There are times when you settle into a flight home and wonder if you’ve even been away. And there are others where you’ve done so much that you feel as if you’ve completed an episode in the story of your life. That’s how our journey through the Valencia region of Spain was, even though we were only travelling for ten days it felt like a month (in a good way I should add!). In a short time we experienced so many different lifestyles and I could probably write quite a few blog posts about it but I only have time for one. So It’s a long post today I warn you – time to settle down with a pot of tea or a glass of wine.

I’m hoping there will be something for everyone who reads my blog because I know you come here for different reasons. For those who prefer style to travel, I didn’t buy new clothes for the trip but hopefully the outfits will give you a few ideas for packing light when temperatures are going to range from low (in the mountains) to warm (on the coast). I worked with jeans and a variety of tops in a palette of blue and ivory with silver and the odd spot of colour thrown in. If you’re interested in the midlife journey, this trip was both a nostalgic reflection on my own life as well as a time to think ahead to future plans. And for those who like travel there was quite a lot of contrast packed into a short trip as we continue with our project of trying to define exactly what it is we’re looking for when we go away.

A journey through the Valencia region and reflections on this midpoint of life


I’m going to let the pictures lead us so let’s begin at Manchester Airport on a cold March Friday when we were longing for our first glimpse of sunshine…

Midlifechic airport travel style

Boat neck jumper (gifted SS24); Travel jeans; Hobbs suede jacket (SS14); Boden boots AW19

… which wasn’t exactly forthcoming. It was almost as cold as home when we picked up our hire car in Alicante late that night and when we woke up the next morning we were greeted by dark grey clouds.

A journey through the Valencia region – Saturday

We’d booked an Airbnb in Villajoyosa for the first two nights (details here – highly recommended if you’re not staying for too long but a bit dark if you’re there for more than four or five days). We spent the morning exploring the town and feeling a bit hard done by that we were carrying umbrellas (somehow it really didn’t help when people told us it was the first rain since September). However there were worse things to do than shelter in a cafe with tapas knowing that we had an evening ahead with our boy…

journey through the Valencia region

… who had insisted that we needed to start our trip by experiencing a ‘proper’ Saturday night in Benidorm! We hadn’t seen him since Christmas so I was particularly delighted to be with him…

journey through the Valencia region

… and he’d told me to wear something Benidorm appropriate so I thought a sequinned ‘je ne regrette rien’ sweatshirt might start things off in the right mood.


Whistles sweatshirt (SS14); Travel jeans; Trainers; Hobbs suede jacket (SS14)

We began in the old town which was nice enough – and this makes me chuckle… you can see that sadly only one of us still finds Mal’s jokes funny!

Midlifechic and sons

As the night went on he took us deeper and deeper into The Strip, deliberately choosing the most notorious Benidorm venues.

Midlifechic and sons

They were packed with stag and hen parties going wild with the cheap drinks and large measures – it made a night on the ‘toon’ in Newcastle look utterly serene. We bumped into some of his teaching assistant friends and they joined us for the rest of the tour, I’m not going to say much more because there isn’t a single venue that I’d recommend. Here we were in a nightclub called Insomnia where pirates on stilts roamed with trays of sickly free shots the colour of Pepto Bismol … you get the idea… it was all quite surreal and we had fun but would never go there again!

Nikki Garnett and sons

A journey through the Valencia region – Sunday

The following morning he gave us full kudos for agreeing to go along with him – and actually I do think that one of the best ways of staying close to your adult children is to let your hair down with them every now and then. He told us that he’s been grateful to have the option to go down to Benidorm and meet up with other students when life in the mountains gets lonely but admitted he won’t miss it when he comes home. So here we were up early in Villajoyosa, glad of the fresh air and tranquility.

Nikki Garnett, travel blogger, Villa Joyosa

Boden jumper AW23; Travel jeans; Trainers

And as his mum there was something lovely about seeing him roll up his trousers and go for a paddle. It took me sharply back to all of the seaside summers we’ve had with him – I felt quite emotional realising that he’ll be graduating next year and moving into his adult life once and for all. As he’s our last one, our lifestage will move on again too.

journey through the Valencia region

Just a few words about Villajoyosa (and I realise that I’m commenting out of season so it may be different in full summer). We found it to be a really lovely, traditional Spanish seaside resort that has retained its authenticity and smallness despite being only a 20 minute drive from Alicante airport. I now have it firmly earmarked as an easy escape for when we need a reliable short break away from the UK.

