In a country where birdwatching, like trainspotting, is almost a religion, it is unsettling to discover that in the whole of the British Isles, all 315,134 km² of them, there are fewer species of birds than in the humble Valencian Community, with a mere 23,255 km².
January is apparently a good time to observe them migrating, and two of the most well known locations in the Valencia Community are The Albufera, which means ‘the little sea’ in Arabic, and is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Europe.
Another is the Salina of Calpe, famous for its seasonal flamingos.
These two bird habitats are well publicised, but a lesser known jewel is the Marjal dels Moros.
“The Holy Land is easy to find; go to where the men speak Italian, and then continue until they speak something else.”
So says Liam Neeson to Orlando Bloom in Kingdom of Heaven; and the instructions to L’Estany are quite similar: “Go to Puzol beach and head north until the road runs out” (not especially similar at all really, but enervating just the same).
The Marjal is a Twitcher’s paradise, full of fowl and with wooden platforms upon which you can rise up and gaze at a goose, heed a heron or dream on a drake while reading the informative panels explaining this unique eco-system while the tourists visit the Albufera.
L’Estany del Marjal dels Moros, to give it its full name, is a classic Valencian restaurant combining good, solid, traditional food, friendly service and a very special view and environment, perched as the name suggests on the edge of one of Valencia’s best kept secrets, the wetland and bird reserve known as the Moor’s Marsh, or Moors Moor even.
The restaurant itself is quite ordinary; unless the weather permits you sit out on the ample terrace, gazing across the stony beach at the sea, just 20 or so yards away, just beyond the world’s smallest roundabout where the road to the north terminates.
Nevertheless, the restaurant boasts its own special dish, the ‘paella de marjal’, which you won’t be surprised to learn, if you’ve just returned from the one hour circular route around the wetland, contains duck.
The restaurant also specialises in Suquet, a fish stew that can be sampled with monkfish (called ‘rape’ in Spanish, which has been known to raise the incredulous eyebrow of the occasional British tourist), sea bream (dorado) or turbot (rodaballo).
There are 10 rice dishes, covering most tastes, four meat dishes and a lot of fish, inevitably.
There are also all the usual tapas, including cockles and mussels (dead as it happens) and grilled vegetables.
The Marjal makes for a wonderful walk, despite the looming factories of Sagunto in the background, with its extended fields of cane, its canals and grazing horses; and it’s just a 20 minute drive from Valencia.