Village life is alive and well in the surprising environs of one of Spain’s busiest trade hubs. We took a stroll through Benimaclet.
Spain’s third-largest city seems like an unlikely place to connect with the spirit of Iberian rural life but Valencia is bursting with surprises. About two million people live in and around this coastal city of orange-tree-lined streets and, though it handles 20 per cent of Spain’s exports as one of Europe’s busiest ports, it maintains a warm connection with the Mediterranean.
Despite the city’s walkable size, many of Valencia’s monuments are larger than life, including the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (City of Arts and Sciences), a futuristic architectural ensemble that cost €1.2bn to construct. Then there are the sculptural artworks known as falles (ranging from 4.5m to 14m in height), which are set alight in a frenetic pyrotechnic display during the annual traditional festes.
Yet a 15-minute walk from the historic city centre, over the gothic Pont de la Trinitat, is Benimaclet, a neighbourhood that retains the spirit and human scale of its days as a village independent from Valencia (the poble of Benimaclet wasn’t officially part of the city until 1882 and had its own mayor until 1972).
The neighbourhood’s distinction from the rest of the metropolis is architecturally evident in its narrow, largely pedestrianised lanes, many of which feature two-storey buildings with art nouveau details, such as façades in trencadís, a type of mosaic often made using glazed-china shards and found materials. These characteristic buildings, known as cases de poble, or “village houses”, are most often private homes that feature an interior garden. “We moved here from an apartment block a few streets away, on the main avenue,” says professor Elena García Testal, who is sitting under the blooming jasmine in her courtyard. “We were so surprised by how quiet it is by comparison. Now we hear birdsong in the mornings rather than traffic.”
Benimaclet address book
The Little Corner B&B
Though Benimaclet does not yet have its own boutique hotel, a quick walk through the University of Valencia’s vibrant campus leads to this inviting spot.Avenida de Suècia, 27
Eat and drink
Chef Jose prepares small plates that update traditional Valencian recipes.
Carrer del Mestre Caballero, 7
Enjoy local interpretations of international dishes on a bustling terraza.
Carrer del Dr Vicent Zaragoza, 28
Letras y Vinos
Sample the tasty regional wine and cheese pairings as selected by the owner.
Carrer del Músic Belando, 15
Limited-edition prints by local artists sit side-by-side with the eye-popping illustrations of unique graphic novels.
Carrer de Benicolet, 2
Vuelta de Tuerca
Come in for a bike rental, leave with a custom frame in a surprising ombre shade. Manuel Cabezudo and Nacho Durá are more than bike sellers; they foster cycling culture through events and collaborations.
Carrer de Ramón Asensio, 14
Centre Instructiu Musical
Mutiple weekly concerts make this the perfect place to step into the local music scene.
Carrer del Baró de San Petrillo, 14
Benimaclet’s Arabic name stems from its history as part of Al-Andalus, the area of the Iberian peninsula that spent seven centuries under Muslim rule. Local alquerias, or farmhouses (from which it is still possible to buy fruit and vegetables directly from producers) were central to the village’s largely agricultural activities.
“Valencia’s allotment gardens are a very important part of our cultural heritage,” says Arturo Sanz, a Benimaclet resident and architect. He takes Monocle on a tour of the community-led horts that provide valuable green space and act as a buffer between the neighbourhood and the city’s busy ring road nearby. “Residents have begun considering that this could be something special; that it might act as a transitional space between the gardens and the city, and that we can create a different type of urban planning here,” he says. The community association that has been managing the horts for 10 years is now working with developers and the local government in the hope of being able to protect them.
Putting down roots
Benimaclet’s prices remain reasonable considering that Valencia’s international airport is just a 20-minute drive away. Estate agent Finkas NG offered some tips for those looking to call Benimaclet home.
Typical costs for:
Two-bedroom apartment: €150,000 to €200,000
Three-bedroom apartment: €170,000 to €350,000
Four-bedroom house: €450,000 to €800,000
134 9 6338 6806
The high number of socially driven initiatives in Benimaclet may be down to the fact that Valencia’s two largest universities are close by, and a high proportion of the area’s residents are academics. La Repartidora, a collaborative bookshop, cultural-event incubator and co-working space, is one such intellectually inclined endeavour. Thanks to 200 paying members and a crowdfunding initiative, La Repartidora recently relocated to an airy space in a former garage. Dario Riccobono, who first came to the neighbourhood from Sicily during an Erasmus year in his university studies, is one of the collective’s members. “During lockdown, people really supported booksellers; we even had to hire an extra member of staff due to the high demand,” says Riccobono. “There are five bookshops in the area; we share strong ties rather than competing with one another.”
For just over a century, another neighbourhood-run institution, the Centre Instructiu Musical (CIM), has been helping residents in Benimaclet to sing from the same hymn sheet. The music school, which has 700 paying members, 150 “artistic members” with access to installations and 30 part-time professors, is home to many ensembles and provides a public entertainment space for concerts on its ground floor, which doubles as a bar and restaurant.
“My wife and I play no instruments but our three daughters all do, thanks to this school,” says Xavi Ginés, CIM’s president. “It is not just about the music, though; it is also about the social aspect.” The banda juvenil accepts beginner musicians of all ages who are learning about the joys of music as a shared experience.
“The neighborhood keeps getting better, with a calmer, more village-like atmosphere,” says resident Antoni Pavia on an amble past Benimaclet’s main plaza and church. “There are interesting activities all day. I’d encourage anyone who moves here to come support the barrio.”