to Xátiva’s castle. I couldn’t say when it was built, or anything about it really. It’s kind of a testament to how little the city is touristed. Even the internet isn’t helpful, there are just some vague mentions of Iberian, Roman, Moorish contributions. Regardless, it’s an interesting, crumbling castle, from which you can look back down on the town, the seemingly endless orange groves, and out to the mountains.
And, as with everything in Spain: if it’s not on a tile, it’s not real: