We visited this small town last summer, and what better time to reminisce about those beautiful days of sun and blue skies than now that it’s so dreadfully dark, grey, cold and windy here in London!? 😩
Anna is located in La Canal de Navarrés, a comarca in the province of Valencia which is synonymous with water in the mind of Valencians, as it is host to many water springs and lakes.
Consequently, the most important natural resource in Anna was water, due to the presence of several springs within the municipal borders. This enabled the town to get quite a bit ahead at the beginning of the industrial revolution in Spain, as an abundance of water mills could be built next to rivers and waterfalls, and these mills would in turn power the textile mills, and other sorts of machinery for various manufacturing purposes.
But being so close to water sources also has its problems: when it rains, it sometimes does rain strongly, and flooding is quite likely. Then they had to rebuild the mills and associated infrastructure each time a huge storm ravaged the area.
Eventually, insurers would not insure anymore, so factories could not be re-established—it became too expensive.
In parallel, train lines connecting Xàtiva (capital of La Costera, the comarca nearby) with the coast had been built thanks to English investors, which enabled English coal to make its way from England (by boat) to inland factories (by train—and the locomotives were also burning English coal). And thus any advantage that Anna had gained went quickly down the drain (quite literally), as Xàtiva wouldn’t have such an abundance of water, but they could power their factories with coal.
You could even argue (and in fact the local guide did) that had it not been because of this setback, today we could have been talking about Anna as the most important economical center in the area, rather than Xàtiva.
Yet it didn’t turn out like that, and where nowadays Xàtiva is a big town (population ~30k), with the headquarters of many administrative organisms, a big hospital, its grandiose castle and whatnot, Anna remained a small town (population ~2.7k), focused in agriculture, with a beautiful lake, and that was it.
It was in fact a frequent highlight of school trips, as it is conveniently close to geological features like caves that are very helpful to illustrate the effects of water (think stalactites and stalagmites), and after the educational visit it is considerably easier to unload a bus full of teenagers onto the picnic area and have them eat their bocadillos than it is to squeeze them into a bar and make sure they behave appropriately.
And so my previous memories of Anna ware of geese trying to steal our lunch in the picnic area, in front of the lake.
But lately, autonomic and local governments have seen how valuable tourism can be for diversifying the economy (and how quality tourism can be more reliable and sustainable than just beach & sangría tourism), so they’ve been investing in improving the infrastructure and installations of the town to attract more visitors.
A building that has been recently restored is the Palacio de los Condes de Cervellón (the palace of the Counts of Cervellón).
When I saw it from the outside, to my mind, it just looked like the town house of any other minor count, so to speak. People could become counts simply because the king “liked” you, not because you were necessarily related to them or had performed any almighty feature, so I am not “impressed” by any of these noble titles… 😌
In fact, the palace was essentially a ruin at the time we visited the lake as a teenager, with half the wings derelict, and the other half used as storage for random clutter from the town hall, so we didn’t even set foot on the town itself.
Anna, to me, was a lake, cheeky hungry geese and a hut selling overpriced ice-cream.
So I didn’t understand why my mum insisted so much that we should visit the palace. She put great care in making sure we booked a time slot to see it, while I was very skeptical! I kept looking at the building while we waited for our time to enter and genuinely could not get the point. I guess I was expecting to see some restored old furniture. Imposing armchairs? A chest of drawers? Maybe armour? A sword? A hall or two? Some ugly art I can’t relate to and it’s not even funny looking? Something of the sort…
Then the door to the palace opened, and I was speechless.
Turns out that they invited artisans from Morocco to work on the restoration, and used the opportunity to also train local people in these artisan skills. The result was excellent, mind-blowing. I genuinely was not expecting this. I quickly realised why my mother (who had already been there) was so insistent!
Given that the palace was basically derelict when restoration began, this gave them a bit of a blank canvas, so each area of the palace has been given a different “theme”. The ones that I was really impressed by were the garden and the adjacent hall. These were inspired by the Moorish settlers that established themselves in Anna around the XII century.
The garden is frequently described as being similar in spirit to the Patio de los leones in La Alhambra in Granada (obviously, at a smaller scale):
Overseeing the garden, the hall is really impressive too:
And if this wasn’t spectacular enough, the guide opened a wall that was actually an accordion wall of sliding doors, and… surprise! There was a more intimate room behind, in which I would not mind having a very luxurious tea with scrumptious honey based sweets (and a chat, if we don’t collapse under the sugar high)!
The rest of the areas were nice, but in a more of a classical, more restrained, style.
I will admit to have been genuinely stunned by the palace. I do not think the pictures manage to capture the atmosphere, but believe me when I say that it took me a while to process what I had seen!
And so we slowly made our way to Gastro Bar la Plaza, the restaurant where we had booked lunch. It’s all within walking distance, and you can also see beatiful sights such as a public washing place which some people still use nowadays:
When my mum visited, she found a woman washing her clothes there. She asked why did she do that—didn’t she have a washing machine? The woman replied that she was used to do this, and she enjoyed not using the water at home!
Because the town is not ultra developed, there are a lot of “suspended in time” architectural details. For example, this quaint butchers shop front:
We chose to eat outdoors, which was easy as the restaurant is on the shaded side of the plaza. Bear in mind this was in September, and you don’t want to be fully exposed to the sun while having lunch. Otherwise you end up more cooked than the food!
There was an à la carte menu featuring lots and lots of meat and cured meat (which they produce in-house):
… but we ignored it and opted for the menú del día i.e. the set menu!
I think our decision was made the minute we heard the waiter read out “arroz al horno” from the dishes available that day, as we LOVE that dish, and we ALL took it 😂
Plus, this area, along with La Costera, is more or less the traditional home of this dish (they even host an annual contest in Xàtiva!). So the expectations were high!
They brought us some bread with tomato sauce and allioli as appetisers.
That bread, let me tell you, that was good bread. I reckon it was candeal—a variety of durum wheat. It had a somewhat closed, but spongy crumb. The crust was in a traditional style too: not too dark, consistent, but tearable. And the taste…! It was divine and paired so well with the sauces. I had to stop myself from eating it all (as then you don’t have space for the mains):
Then the arroz al horno, which was absolutely, mind-blowingly, delicious. Intense flavours, not too salty, not too oily, lots of toppings. Really good.
The grilled meat was… not so impressive. It was a touch too raw for my liking, and I was actually quite full so I couldn’t even finish it. Otherwise I think I would have sent it back for another round of grilling!
Finally we had the desserts, which were three retro looking slices of ice cream cake (think Vienetta, which in Spain was called Comtessa). Not a lot of it, but we were really full anyway, so who cares?
The cakes were meant to be shared, and I don’t know if you can notice, but there are two spoons trying to attack while I try to take the picture! 😂
Of course you have to have a coffee after all this feast. I went for a cortado:
Gastro Bar la Plaza
Plaza de la Constitución, 14
46820 Anna (Valencia)
I truly enjoyed our visit to Anna and learning more about its history and its “complicated” relationship with water—and speaking of the devil: we were lucky to leave when we did, as just 5 minutes after we sat in the car and got going, a big storm started pouring down in the most violent manner and it continued all the way back home! Be warned that the video contains some really LOUD rain!
If you’re into hiking, and agroturismos, and all that, this area is definitely one to watch. We spoke to a few people who were visiting in that way while we waited to enter the palace, and they were really enjoying their time in the area. Likewise, the table behind us was populated by a group of very happy Dutchies enjoying their food and practising their Spanish, which the waiter enjoyed listening to and occasionally correcting… overall, a very friendly town!
For more information, do check out their tourism page: https://www.lacanalturismo.com/en/