Nikki Garnett, midlife travel blogger, Spain

IdLF at Uniqlo jacket (SS16); Boden jumper (AW23); Travel jeans; Trainers

It just so happened that this Sunday was also Mother’s Day in the UK. We left Villajoyosa and drove up into the mountains so that we could stay with him for a couple of nights and he’d booked us a table at a fabulous restaurant for lunch. It was a surprise when Mal produced cards from the other two for me to open, I’ve always said I never expect presents from them, just a few carefully written words and I felt very treasured (just looking at this picture I bet some of you know them well enough now to work out which card belonged to which boy!).

journey through the Valencia region

The restaurant was right across the road from the village school that he’s teaching in so after lunch he took us over there. There are currently only 56 pupils but the original building is being extended to cater for children from the surrounding mountain villages as they start to amalgamate resources. He seems to be really enjoying the teaching side of things, the ages range from 2 – 11 and it reminded me of the tiny rural primary school that I went to where we all felt like family. He often sends us pictures of himself with the little ones clambering over him, there isn’t the same formality that there is in English schools now where teachers have to step back from the children and be much more distanced from them.

Nikki Garnett son

He lives ten minutes away in a small town called Polop which you can see here.

journey through the Valencia region

A journey through the Valencia region – Monday

And it was lovely exploring it with him the following morning, we even saw the cave where El Cid secured the resources for his conquests.

journey through the Valencia region

A few minutes away is the stunning spot of Guadalest which you can see behind us here. I don’t know whether you remember me telling you the story of his brothers’ disgust when he was filling out the forms for his teaching assistant placement last spring – despite having options like Ibiza to choose from he requested a spot in the mountains. His first choice was the Aragón region but he ended up with Valencia and I think you can say that he was fully rewarded with the one he got. He’s spent weekends conquering the various summits and is thinking about writing his final year dissertation on the string of Moorish castles and lookouts that he’s found at the top of each one.

journey through the Valencia region

Moving back to style, let’s talk about shoes briefly. As fashion’s pendulum continues its swing back to more formalised dressing, slingbacks are taking over from sandals this summer – either kitten heeled or flat. They’re a style I’ve always loved for their leg lengthening effect and I’m particularly pleased because I still have my collection from the last time they were around when the boys were little. So these are from about 2009 but they’ve been reissued this year with a squarer front – sadly they’ve almost sold out already but if you’re quick you can find them here.

Nikki Garnett, midlife travel blogger style

Boden silver slingbacks (SS09); Midlifechic Boutique t-shirt (past season); Mango jeans (AW23); Boden silver belt (SS09)

A journey through the Valencia region – Tuesday

It was back to work for the boy on Tuesday so we headed down to the coast. One of the reasons that we’d been keen to go to Spain in March was with the idea of wintering there. I find the winter months especially hard going in the UK so we hope in the future to spend January to March in Spain somewhere which will also enable me to build my Spanish back up to complete fluency again. We’d chosen a couple of places that we wanted to explore, basing ourselves in the coastal town of Altea. It’s a popular tourist spot so I’m sure some of you will know it. We checked into a really good Airbnb in the old town, it was spacious with super comfortable beds and outdoor spaces so I’d recommend it highly for either a long or short stay, details here.

Nikki Garnett, midlife travel blogger

Cos dress (SS23); Boden shoes (SS09)

Having read a lot of good things about it being a ‘Spanish St Ives’ – a pretty, arty place with a historic centre and relaxed seafront, Altea was high on our list. However we strolled down to the seafront at about 2pm for a spot of lunch and were a bit confounded. The bars and restaurants were filled with people in their 70s and 80s from Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and the UK whose very deep tans suggested they were living there – and they were all completely smashed. We wondered if there was something special going on but talking to the waiters it’s what they do to pass the time. Every day. We concluded that if you’re spending your winters in Spain in later life it might be better to base yourself in a bigger town or city with more to do.

Anyway, that evening we wandered right up to the top of the old town and it was very pretty – I can imagine that in summer it’s very vibrant. A lot of the restaurants were still closed while we were there but they seemed to be preparing to open for Easter.

