Order what you like … so long as it’s rice

Valencia is paella’s capital city. And l’Albufera is its birthplace. Here’s why.

When I was last in Valencia, I was captivated by Albufera Natural Park, with its dunes, Mediterranean forest, and above all, the immense lagoon of the Albufera. Water is king. I had to show Malcolm.

Once, l’Albufera was open sea. Rivers such as the Turia dragged silt and mud to the coast, and gradually this patch of sea became a lake. A saltwater lake. Aquifers beneath gradually sweetened the water. And over the centuries, man intervened, claiming shallow waters for paddy fields. Rice, rice and more rice grows here. Here’s a paddy field, resting for the winter.

Water both shallow and deep ensures this place is a Mecca for birds. Northern birds fly south to winter here, birds from Africa come too.

Locals spend their summers cultivating rice, and their winters fishing the rich waters of the lagoon for carp, eels and other fish, sharing their catch with the bird life.

We explored some of the park before moving on to the small town at the edge of the lagoon, El Palmar. No need to ask what we had for lunch. There were all kinds of paella on the menu, but paella it was. Eaten in the open air – 18° in January seems miraculous to us.

Then a boat trip. We had to have a boat trip. Restful, restorative…. a wonderful afternoon, shared with herons, egrets, cormorants and all kinds of ducks. A truly special day. Camera photos once I get home. For now, we’ll make do with the phone.

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