Spain in English

Welcome to ‘Valencia in English’

Welcome to our new section – Valencia in English

While the lockdown has caused pain and suffering to so many, there are also some positives to come out of it. The environment is starting to breathe again and there can’t be many of us who haven’t learnt some new technological skill. Even my mother-in-law has had to download houseparty by herself while in confinement.

For me I’ve been fortunate enough to discover Spain in English and am delighted to be joining the team, giving a glimpse into what’s happening in the Valencia region.

I’m originally from a village near Canterbury, in the UK, where I used to be a reporter on a local newspaper.

I’m based in l’Eliana, where I live with my Valencia-supporting husband Juan, our four Spanglish daughters and two dogs. (I’m really a cat person at heart, but one of the small people in our family is extremely allergic to cats so we had to settle for a cat-sized dog instead).

Catherine at the Mestalla stadium on 27 November 2019 to watch a Champions League group tie between Valencia (her husband’s team) and Chelsea (her team). It was 2-2.

Before moving to Valencia we lived in deepest Aragón, just an hour south of the French border, in a small village near Huesca. Don’t worry if you’ve not heard of it, most people haven’t. The most famous former resident I managed to discover was Spice Girl Geri Halliwell’s mum, Ana María Hidalgo.

We moved to Valencia nearly five years ago to be closer to my husband’s family, because as they say in Spanish la sangre tira! As the eldest of six siblings, it goes without saying that Juan’s family is quite large. As we are the only ones with a garden, and space enough for everyone to get together, our house has become the venue for birthdays, saints’ days, mother’s day, Easter Egg hunts, Eurovision, Cup finals, the list goes on.

If anyone has ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, my background is like the husband’s: a small, calm, quiet Anglo-Saxon family, while Juan’s is more akin to the big, noisy, laughing, fun Greek family. That’s the Mediterranean way for you.

Since moving here we’ve settled in and got to grips, to varying degrees, with the local language, Valencià. It’s very similar to its cousin, Catalan and, like Catalan, is becoming ever more important.

I managed a couple of years of evening classes, which anyone can attend here for free – that’s how keen the government is on pushing the language.

I would recommend some basic classes for anyone relocating here, not with an eye to becoming fluent but just to have a basic understanding.

So much of everyday life here is in Valencian and it really will give you brownie points with the locals, especially in smaller towns, where it remains the main language.

The girls and I have also all developed a taste for the local speciality horchata (the cold drink made from tiger nuts) and fartons (the delicious elongated pastries for dipping in the horchata), much to Juan’s horror!

Catherine Dolan, her husband Juan and their daughters at Las Fallas in 2019.

During the 10 years we lived in Huesca, we never once missed the Valencia Fallas festival – and the girls have always dressed up, ever since they were babies.

Dressing four falleras doesn’t come cheaply, however, so soon after we moved here, I enrolled in an Indumentaria fallera course and have so far made two complete outfits of the traditional costume. The only thing I haven’t yet done is dress up myself. Maybe one day.

To the untrained eye, yes, you could be forgiven for thinking they’re made of curtain fabric and I must confess, the first time I saw a fallera with her coiled plaits over her ears, I immediately thought Princess Leia. (But just don’t say it out loud.) And a word of warning, never refer to it using the Spanish verb disfrazar. Dressing as a fallera is a very serious business, not to mention being a huge part of the local economy.

For the past two months we’ve been confined to our house in l’Eliana. We’ve certainly been much luckier than those living in city apartments. We’ve been able to use the garden, swim in the pool and even take the dogs for walks. Which I suppose makes them more useful than a cat would have been.

I fear that when we finally do make it to Phase One of deconfinement and larger groups are allowed to meet, I’ll be inundated with girls as my daughters’ cousins descend on us to jump in our pool.

‘La Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències’ (City of Arts & Sciences) in Valencia. (Zebbache Djoubair / Unsplash)

But when I find some peace and quiet among the barking dogs and the splashing girls, I will be rounding up the main stories in the area, concentrating on those which people are talking about.

Having worked in Spanish secondary education for the past 10 years, there may be some bias towards school issues and children.

At the moment I shall mostly be looking at how we are dealing with lockdown, how we will come out of it and how on earth the government will face the mammoth task of social distancing at swimming pools, beaches and bars.

Will we be able to swim in the sea this summer? When will we be able to travel between provinces? When will it be safe for Madrileños to visit their second homes on the Mediterranean?

I’m delighted to be involved in this new project – Valencia in English just as we begin moving towards the New Normal, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.

You can read more about my life as an English mum in Spain, including my Diary of Spain in Lockdown at or contact me directly with any news stories at

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