Valencia is a harmony of the cultural and the cosmopolitan, of the historical and the high-tech, a brilliant balance of ancient and avant-garde. It’s a fantastic destination for a city break; the third-largest city in Spain takes a bit of buzz from Barcelona, some magic from Madrid and blends it with its own distinct identity, a melting pot of Moorish and Mediterranean influences and plenty more besides.
It’s got an impressive CV (could that be curriculum valenciana?): one of the largest historic centres in the country with appropriately awe-inspiring architecture, a vibrant social scene, miles of green spaces and golden sands, great food, and great weather. If you’re short on time, most of the city’s sightseeing can be done within three main areas:
On the way down to the beach, stop in at the beautiful Bodega Casa Montana, one of the oldest restaurants in Valencia serving up the best tapas in the city, with seafood dishes to die for, in an authentic artisanal setting. It’s all wooden wine barrels and rustic charm; be sure to ask your waiter to recommend a glass (or three) of wine from the extensive selection.
Valencia is hailed as the home of traditional paella; the original recipe calls for rabbit, snails and butterbeans, with shrimps and mussels topping the seafood version. Top tip: never order ‘paella mixta’ (fish and meat) as you will likely be met with snorts of derision (or at least a loud tut) and watch out for anywhere advertising paella on gaudy colourful signs outside the door – any local will tell you it’s a sure sign that it is cooked from frozen, which is unthinkable for the paella purist.
Thankfully, you’re near La Pepica, once a favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway himself and regarded as the best place in town for seafood paella. Located at the southernmost point of Playa Malvarrosa, it’s a perfect pit-stop after paying a visit to the newly developed port area next door, with the stunning centrepiece structure Veles e Vents, the ultramodern America’s Cup Building constructed for the signature sailing event held here in 2007 and 2010. This landmark event saw a hefty investment into the waterfront area, where sleek superyachts now pack the docks in the shadow of historic port buildings. Strolling up the long beach promenade works up a thirst, so it’s only right you quench it with a refreshing agua de Valencia, a local cocktail as luscious as it is lethal: a heady blend of cava, gin, vodka and, of course, orange juice. Another tip: avoid sangria at the beach, as it is invariably mass-market stuff aimed squarely at tourists, of low quality and high price. There are plenty of trendy bars along the promenade, although most of the major beach clubs are only open during the summer months. If you’re there at the right time, Akuarela Playa is an excellent choice, a huge tropical nightclub with three rooms and a Caribbean flavour, where you can dance through the night to watch the sun rise over the ocean from the awesome open-air top floor terrace.