Nikki Garnett, style for women over 50

Whistles jacket (SS16); Jumper (gifted SS24); Me+Em jeans (SS19); Trainers

A journey through the Valencia region – Wednesday

In addition to Altea we’d heard good things about Calpe so the next day we drove up the coast to explore. If Altea’s seafront had seemed to be ruined by tourism, this was even more so with sprawling hotels and shabby bars and restaurants along the front. The tourism explosion of the late 20th century ruined so many beautiful places didn’t it? As we walked around we reflected on the contrast with English seaside resorts. So many of them are architecturally beautiful with their Victorian hotels that were built to last but then abandoned half a century later as the opportunity to fly to warmer climes opened up.

Nikki Garnett, midlife travel blogger Spain

Boat neck t-shirt (SS22 – this year’s colours here); Jeans; Trainers

It’s such a shame that buildings were then thrown up so badly to cater for the sudden demand, not just in Spain but in so many other countries as well. Looking back at Calpe and its beautiful mountainscape you wonder at the short-termism of greed for immediate gain.

journey through the Valencia region

So we wandered up into the old town which was prettier but quite small and although we had a lovely lunch there, we concluded that Calpe was nice enough but it was another place that we wouldn’t go back to.

Nikki Garnett, travel style

Boat neck t-shirt (SS22 – this year’s colours here); Jeans; Trainers

A journey through the Valencia region – Thursday

And by now it was Thursday and we couldn’t avoid work (or rather end of year accounts) any longer. The silver lining was that it had been getting hotter every day, the wind had dropped and it was now warm enough for proper summer clothes. So we spent the morning crushing numbers and then headed out to lunch.

Nikki Garnett, travel style

Boden blouse (SS22), Boden shorts (SS23), Boden shoes (SS09)

The headteacher at the youngest’s school lives in Altea so she’d offered him a lift down that afternoon. How he laughed at his parents wearing shorts as is his privilege with endless sunny days ahead – but we needed all the Vitamin D we could get.

journey through the Valencia region

We let him choose whatever he wanted for one last meal with us and what did he go for? An Indian restaurant – he’d been longing for a curry up in his mountain eyrie.

journey through the Valencia region

(Terrible light here but I’m trying to show you how easy it was to work the blue and ivory combination).

journey through the Valencia region

IdLF at Uniqlo jacket (SS16); Baukjen ivory V-neck (SS18); Travel jeans

A journey through the Valencia region – Friday

The following morning we took him back to his house, saying gooodbye until June…

Nikki Garnett, youngest son, Spain

… and dropped the car off in Alicante where we caught a train and headed to a city that has a special place in my heart – Valencia. Long term readers may remember why Valencia is important to me because I wrote about it here when we took the boys there six years ago. If you’re newer to Midlifechic, this is part of the story I told back then and it will give you context for the next part of our journey.

A bit of background to my love of Valencia

Why Valencia? Well I lived there in 1988. You see I was doing a joint honours degree in modern languages, so I had to achieve equal fluency in both French and Spanish. This meant that for my third year, I spent six months living in France and six months in Spain. For the first foray I chose Paris and I wrote all about it here when we went back in 2016. To recap quickly I studied art history there and lodged with lots of other students at the Cité Universitaire. There were four of us from Nottingham University and two of us had chosen Valencia for the next part of our trip. I didn’t know the other girl very well (I’ll call her Karen – not her real name) but we were glad that when our time in Paris was up, we’d be heading onwards together.

Karen had spent the summer holiday before our year abroad working as a Red Coat at Butlins (for overseas readers that’s a rep at a holiday camp). She’d fallen madly in love with another Red Coat and like most of us she was very homesick in Paris. She started behaving a bit erratically and shortly before we were due to leave, her boyfriend came over for a visit and knocked on my door one night. He told me that he was worried because she was pregnant but wouldn’t tell anyone – not even her mum.

After he’d gone, I sat down with her and had a long chat (bear in mind that we were young and stupid). She didn’t have a good relationship with her parents so we decided that she didn’t have to tell anyone, we’d carry on and go to Valencia. She could have the baby while we were out there and it would all be fine. I had a niggling concern but figured we’d work it out between us – and of course it would give us a whole new dimension to our Spanish! We booked our flights and were all set for our adventure but with a week’s break between the two halves of our year abroad, we both went home to see our families. Two nights later my mum had a call from Karen’s mum to say that she wouldn’t be coming to Valencia with me – she wasn’t prepared to explain why – but of course I knew.

