For a short break featuring magnificent ancient architecture together with classic modern design, Valencia has few peers. Old Town, futuristic science park, landscaped port, beaches - it has the lot
For so long a poor relation amongst Spain's fabulous cities, Valencia is now a must to visit.
The Old Town
Start off by getting lost in the labyrinth of streets and alleyways that form the city's walled medieval heart. It is here that you find the majestic cathedral (officially called The Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia!), consecrated in 1238 and home to a holy chalice, claimed to be the Holy Grail! Alongside sits the main square, resplendent with its ornate fountain.
The cobbled streets and narrow alleyways are stuffed with interesting shops, restaurants, cafes and beautiful facades. Make sure you wander around the marvellous indoor food market and watch old ladies stuffing their net shopping bags and old men weighing themselves!
By daytime watch street performers and by night time view the posers - we found the rollerblader (see video) clad from head to toe in bright orange lycra, whizzing round and round the square, no doubt proclaiming 'look at me!', absolutely hilarious to watch.
For a fabulous view of the city, climb the Torres de Serranos, one of the main entry gates. You can see right down to the coast on a good day and it is a very good way to get your bearings.
If paella is your thing, you are spoilt for choice. Every variety imaginable is available from the multitude of eateries that flank the square, and at very reasonable prices. €12 will get you a set tourist menu of paella Valenciana and creme brulee. No need to name them as there are loads to choose from, all pretty much the same.
For a quick snack, you have to sample the local delicacy - hortacha and fartons - don't laugh, it tastes great and will give you such a sugar fix that you will be buzzing for hours! Hortacha is a low fat sweetened milk drink made from chufa root, whilst a farton is a sweet bread stick that you dip into your glass before chomping. Extremely calorific so proceed with caution!
As you would expect, there are a good number of bodegas dotted about for your wine fix. Try Restaurante Sidreria El Molinon at 40 Calle Bolseria (telephone 963 911 538) for something different. Here you can sample Spanish cider (poured from a great height with aplomb). An excellent accompaniment to smoked ham off the bone. We also sampled the apple pie doused in flaming vodka - take care not to burn your tongue!
Tapas and drinks for about €25 per head - advisable to book in advance as very popular.
For something a bit more up market, try La Lola at Calle Subida Toledà 8 (Tel 96 391 8045)
La Lola is situated in a tiny little passage, close to the cathedral and just off Plaza de la Reina. There's also a lunch time menu for 15 euros - reservations highly recommended.
By contrast to the centuries old buildings of the old town, take the bus (No 19, 35, 95, 40) to Valencia's ultra-modern arts & science park.
Futuristic buildings of glass and steel in the Norman Foster mould, house the concert hall, science museum, planetarium/IMAX cinema and aquarium. Landscaped gardens & water features complete the picture - you could easily spend the whole day there, although you may need some more hortacha and fartons for energy!
We visited the fabulous Oceanografic - home to every species of marine life you care to mention from beluga whales to seahorses. An undoubted highlight is the 45 minute dolphin show - my 40 year old wife quickly became an excited schoolgirl once more!
The Coastal Area
Take the tram from opposite the Torres de Serranos for the 15 minute journey down to Las Arenas, gateway to Valencia's beach and port.
Golden beaches, swaying palms and seafood aplenty - you could be forgiven for thinking you have just arrived in Antigua!
The beach is packed with locals at weekends but we were there on a Thursday in September and had a vast expanse to ourselves. the pretty promenade is lined with seafood restaurants. They all offer pretty similar fare and expect to pay €30-40 per head for wine and excellent seafood. Reserve a sea view table at any of La Marcelina at Paseo de Neptuno, 8 (Tel: 963 71 20 25), Sol i Lluna at Calle del Mar, 29 (Tel: 962 92 22 16) or La Perla at Av. Neptuno, 24 (Tel: 963 71 77 67).
Stroll to the end of the promenade to take in the revamped marina, part of Valencia's main port, the biggest in Spain.
This area used to be pretty drab but thanks to yachting's richest competition, The Americas Cup, it is now landscaped to perfection.The story goes that a Swiss team won the Cup and were therefore obliged to host the next competition. Lake Geneva hardly fitted the bill, so Valencia bid to host it for them and won the right to do so. It was actually held there twice until the Swiss team lost.
It is an area now as chic as Monaco and home to the super yacht toys of the super rich! The area is also part of the Valencia F1 Grand Prix circuit, held in June each year.
We stayed in the old town at Ad Hoc Monumental Hotel, a 3 Star at Calle Boix 4, close to the cathedral. This boutique hotel is housed in a charming 19th century building and is tastefully decorated throughout. Double rooms are large and cost around £85 per night without breakfast.
For a slightly cheaper option in the old town, a friend of ours stayed at the Venecia Hotel on Plaza Ayuntamiento 3. Good clean doubles for around £50 per night. 5 minute walk to the cathedral and the train station.
As a fun alternative, fly cheaply to Madrid and then take a super fast train taking 1 hour 38 minutes and costing €80 each way. Visit www.renfe.com for more details.