Just over a half-hour drive south from the city of Valencia, is an idyllic, 212-square-kilometre (82-sq.-mile) reserve that includes wetlands, a lagoon, an estuary of the Mediterranean Sea, and Spain’s largest lake. And it truly is one of southern Europe’s foremost eco-wonderlands.
Though locals from surrounding towns engage here in fishing and rice growing (Valencia is after all ground zero for paella and other typical rice dishes), vast swaths are also pristine home to a wide variety of fauna including more than 350 species of avians – especially wading birds such as herons, woodcocks, and purple water hens.
Activities here for visitors include guided tours and hiking/biking routes as well as boat rides on the lake (especially spectacular around sunset). And foremost among the local communities are El Saler (pop. around 1,700) is home to one of the loveliest beaches on Spain’s eastern coast, and charming, lagoonside El Palmar (even tinier, with fewer than 800 permanent residents), which is actually famous in Spanish literature, as the setting for the 1902 novel Cañas y Barro (Reeds and Mud) by the Valencian novelist Vicente Blasco Ibàñez, about the common people of the Albufera. It’s also a great place to sample the aforementioned local dishes, not just paella but also arròs a banda (rice cooked in fish stock, served with alioli, a kind of garlicky mayonnaise), fideuà (like paella but with pasta), all i pebre (stewed eels caught fresh from the lake), and of course right-off-the-boat seafood.
How to get there? Valencia city bus line 25 is the least pricey (just 1.50 euros) stops at El Palmar and another local town called El Perellonet. If that’s a little too “do it yourself”, there’s the hop-on/hop-off Valencia Bus Turístic (adults 30 euros, kids 20 euros), which includes guided tours and a lake boat ride. To drive yourself, take the Carretera del Saler (V-15), which crosses the park and ends at El Saler (another road, the CV-401, goes to the northern section of the Albufera).
More info: VisitValencia.com.