If you’ve been reading my recent posts, you will have noticed that I am a regular visitor to Valencia. I feel like I know the area quite well already, however, I’ve recently realised that there are a lot of hidden secrets that can’t be found through a bit of online research. They are true local secrets. I was recently invited by the Region of Valencia to attend Gastrobloggers Under the Stars, an event where I discovered one of these well-kept secrets – a Starlight Reserve where the sky is so clear that you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye. And only an hour and a half away from the city! How many major cities can claim such a privilege?
But what is a Starlight Reserve?
A Starlight Reserve is an unpolluted area where natural night sky light conditions are kept intact, and the area’s local communities have committed to protect the quality of the night sky and to maintain access to starlight through the preservation of a dark zone. This dark zone is protected to avoid the adverse effects of air and light pollution. There are 10 Starlight Reserves in the world, 8 of which are in Spain.
The Serranía del Alto Turia is one of these Starlight Reserves, an area given this prestigious title because of the quality of the night sky and the commitment that the local community has for protecting it. The Reserve covers an area that includes mountain villages such as Aras de los Olmos, Alpuente, Titaguas, La Yesa plus 23 more villages of the Teruel Gúdar-Javalambre region, a bit further inland.
This group of villages has been working hard for years, not only to preserve access to quality night sky, but to make the area a Starlight Tourist Destination. They’ve developed an offering based on the appreciation of the sky combined with means of observation available to visitors, trained staff for astronomical interpretation and quality accommodation infrastructure.
Gastrobloggers Under the Stars
Held in Aras de los Olmos, one of the villages within the Serranía del Alto Turia, Gastrobloggers Under the Stars was organized to commemorate the achievement of the area’s Starlight Reserve certification and to celebrate the region as both an astronomic and gastronomic tourist destination.
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The event brought together a group of bloggers and the residents of the local area to sample a few local specialties. As we say, we eat with our eyes, and this destination is a clear example where this is the case. Not only did we sample a selection of locally produced delicacies, but also the clearest night sky I’ve seen in a long time.
The local producers brought a selection of things for us to taste:
- Black truffle by JavalTuria, a combination of wild and home-grown organic truffles with a beautifully delicate flavour. Some of these truffles can reach the size of a fist!
- Esperiega apple jam produced by Loles Salvador, head of an award-winning family of Valencian chefs. Esperiega apples are a variety native from Rincón de Ademuz. They are also known as frozen apples, due to the process of crystallisation of the sugar, which makes the apples really sweet and ideal for baking. Loles combines these apples with flavours like vanilla, cinnamon and ginger to create the most exquisite jams.
- Local honey by La Travina, a family run beekeeping business that works with the natural migratory patterns of the local bees. Due to this nomadic style of beekeeping, the harvest of the honey is different every year, as it depends on the work of the bees and the quality of the flowers, but this year they were able to collect rosemary, thyme, lavender and kermes oak honey. My favourite was the rosemary one – beautiful flavour!
- Locally crafted beer La Galana, another family run company born out of a passion project. I tried two award-winning malt beers – one infused with apricot, very light and refreshing, and the other one a dark malt beer with Colombian coffee and toasted caramel flavours.
After the tasting session, we all jumped on a minibus to drive up the hill to the Observatory, where we learnt about the solar system and telescopes and enjoyed the highlight of the event – the starriest night with the Milky Way clearly on display. The experts also pointed out a few well-known constellations for us and explained the importance of the preservation of the night sky.
All the while the tasting session and our visit to the Observatory took place, the locals in Aras de Olmos were working hard preparing a typical dish of the area called gachas. You boil water and flour in an iron pot on a wood fire for two hours, followed by half an hour of stirring. This creates a dumpling-like dough which is then combined with fried pork belly and sardines. Gachas was traditionally prepared by shepherds while they were out in the pastures, and it’s now more of a festive dish prepared in special occasions.
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On our return from the Observatory, the main gastronomic experience of the night was waiting for us – A Dinner of the Stars, Galaxies and Other Curious Culinary Phenomena. With a name like that, we were all very intrigued to try an astronomy-inspired menu that included dishes like Iberian Constellation (Iberico game carpaccio with black garlic and anchovy butter), The Cream that Wanted to Be a Wormhole (artichoke cream with squid in black ink), Lamb’s Milky Way (roast lamb with spirulina, honey and violette potato) and Saturn in Cocoa (a chocolate and caramel sphere with rings).
The night culminated with a get together around a cremaet, a cocktail that comes with a ritual. After mixing rum and coffee with honey, coffee grains, cinnamon bark and orange and lemon peel in a clay pot, it is set alight for a few minutes. The anticipation of such an elaborate drink makes drinking it even more pleasurable and memorable.
It was certainly an evening to remember, where not only we got to experience it with two senses – sight and taste – we also got to appreciate that most of us don’t get to see the night sky very often, and that it’s important that we create and support areas that protect and maintain dark zones, so we don’t forget that we are only a tiny little speck in the universe.
How to get to the Serranía del Turia Starlight Reserve
There are 3 buses a day from Valencia Bus Station to the villages of Titaguas and Aras de los Olmos. You can find information on timetables here (in Spanish).
The easiest and most convenient way to reach the Serranía is by hire car. The road there is pretty spectacular so you will have the freedom to stop for photos and explore the area at your own leisure. For the best deals on car hire check Holiday Extras.
Have you ever seen the Milky Way with the naked eye?
Let me know in the comments!
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Disclosure: A big thank you to Region of Valencia, who hosted me on this event. As always, all views are my own.
Teresa is an award-winning travel blogger based in London. She’s on a mission to explore the world through responsible cultural and adventure travel, and through deeper, more meaningful local experiences. She’s a lover of adventure, the outdoors and everything food related, and she’s always looking for ways to make a positive impact through sustainable travel.