Valencia is more than the home of paella and oranges: this thriving metropolis boasts attractive modern architecture, some of the best open-air beach bars and cafés in Spain, and easy access to the Balearic Islands. The stretch of perfect sand between Valencia and Alicante is Spain’s famous Costa Blanca, a vacation paradise.
Size and Feel
Valencia is Spain’s third-largest city, with 750,000 people (2003). The city plays an important industrial role in Spain, but has neither the thriving international community nor the economic prosperity of Barcelona, its neighbor to the north. As a result, Valencia feels more like one large city than a collection of neighborhoods. However, the University district provides a natural home for students who want to study in Valencia, giving them a smaller area to call home.
Alicante, on the other hand, is a much smaller city with only 285,000 people. It has recently transformed into an attractive destination for students and tourists, bringing economic prosperity and a cultural infusion to this provincial port town.
Spanish Language Situation
In the Valencia region, home to both the cities of Valencia and Alicante, Castilian Spanish and Valencian are both official languages. Valencian is quite similar to Catalan, spoken in Barcelona. The education system in the area has tended recently toward a bilingual approach, making most Valencian residents fluent in both languages.
As a student in Valencia, you will be immersed in a mixture of the two languages. While most people you will meet will speak Spanish as you are learning it, they will also converse with each other in Valencian. This regional bilingualism can make penetrating the Valencian social scene more difficult.
Seasonal Variations and Climate
Valencia is a humid region, making the weather generally less pleasant than the southern coast. However, the climate is fairly temperate year-round, with ideal conditions in fall and spring. The summer brings an influx of tourists to the coast, especially affecting smaller towns like Alicante.
Valencia and Alicante are very different despite their proximity. Together, they share some points of appeal.
- The stretch between Valencia and Alicante is one long, beautiful beach stretching 300 miles up the Mediterranean Coast and drawing in thousands of tourists a year.
- The cuisine of the region is truly a step above other Spanish cities (especially those far from the coast), with delicious paella and other delightful seafood dishes.
- If high fashion and glamour aren’t your thing, the region of Valencia has the most down-to-earth crowd of any coastal area in Spain.
Each city also has some particulars that make it special.
- The festivals of Valencia are spectacular, sure to impress visitors arriving in mid-March.
- Valencia is a hub of Spanish science, technology, and innovation, which draws an interesting crowd of technically-minded people to the community.
- Alicante has the climate and natural beauty of a tourist beach town without ever having lost its Spanish town feel. The city is still home to many old Spanish families and carries on naturally without being consumed by the tourist trade.
- The entire region suffers from humidity that makes the climate less pleasant.
- The mixture of two languages makes learning Spanish from the local population more difficult.
- Valencia is an industrial city, lacking the refinement and charm of Madrid or Barcelona.
- Alicante is rather provincial compared to the southern coast, failing to keep up with trends or maintain any sort of international air.
A long-time industrial powerhouse of Spain, the city of Valencia has distinguished itself from Madrid and Barcelona by having a functional commercial role as opposed to the more political and artistic nature of Spain’s two larger cities. Thus, while the coastline remains appealing to visitors and festivals are among the finest in Spain, Valencia doesn’t manage the same Spanish atmosphere found in other great cities.
On the other hand, as a center for science and technology, Valencia is home to some interesting developments. The city certainly has its share of both historic and modern architecture and a handful of museums that are worth visiting. Simply due to its large size, Valencia has plenty of cultural activities and a thriving Spanish nightlife.
Alicante, a small old port town in a beautiful setting on the south end of the Costa Blanca, gives visitors a taste of Spain’s sought-after and intoxicating atmosphere typified by Seville. The city continues long-time traditions of cultural performances and festivals despite the slow encroachment of tourists. The beach is second to none in this region, and inspires a nightlife that won’t disappoint.
Many will recommend Barcelona over Valencia and one of the cities on the southern coast over Alicante. However, if you don’t require the latest trends or an international scene, the Costa Blanca can be a wonderful place to spend time in Spain. In fact, many who visit this region prefer it to the South coast because it feels less showy and extravagant. Certainly consider these destinations when you’re looking for programs.
Don Quijote in Valencia – Part of a world-wide network of language schools, Don Quijote in Spain integrates culture, activities, sports and even cooking into their refined and effective Spanish programs.
Babylon Idiomas – Excellent Spanish school with centers in both Barcelona and Valencia. Good integration of cultural activities.
Arcades del Cid – One of Valencia’s top language schools with a fabulous urban location and an international student body.
Hola Denia – Language school combining watersports and activities in Denia, a beach town between Valencia and Alicante,
InterEuropa – A Valencia school that promotes fun, cultural experiences, and intensive language learning and attracts an international student body. Programs can include tennis and sailing lessons upon request.