This past fall, my partner and I lived out an idyllic life by the sea. We took an off-season rental on Deveses Beach, just outside of Denia, the northernmost point of the Costa Blanca, just south of Valencia. Why were we there? We had heard about how queer friendly Spain is, so we went to see for ourselves.
In public, I’m a femme blend-in so I can pass for a straight woman. My boyfriend often passes for male on his own. But together, we’re a queer pair. Maybe it’s because I’m taller, but there’s something queer about our affection to the cis and straight eye. Luckily, everywhere in Valencia, and the Costa Blanca, we felt no peril – not even staring.
We were always warmly welcomed in restaurants and other establishments, like The Sunshine Bar, where we frequently dined overlooking the tranquil green sea. My sweetie, Vijay, found some good hiking in the rocky landscape, but mostly, we just chilled on the beach. A turn in the land creates a bay where it’s possible to see the sun set over the sea in one direction, and turn your head to see the moon rise, also over the sea. Just chill. Here’s some sangria.
Just chill. No seriously, once you’re outside of Valencia, buses are unreliable and taxis may or may not take you. They say it’s just too far, or they have something else to do that day. You should probably just stay at the beach anyway! Here’s some more sangria.
The roads between Denia and Valencia are dominated by orange groves. (Unfenced orange groves. Grab an orange for your sangria!) Farmland runs right up to the city, to the point where you might complain about farm smells wafting onto the beach when the wind is right. We didn’t mind, though.
Old town is appropriately dotted with fancy churches and old forts; museums showcase Spanish and international art and the 25 year old City of Arts and Science make a magnificent kilometer-long stroll.
If swimming, strolling, and sangria sound too slow-paced for you, there’s the cosmopolitan vibe of nearby Valencia, which we enjoyed after two straight weeks of sand and sun.
Upon first arriving in the big city, we checked into our hotel and changed out of our beach clothes for the opera: La Dama de Picas by Thaichovsky. Would we be too casually attired for a 6pm starting time? Vijay scanned the website for a dress code, and found a very cute video about how the opera is not a disco, but also not as formal as it once was. Reasonably clad in smart daytime casual, we enjoyed our first opera in Russian.
At the opera, we spotted our first queer compatriots of the region. They could’ve been upper-middle class lesbians in LA, each smugly holding a Chablis. But we couldn’t be sure. This is one of the challenges of finding other queer folks these days; we’ve mainstreamed in many wealthier nations. With religious fundamentalism on the rise in many places, we also might be more closeted than even 30 years ago. We either don’t stand out, or standing out is dangerous.
Outside the opera house, pink clad youngsters were lined up for blocks awaiting entry to an Aitana concert. Some of the kids wore her face on the fronts of t-shirts and their names on their backs forming a little Aitana gang. Amanda, Elena, Lucia, Alba, and Julia all bounced ecstatically. They resembled Britney Spears fans from the 90s. I felt old. If my sense of adventure was closer to the Aitana fans than the opera goers, I’d probably have danced the night away at Deseo 54, the hot queer club open to everyone. I do hope that you’ll go. When we returned to our hotel, we could hear Aitana singing faintly into the night from six blocks away.
The next day, we decided on tickets to the Sorolla immersive exhibition. Sorolla is Spain’s best known impressionist painter, hailing from Valencia. The show was intimate, filled with artifacts from his life and a virtual reality component that left me feeling like I was walking with him, in a different time, along the beaches we had just trod the days before. Expositions like Sorrola, A New Dimension, are no substitute for an artist’s work, but it was well worth the hour or two spent.
Sangria and tapas on the sidewalk is a Spanish standard, but my culinary highlight of Valencia was horchata and helado at Jijonenca by the beach. Jijonenca is a chain across Spain – there’s one in Denia as well. They make the region’s favorite non-alcoholic drink, horchata. I grew up in Southern California, so I know (and like) horchata in its Mexican incarnation which is primarily rice and cinnamon. In Southern Spain, it’s made from chufa nuts (aka tiger nuts) and a little lemon and cinnamon. And when you order it at Jijonenca with a scoop of chocolate ice cream, it’s called a Cubano. Que sabor!
After a few days in Valencia, we returned to our condo by the beach in Denia. We swam in remarkable 74 degree water on October 9, Valencia Day, a holiday in the region that commemorates the conquest of James I of Aragon thus creating the Kingdom of Valencia in 1238. The same day is also the Catholic Feast of San Dionisio, representing love, so it’s a sort of Valentine’s day too. My sweetie gave me the traditional marzipan treats commemorating the day and we sat in Deveses Beach’s local bar Mar, de Luna (so local, there’s not even a website). Our young Argentinian waiter bought me a Tinto de Verano to celebrate our long-distance love.
How accepted is queerness in this region, you ask? He’s a dear twenty-something straight cis-man, by my reckoning, but he was sweet on us and knew we were wrangling time together across distance.
“When you’re apart, the time takes longer, but it flies when you’re together,” he said, as he brought me that drink, on the house. “I’m glad you get to be together here.”
Photos by Kimberly Dark.