Plaza Santa Catalina in 1837, 1860, 1895 and 2013. Horchatería Santa Catalina is on the left, across the church entrance and El Siglo is on the right just before the church entrance.
Plaza de Santa Catalina (named after the Santa Catalina church), off Plaza de la Reina, located in the heart of Valencia since forever, is home to two of Valencia’s long-standing and iconic stores, all-but across the tiny pedestrian street from one another and selling the same product – horchata.
Horchata (orxata in Valencian) is the local beverage of the ages. The drink is made of tiger nuts, water and sugar; you can get substandard versions made from almonds or rice elsewhere, but Valencia is the home of the product. When the Muslims owned/ ran/ inhabited the city from the 8th-13th centuries, they perfected the drink, made from chufas (tiger nuts) in nearby Alboraia, outside the city area. It looks as if made from milk, but dairy-avoiders have no need to shy away from the drink. It is served ice-cold and has fartons (don’t poke fun of the name), long pastry delights dipped in for extra fun.
Right across from the entrance to the Santa Catalina church is Horchateria de Santa Catalina, which is decorated in the traditional tile design of the area. After several hundred years and multiple royal visits, they know what they are serving. Horchata, fartons, various pastries, churros and coffees are all available, and you can get your sugar on for just a few euros. It’s one of Valencia’s quiet icons, with a handy location to everywhere in the old town.
Across the tiny street is Horchatería El Siglo, who have been serving up horchata since 1836. The same products as across the street, though with a simpler setting, and some argue, better quality horchata. They also have a nice outdoor setting area. Again, for a few euros you can have all you want and chill with the locals. Or could, because as of 31 December 2014, thanks to a law changing rents in Spain, disaster has struck El Siglo. While the rent increases, put up to current market rates, have been coming for the last twenty years, they have now come into force. While many of the 9000 local family-owned stores in Valencia, the classic older stores of the city, managed to negotiate rents (going up thousands of euros a month!), some, like El Siglo have instead decided to close their doors and have the owners retire. Rents have been frozen, some for up to half a century, in Spain for the aid of businesses, and that helpful time has come to an end. After all this time, a law has closed El Siglo and we’ll be seeing some ugly generic Starbucks in there, even though they are everywhere like a plague. Thousands of stores around Spain will now disappear thanks to this law change. You will be seeing more franchises and generic stores over the beautiful lace stores, shoe stores, doll repairers (yes), antique shops, tailors, cafes, basket weavers, horchaterías et al, businesses handed down through generations. And that really sucks. The time for the rent freezes came to an end, and some argue it had to happen, however the face of Spain is being changed quickly, thanks to corporations who can afford the new rents.
RIP El Siglo