Plan B

So, my plans changed and with the blind confidence that comes with youth, I had no concerns about going to an unknown country on my own. Sometimes though, life rolls a lucky dice and Justine, a good friend from my school days called me. She’d completed the course that she’d been doing and heard that I was off to Spain – she wondered if she could come with me, her dad had a contact in Barcelona where she might be able to find some work. We decided she’d join me in Valencia for a couple of weeks and then travel back to Barcelona when she’d organised a job.

And off we went. There was no airport at Valencia in those days so we flew to Barcelona, stayed a night and then travelled on by train. It was early March and it’s amazing when I think now of all the endless health and safety prep the boy had to go through before his year abroad – all I had was the name of a professor in the English department at the university (Nottingham University’s Spanish Department was twinned with Valencia’s English Department).

When we emerged from Valencia railway station it was utter chaos. The streets were heaving and it sounded as though guns were being fired all around us. We’d never heard of Valencia’s famous Fallas festival when the city turns into a huge party town for a week and people travel from miles around to see the political effigies that appear on every street. The ‘gunshots’ were Valencia’s famous Mascletàs fireworks which are all about the sound and sensation rather than the light. They literally shake you to the bone.

So, of course the university was closed and every hotel room we tried was booked…the only accommodation we could find was what we soon realised was a brothel masquerading as a hostel which had one very shabby, smelly room left. Luckily we’d inter-railed together a couple of years before so we were used to low budget travel but nothing quite compared to this.

However, for the days until the university reopened we survived, wandering the city in a rather dazed way just going with the flow. When Fallas finally came to an end, I was welcomed warmly into the university and they were incredibly kind to Jus too, even though she wasn’t on their list. Not that the list meant much. We discovered that we were expected to find our own lodgings and the only way to do that was by walking the streets and looking for signs saying ‘se alquila’ in apartment windows. We joined up with another student refugee and after a few days of knocking on doors and making hesitant phone calls, we found somewhere.

Having been thrown in at the deep end like that, our Spanish improved rapidly. I had a certain amount of work that I was expected to do to help the final year students who were due to take their English exams. However I’d been awarded a hefty travel grant so I had no worries about money. Jus on the other hand was travelling under her own steam and cash was running out. Phone calls to her dad’s contact were not returned and so she faced a stark choice of going home or finding a way to fund herself.

We gave ourselves a deadline of a week and made leaflets offering English tuition which the secretary at the university photocopied for us, suggesting that we add her phone number for enquiries. We must have walked the streets for miles placing them under windscreen wipers and before we knew it, the jobs started to come in. In fact soon Jus was so busy that I had to take some of the lessons for her.

And so we settled. Our flatmate turned out to be an unusual chap – these days you’d have called him ‘buff’ and in his limited luggage he carried a large collection of copies of the Gay Times. He proudly showed us that he funded his studies by modelling for them. As such, his regime of ‘self care’ took up a lot of his time and he also had a German girlfriend who was often in residence. One day he flew out to see her for the weekend never to return, leaving us with all of the bills and another life lesson learned.

Looking back through my photos for this post I came across this and it reminded me of how much I hated my body back then because in an era of curvaceous 80s models I’d always been bullied for being skinny. I wore baggy clothes to hide it all the time. How it makes me sigh now. As you’ll have gathered, my parents had come to Valencia to visit me (so much circularity in this post) and I love the way that my mum had her smart handbag at the beach and my dearly loved dad’s still got his socks and shoes on.

Nikki Garnett, Midlifechic, bikini

Mind you it must have been hot here – his sandals are on but the socks are off… a very unusual state of affairs!

journey through the Valencia region

Happy memories…

Reflections on this midpoint of life – looking back

There are lots of other stories but they’ll have to wait for another day, Justine and I are still close and she’s a wonderful godmother to our middle boy. I remember doing a lot of thinking when I lived in Valencia just as the youngest is now. I knew that when I left, I’d have a year of hard work at Uni and then I’d have to carve a path so I spent a lot of time trying to work out what that might be. Like most people, at 21 I thought that life was going to be easy – that as long as I had a good degree everything would unfurl in front of me. I had plans to do an MPhil and was intending to spend my life in academia. With my languages under my belt I saw myself travelling the world and quite possibly settling overseas somewhere.

I had no idea then of how much impact circumstance and synchronicity have on the plans you make in your head. Just as significant are the people you fall in love with along the way and particularly, of course, the one you choose to join your life with. If all goes well, you build your dreams around each other so that they twist and turn like vines as you wend your way through the years – your ambitions can no longer be yours alone.

