Less than 10km south of the city of Valencia is L’Albufera Nature Park. It covers 5,880 hectares, half of which is the lake, while the rest is made up of marsh, dunes and beaches. The marshland provides a natural habitat for more than 50,000 local and migratory birds as well as an agricultural and fishing industry.
The lake is fed by the river Xuquer and natural underground springs, and the level is regulated by 3 sluice gates which access the sea. The surrounding fertile land is mainly use for growing rice though orange groves also abound.
I base myself in the small village of El Palmar. Many years ago it was an island and perhaps the first inhabited settlement, a base for fishing on the lake. Now, after a process of sedimentation, it is joined to the narrow strip of coastal land by a causeway and several narrow bridges. It is still a centre for fishing but also offers trips in flat bottomed boats which are sailed or punted through the waterways and across the lake. I take a boat trip on New Year’s Day when the town is buzzing with life due to the arrival of day trippers from Valencia. It’s a breezy day and the lake is a bit choppy but it feels great to be outdoors in the sun.
After, I have lunch ‘al fresco’ at La Sequiota, a local restaurant which is so busy that I’m lucky to get a table. My starter consists of fried calamari and a huge mixed salad, and then I choose the local speciality of All I Pebre (eel and potatoes) for my main course. It comes in a cast iron dish with a slightly spicy tomato sauce. By now the sun is struggling to penetrate a thin layer of cloud and the breeze is chilling, but the food is warming and the atmosphere is one of celebration for the New Year. In fact, celebrations started early for those who attended a New Year rave in the village that started at midnight and finally wound up at 6.30am!