Every city has a past … and all cities should have a future. Valencia has, for centuries, revelled in its history. But only recently has it begun to lay the foundations for the years ahead.
The city has experienced a remarkable rebirth over the last decade, transforming itself from an industrial sprawl into a ‘must-visit’ European destination. This renaissance has allowed Valencia to grow more than any city in Europe. The financial investment has been staggering. But it has been wisely spent, allowing Valencia – for so many years in the shadow of Madrid and Barcelona – to once again go head to head with the big boys.
Now is the ideal time to enjoy the revamped Valencia. Meander through ancient streets and glimpse a landscape that rejoices in progress and celebrates the past. The Plaza del Ayuntamiento provides an attractive starting point. It contains the imposing Town Hall, a building that reflects the city’s capacity to seamlessly merge the old and new, with parts of the edifice dating back to the 18th century, but the majority – including the glorious facade – constructed in the early 20th century.
Make sure you also allow a few minutes for the station. Yes, the Estacion del Norte, a few hundred metres down Calle Ribera, next to the city’s bullring. This is no ordinary railway station. Inaugurated in 1917, it’s a shining example of Valencian modernismo, full of decorative touches so often neglected in purely functional buildings. The other great square in the city is the Plaza de la Virgen. Surrounded by stunning architecture, it’s a pleasing location for a coffee while you take in the sights. At night the place is a hive of activity, with rollerbladers entertaining the crowds.
Food is a serious passion for all Valencianos and, in fact, it is difficult to ever witness the locals without some item of food being fed into their mouths. There are, unbelievably, seven eating periods in a typical Valencian day. But, as with all cosmopolitan cities, there is a wide variety of restaurants to feed the habit. A popular place for a fine but reasonably priced meal is Pizzeria La Vita e Bella, located on Calle d’En Llop just off the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. This superb restaurant, sympathetically converted from an old draper’s shop, successfully recreates the ambience of 1920s Valencia. The tagliatelle in green pesto, by the way, is to die for.
If you’re coming to Valencia for nightlife, you have certainly chosen the premier destination in the whole country. Valencia has always been a party town. The fiesta capital of Spain, the Valencianos are renowned for legendary weekends – when Friday runs into Sunday morning without a siesta in sight. Whether grooving in Barrio del Carmen, the real heart of the city, or chilling out at Playa de la Malvarrosa – a great atmosphere is guaranteed.
Malvarrosa is Valencia’s beach resort, where the city meets the coast. The hordes descend here en masse in the summer, with all the beautiful people hiding behind their Gucci sunglasses intent on eating the finest paella and making sure that lunch lasts for the rest of the day. If you fancy following in the footsteps of the legendary Ernest Hemingway, check in at La Pepica – the last in the line of restaurants in the Las Arenas area, north of the port.
If you are able to visit in March, you can enjoy the city’s world-famous Las Fallas festival. Lasting an entire week, with the papier-mache burning taking place on the last day, you will need a strong constitution to see out the whole fiesta. But many people do, and this is surely one of the greatest parties on earth.
Make sure you visit the City of Arts and Sciences, where you might consider spending a whole day in the best marine centre in Europe (L’Oceanografico) or in El Museo de Las Ciencias, a hands-on interactive science and technology experience. It is while you are here – surrounded by buildings at the vanguard of modern architecture – that you begin to understand what Valencia is all about: the perfect fusion of past and present, vision and inspiration … and fun for all of those who visit.