I’m very aware that the time since the boys went to university has been a period of quiescence for Mal and me and will be for a little while yet until we know they’re settled. But then there may be a chance for me to pick some of my 21 year-old dreams up again for a while with Mal beside me – and that feels invigorating. So we’re trying to find what will work for us both. Going back to the points about synchronicity and circularity, it feels meaningful that my boy has ended up loving the region that meant so much to me, drawing me back to it again just as I approach the end of the active mothering stage of my life.

So, here I am once more arriving by train into the city of Valencia with the banging and crackling of Fallas already beginning outside.

journey through the Valencia region

Hush knitted tee (past season); Mango jeans (AW23); Trainers

The Airbnb we’d booked this time was a super-minimalist city loft and we were astounded to find that it was the owner’s actual home – even uber-tidy Mal couldn’t imagine living in quite such a pared down way. Again it was one I could recommend for a short stay – details here. I spent Friday evening re-orientating myself and we watched as the districts frantically added the finishing touches to their Fallas structures in time for the deadline of 8am the following morning.

journey through the Valencia region

Whistles jacket (SS16); IdLF at Uniqlo shirt (SS17); Me+Em jeans (SS19)

They really are magnificent and each one has a specific social or political commentary that it’s making with notes and explanations around the base of the structure. People spend ages scrutinising them and talking through the points, it’s a great way of drawing a community into its local culture and zeitgeist. This was about the vanity of social media and the way it’s warping our mindsets…

journey through the Valencia region

… making people more unhappy.

journey through the Valencia region

Along with the almost constant firework explosions, the streets are filled with light. You see it’s a celebration of the arrival of spring which is especially important to Valencia as the garden of Spain.

journey through the Valencia region

A journey through the Valencia region – Saturday

Things really got going on Saturday when we were woken early by marching bands…

Nikki Garnett, midlife travel blogger

Waistcoat; Jeans

The Central Market was only five minutes away from the apartment…

journey through the Valencia region

… so we wandered around…

journey through the Valencia region

… choosing what to buy…

journey through the Valencia region

… for breakfast on the hoof which, as it was Fallas, came with a glass of free sangria.

Nikki Garnett, midlife travel blogger

We spent the rest of the day exploring the different Fallas structures and in the evening the first of the beautiful processions came through. It’s a very local festival, important to the people who live there and so it isn’t marketed to tourists, I’d say that only about 3% of the crowd were from overseas.

journey through the Valencia region

A journey through the Valencia region – Sunday

Whereas Saturday is about celebration, Sunday is more serious. Each district sends a band to accompany its women in traditional dress…

Nikki Garnett, midlife travel blogger

… here they were enjoying the morning with an outburst of spontaneous dancing that we caught. Later the mood changes.

journey through the Valencia region

And while we were waiting for the more focused turn of events we had one of our own – the youngest texted to say he was on his way to join us which was a lovely surprise.

journey through the Valencia region

I’m sure the thought of another day on our budget was part of the appeal and we spent the afternoon with tapas. I had to add this photo because these two were having a debate about the unfairness of society to modern women and I felt a moment of pride at having enlightened men in my life.

journey through the Valencia region

Anyway here we are as the serious side of Fallas begins – the offering of flowers to the Virgin Mary. Earlier in the week this impressive structure had been built…

journey through the Valencia region

… and for hours women from every region in Valencia process through the streets, each with a bouquet of flowers…

journey through the Valencia region

… that is handed over until Mary is fully clothed. Sadly we had to leave early the following morning so I didn’t get to see the finished result but I remember it from last time – and the fragrance that filled the city for a few days. We also missed the Crema which is the final night of Fallas when each of the socio-political structures is burned, they’re built from sustainable and non-toxic flammable materials for this purpose. Good things always come to an end.

journey through the Valencia region

And so that was our trip and there was a comfort in finding that so little has changed in my city when so much has changed for me. I often find that travel helps me to step back a bit and see things with a lifelong context rather than a nearsighted one. This has turned out to be the longest post I’ve ever written but it feels pivotal. Just as the fallow of winter is bursting into spring around us, I’m beginning to feel a new sense of purpose and growth too. I think a lot of us have a personal winter in midlife as we adjust from one stage of adulthood to another, a transitional few years when we need to think ahead and adapt.

The reawakening comes when you start to see new ways of life emerging…

… but more on that as we travel through it together.

Disclosure: ‘A journey through the Valencia region and reflections on this midpoint of life’ is not a sponsored post

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