There is a famous Valencian saying which says: ” The people of Valencia eat rice six times a week – on Sundays, they eat paella.”
Rice is served almost daily in Valencia. Famous rice dishes are paella, arroz a banda, Arroz al Horno, Arroz negro and Arroz meloso. The variations are endless.
So it is no surprise that Albufera, south of Valencia, produces a third of all Spanish rice. It is one of the largest rice-producing areas in Spain and one of the most important wetlands in Europe.
Rice has been grown in Valencia for more than a thousand years. It is cultivated on the wet, flood-sensitive farmlands around the Albufera lake.
The precious white grains have fed different cultures over the centuries. Rice cultivation is deeply embedded in the Valencian culture and can be found in countless culinary combinations in the local cuisine.
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From saltwater lake to freshwater lagoon
Albufera is an area with dunes, canals, rice fields, and a vast lagoon. This diversity makes it a beautiful mosaic of landscapes just south of the city of Valencia.
At only 10 kilometers outside the city, you will find a paradise for migrating birds and a beautiful area for both citizens and tourists.
Albufera, or L’Albufera de València, is a freshwater lagoon and bird sanctuary on the east coast of Spain. It is part of the Parc Natural de l’Albufera de València with a total area of 21,120 acres.
The natural biodiversity of the natural reserve contains a wide variety of flora and fauna.
Although Albufera was once a saltwater lagoon, irrigation and the construction of canals turned the lagoon into a freshwater lake by the seventeenth century.
Initially, the lake itself had an area of more than 14,000 acres, but since it has been used intensively for rice cultivation, the lagoon has shrunk to just under 3,000 acres.
Rice cultivation: work all year round
In Valencia, about 250 million pounds of rice is grown under the umbrella of the D.O. Arroz de Valencia, guaranteeing the originality and quality of the product.
There are several types of rice cultivated, all perfectly suited to the local conditions. These rice varieties, including the ‘bomba’ and Arroz de Valencia, are very good at absorbing and have an unusual pleasant texture and taste, just perfect for the preparation of paella.
Rice cultivation lasts all year round and requires meticulous work from the farmers. The work is carried out in several stages: preparation of the land, sowing, weeding, and harvesting.
The fields are sprinkled with fertilizer in February and flooded in April.
After that, the rice seeds are distributed evenly across the fields. Sometimes in straight lines by hand, other times with the help of a sowing machine.
Harvesting takes place in September when the plants are fully grown, and the grains are ripe.
Cycling and birding
Lake Albufera is more than just an area where rice is grown. It is also a nature reserve where birdwatchers, locals, and tourists can have a good time.
With its abundance of beautiful nature, rice fields, paella restaurants, and traditional barracas, Albufera has become an essential part of Valencia’s cultural identity.
The natural lagoon of the Albufera is separated from the Mediterranean by a narrow strip of sand. It is Spain’s largest natural lake and supports a diverse ecosystem of birds, fish, and plants.
A bicycle ride alongside the lake is a guarantee for observing many unique bird species. During the migration, it is even possible to see up to 100 different bird species in one day.
Due to its location near the city, the lagoon of Albufera is easily accessible by bicycle from Valencia.
Coming from the city, it is possible to cycle along well laid out cycle paths towards the beach. After that, you will weave through the dunes and arrive at the vast lake via sand roads through the forest.
The lake itself has several small harbors and jetties of which you can enter the lake by boat.
You can also choose to cycle a bit further and enjoy a delicious authentic paella in one of the excellent restaurants in the small village of El Palmar.