Just a 40-minute bus ride from Valencia, about seven miles from the city, the Centro de Interpretación Racó de I’Olla Center, a wetlands area, sits smack dab in the Albufera Nature Park. I know that usually when one thinks of Valencia, it is of the city life, the hustle and bustle, and trying to hit the various touristy spots that pops up in the mind.
Albufera Nature Park In Valencia:
There is something for everyone though, as this park is a paradise for bird lovers and other nature-loving people. I would recommend squeezing in at least half a day into your packed itinerary to check out this quite interesting park.
Albufera means lagoon in Valencian and the word is derived from the Arabic word for small sea (al-buhayra). Once a saltwater lagoon, it has slowly been diluted due to canals, and irrigation flowing in and has now changed to freshwater once since the 17th century. This means you don’t have to go as far as China to see rice fields :-). Got them right there in Albufera.
Center for Interpretation:
My favorite part of the park is the Racó de I’Olla Centro de Interpretación. This peaceful reserve sits on 50 hectares, and it is worth visiting when you go. Not all parts are open to the public as there is work constantly being done to perverse the environment.
When you visit the interpretation center, the reception area has maps of the reserve as well as posters of the types of birds you might encounter on your visit. I also recommend listening to the very detailed information (lecture ☺️?) given by one of the workers that talks about all about how the reserve came to be.
Albufera is famous for its rice fields and it is here that Paella, which l already wrote about, originates from. The geological depression led to the formation of the marsh where flora and birds seem to flourish. You understand why the original paella contains rabbits as there are plenty in the rice fields.
Be warned though that these speeches are often given in Spanish. There are English-speaking guides though, but you need to reserve ahead of time in order to be accommodated and be a small group. Once done, the guide leads a walk around some parts of the reserve, less than a mile in total.
You get to see the various kinds of fruits and berries that grow in the marshes. There is also a decent-sized observation area with seats which from where you get a panoramic view of so many different kinds of birds, flamingoes included.
According to the guide, the best months for observation are May, June, July, November, December, and January. It was an enjoyable sight, and if you have binoculars, I would bring them for a more up-close view.
There is also a tower from which you can get an awe-inspiring view of the Albufera park and its surrounding, but unfortunately, it was closed to the public as there was some remodeling going on.
How to get to the Albufera Nature Park:
By car: the journey should take less than 20 minutes. There is parking at the interpretation center.
By bus: The bus lines 24 and 25 stop by the park. Tickets are €1.50 each way. Once you get off (the stop is Pinars- Carretera de El Palmar), follow the pedestrian path to the center.
Entry to the interpretation center is FREE
The center is open from 9 AM to 2 PM daily.
Other things to do at the L’Albufera Natural Park:
Plenty of trails to be explored if that’s your thing. Apparently there is wild and fresh asparagus to be picked there, and seeing rice fields is always fun, and you have a long stretch of beach.
Canoe rides: From piers in Port de Saler or Port de Palmar. These tours are given by locals and they bring you even closer to the birds and vegetation. Costs are about 5 euros per person for a 45-minute tour.
Bike rides through the marsh is quite common. Long distance bikers need to go through it in order to reach nearby destinations such as Peñiscola and other places in the Valencia province.
Where else to eat paella but in its birthplace? One of the best places l often hear about is this restaurant, Maribel Arrocería. Remember that for Valencians, paella is lunch food, so most restaurants only open till about 4.30 pm, so plan accordingly.
There are at least two sites to camp out, one of them with mini-golf. You can camp for a reasonable price and the sandy beaches of El-Saler are really close.