Long live Cabanyal!
You know when you hear about someone who bought a place for peanuts in some unfortunate area of London or New York, then the area became hip and their modest bolthole became a smart investment? That’s what seems to be happening in Cabanyal. It’s February already – the days are slipping by and with every passing day, my New Year’s Resolution of investing in Cabanyal is slipping through my fingers.
At 24/7 ‘Valencia’, we thought it was time to have another look at this area that is off-radar for many Valencians and the majority of tourists. Firstly, a whip through the area’s history and secondly, a few food-and-drink related reasons to step back from the seafront into the historic barrio of El Cabanyal…
Ramshackle slum or historic heritage site?
The village of Cabanyal was originally (and still is, depending on who you ask) separate from Valencia city. In the 13th century, it became home to fishermen and merchants and was known as Poble Nou de la Mar (‘New Village of the Sea’). The area acquired the name El Cabanyal in the 15th century and today the name is often used as an umbrella term for three barrios: El Canyamelar, El Cabanyal and Cap de França. The name Cabañal comes from the unusual cabana-style housing, most of which has been replaced by straight-onto-the-street terraced rows and a few modern apartment blocks. The tall barraque homes make full use of the daylight and sea breezes. From the 19th century onwards, their exteriors have been clad with distinctive patterned tiles: maritime blues and whites; psychedelic Op art; scenes from history. Anything goes. It seems no two houses are decorated the same, every home as unique as the area itself.
Progress or poison?
If you walk around Cabanyal today, you’ll see another more sinister decoration: brown stripes smeared across buildings from pavement to roof. These indicate where the council bought and ripped down buildings. After its sea-faring heyday, Cabanyal went into decline. What to do? Plans brewed for 10 years until 1998 when the Valencian council kicked off their plan to ‘regenerate’ Cabañal. This implies an economic boost and careful restoration. Not so – it involved bulldozing 450+ homes so Avenida Blasco Ibañez could thrust out to the coast. This bizarre idea echoes the equally short-sighted folly of the Valencian government that pulled down the original city walls in 1865 as a ‘job creation project’. Thankfully, years of ardent campaigning succeeded – Mayor Rita Barberá was voted out in 2015 and the aggressive strategy of ‘run-down, buy and demolish’ has now not just been postponed but cancelled.
Now, no thanks to the council, some streets look tumble-down but Cabanyal isn’t a slum or a ghetto – locals fear a swing towards ‘gentrification’ but they’re in no immediate danger of Starbucks moving in. The area can now rest easy, safe from demolition and with its heritage status secured.
Business as usual
Historically, Cabanyal was always self-contained enough that residents didn’t need to venture inside the city walls, and many residents would tell you that’s still true. As well as independent stores and services, Cabanyal has a superb indoor market. The hall buzzes with banter, locals stuff their wheelie bags with fruit and veg, and toasty aromas from bakery stalls fight with the salty pong from the fishmongers.
Besides the usual shops, the seafront is served by the semi-chaotic Thursday street market. Move into Cabañal and the noisy colourful melee brings everything you could need literally to your doorstep. (Like any busy street event, you’re advised to take extra care of your valuables.)
Going out in Cabanyal
Of course, you might not want to invest in property in Cabanyal – but you can support the area by visiting and spending a few euros. Many valencianos and international residents don’t go out in Cabanyal – asking around, this seems to be due to the area’s poor reputation. The beach might entice more visitors but they weren’t venturing down the side streets into what they perceived as the ghetto.
But now better bars and restaurants are opening, it’s worth hopping on the metro for a gin tonique, stroll along the Paseo Maritim, and then something to eat. You may even find yourself so charmed by Cabanyal that you end up buying your own bolthole – just like British travel writer Jane Lovatt, who’s now a Cabanyal home-owner and part-time resident. Here are her top picks for food and drink in her barrio:
Ca La Mar, C/ Just y Vilar, 19
This friendly, light and airy neighbourhood bar serves Valencian food and wine in a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere.
La Peseta, C/ Cristo del Grao, 16, and La Paca, C/ Rosario, 30
These hip and upbeat bars (owned by the same team) specialise in amazing tortillas and interesting tapas, verging away from the traditional Spanish selection. Vegan options available. Cheap, cheerful, friendly and open late.
La FABrica, C/ Cristo del Grao, 14
An interesting newer bar with trendy upcycled, industrial furniture and funky music.
La Otra Parte, C/ Eugenia Viñes, 113
Café bar near the sea-front with nutty decor and cool ambience. A range of tapas, delicious imaginative salads and addictive omelettes.
La Maceta, C/ Barraca, 92
Classic Spanish food with some off-beat additions like courgette and ginger soup. This new-ish shabby-chic café bar is lively and popular all day, and buzzes well into the night with a lively pavement section.
Hermanos Haro, C/ José Benlliure, 156
This authentic bar serves gigantic bocadillos and a great fry-up for almuerzo. No menu, just a brusque ‘que quieres comer?’ from the chef. Atmospheric, frenetic on market days, and so friendly that the next time you visit they’ll have your coffee order on your table before you open your mouth.
Café Contigo, C/ Reina, 23
Friendly spick-and-span neighbourhood café, staffed by the smiliest ladies in Cabanyal. The cheerful service will pick you up better than any coffee.
Tasca Reina, C/ Reina, 173
Newer restaurant with a maritime theme and a long list of seafood tapas and daily specials. Check opening hours before you go.
Casa Montaña, C/ José Benlliure, 69
This world-famous classic bodega has helped put Cabanyal on the map. It offers quality tapas and an exceptional range of wines (apparently the cellar has 20,000 bottles). Happily caters for locals and tourists in a classy traditional way.