Just south of Valencia lies Europe’s largest freshwater lake, or at least it used to be. I’m not sure if that claim by locals is figured off of the current lake size or what it used to be before much of its circumference became home to the rice paddies that grow the regions paella rice. Which ever the case may be, it’s still an impressive lake and a different kind of way to spend your day while visiting Valencia.
Only 15 minutes from the city, it’s an easy escape from the crowds and the noise. The only crowds you’ll see here are the birds.
1. Do go get lost in a rice paddy. A maze of narrow dirt roads line wide expanses of these flooded fields all along the outside of the lake. Here you’ll find traditional homes sitting randomly throughout the area and tons of blue heron and egrets who feast upon the insects there. The reflections in the water are beautiful. It’s a great place to take a walk, bike ride, or drive. If you love birds, bring binoculars, a camera, or both. DO NOT go with a nearly empty gas tank. The rice paddies are a maze and while getting into them isn’t hard, sometimes getting out can be. Give yourself time and a full tank.
2. Do go to El Palmar and take a boat ride. The only way to see the lake is by boat as there are no paths around it to walk. A typical 45 minute boat ride will cost about 10 Euros/person. The guides can tailor your trip to take photos or do some bird watching. The herons nesting along the water’s edge provide for some phenomenal photo ops as they startle and fly off. Bird enthusiasts will also enjoy the island reserve in the lake, but will need to bring binoculars to see the hundreds of birds resting there. You’ll also see several of these typical homes called barraco with the distinctive triangular shape. Years ago, these were the only homes seen in El Palmar. They’re still found along the outskirts of the lake and among the rice paddies just south.
Boat rides aren’t hard to find. You’ll see many signs as you drive towards El Palmar for “Paseo en Barca.” Stop and ask or reserve ahead if you have a group or want to go at a special time. Sunset rides are amazing. Bring a picnic or a bottle of wine and relax.
We enjoyed our tour by El Tio Pastilla. You can make reservation by calling: 0034-629 675 092
3. Do go to lunch (ask a local where). With the ocean just a couple of kilometers away and fishing abundant in the lake as well, the fish here is absolutely fresh. Normally, I’m not a fan of shell-fish and will just eat a couple to be polite. Today I polished off my half of this plate of tellines happily. They were unlike any shellfish I’ve ever eaten. The waiter told me they are caught fresh that morning and delivered at 1 each day with just enough time for them to “spit out” the sand inside and be cooked by the lunch hour at 2:30. Another favorite: Puntillas. These are tiny squid battered and fried. Delicious. Fresh water eels are quite popular here as well. You’ll see the tubular nets on the edge of the lake made especially to catch these long black anguilas.
We ate at La Sequiota which was recommended by the guy who drove our boat. The food and service were both excellent.