As a new Mum, it was with some trepidation that Ellen planned and embarked on her first 'family' holiday ever, having to pack her new, one-year-old son, Jake, and all his baby gear up to take to Spain on holiday. Ellen wondered how different this experience would be from the child-free holidays she'd enjoyed in the past...

Jalón Valley welcome

Holidays for me were all about jetting off for a week in the sun, relaxing, enjoying the local amenities (let's be honest, the bars), lazing about in the mornings and debating which pair of the fifteen shoes I'd packed would be chosen that day and get their chance to hit the spanish pavements. However, my holiday experience totally changed when, in 2015, we decided to take Jake, our one-year-old son away on his, and indeed our first, family holiday.

Little Jake heads off on his first holiday abroad with his mum and dad, to sizzling Spain.

Jake with mum, Ellen.

Jake with his dad, Simon, catching a few rays!

We thought it would be a good idea to invite some ready-made babysitters to join us - they would be the in-laws - his parents, and my stepdad. That meant that, in total, there were three elders in their seventies, two thirty-somethings and one toddler in our multi-generational party. Interesting...

Everyone was in agreement that Spain in September would be ideal, mainly due to the temperature not being too hot for the little one - and for the older ones too - and with the main holiday season over, our flights and car hire were much cheaper than they would have been had we holidayed earlier in the year...

We flew into Costa Blanca's Alicante airport and, after ensuring we had accounted for all our luggage and our relatives, we collected the hire car. When I say car, think 'rock band tour bus' - it was a very large vehicle.

The journey to our accomodation in the Jalón Valley took just over an hour from the airport, with a further 20 minutes navigating our huge hire car through the narrow winding streets of Xaló. As we journeyed to our accommodation, it struck me how residential the area was, with no towering hotels in sight, just small villas nestling into the hills, blending in among the local houses. A great first impression.

The Jalón Valley is characterised by its intimate towns and villages.

The Jalón Valley is enclosed by ruggedly beautiful mountains.

Embraced by ruggedly beautiful mountains, the landscape of Costa Blanca is serenely stunning. Most mornings were spent exploring. A happy discovery on one car jaunt was one of the vineyards in the area. I did think maybe the sun had gone to our heads when we found ourselves buying several bottles of wine, after all it was Spanish wine... Could it really be that good? Wasn't it too cheap to be drinkable? But my inner wine snob was soon silenced as it was more than perfectly drinkable.

Spanish wine surprised Ellen, a self-confessed wine label snob, by being both reasonably priced and a very pleasing drink.

Evenings were spent dining at one of the many restaurants in the area. When I say many, I certainly don't want to paint a picture of high streets littered with neon-lit snack shacks. Rather, we had to explore the area to find them, but they are there. Remember the little winding streets? That's where the restaurants and small local shops can be found, tucked away in corners of quiet little plazas.

The streets of the towns and villages in the Jalón Valley are very pretty and peppered with wonderfully traditional architecture.

Follow the meandering streets, which will invariably lead you to tucked away places such as the Parcent Plaza, where you will find quirky local shops and traditional dining experiences.

​This is clearly not a tourist-heavy area, however you would be fooled into thinking the staff in the restaurants and shops here had been put through Michelin-star training. Nothing was too much trouble.

The Spanish people absolutely love children and could not have done more to make everyone in our party feel welcome and comfortable. One amused waitress laughed, but duly accommodated him, when my father-in-law asked for mint sauce to accompany his Spanish lamb stew, to a collective groan from the rest of us of "Oh John!". The food of the area is just as you would imagine, typical Spanish casseroles, patatas bravas and many delicious tapas dishes, including albondigas or meatballs, banderillas, which are small skewers of pickles, olives and gherkins, and the amazingly hot but very 'moreish' Basque chillies.

Tasty food, like this traditional lamb stew, enjoyed in the local restaurants, is a fine way to while away a long and leisurely lunch or evening.

Basque chillies look as good off the plate as they taste on it!

Valencia for romance

To make the most of the holiday, we arranged a trip to Valencia. My partner had lived there for some years and he was keen to show me the sights of this vibrant city by the sea.

Valencia is a spectacular coastal port city where Simon lived for some years before meeting Ellen. Their holiday gave him the chance to show Ellen all the things he loved so much about the place.

We had booked a table at the famous La Pepica Restaurant, right on the seafront, which to this day is run by the grandchildren of the restaurant's founders. La Pepica was a favourite haunt of Ernest Hemmingway and his presence is acknowledged with murals and photographs adorning the walls in dedication to him. You can literally soak up the history of the place by looking around the room. Of course, we had to indulge in the paella, which was cooked in an open kitchen with a huge mirror cleverly positioned above the cooking area, so wherever you are seated you can see the chefs at work.

The famous La Pepica Restaurant enjoys a fabulous location, right on the seafront, as well as a rich history, being a regular haunt of Ernest Hemmingway.

Valencia could not have been more different to Jalón, having a real bustling, cosmopolitan and exciting feel to the place. High-end clothing brands, on-site restaurant and a supermarket can be found in El Corte Inglés department store alone. This is definitely worth a look, even if just for some aspirational window shopping!

In the evening we decided the time had come to make good use of our babysitters to steal some couples' time in this fabulous city. We sat outside at one of the many bars and enjoyed some tapas dishes, which were reasonably priced for a city, much to our surprise. Even in the hubbub of the city centre, there is a relaxed atmosphere, with many people enjoying the al fresco evening dining.

By day or night, Valencia is a bustling and vibrant city with a cosmopolitan feel to it. Ellen and Simon made good use of their babysitters while in Valencia as they took time out to explore.

We ended our holiday back in Jalón. Feeling both energised and recuperated. We had enjoyed our Spanish sabbatical for different reasons, but mainly for the welcoming warmth of the people and the hidden gems of Jalón.

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