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Insider's Guide: Valencia


For this week's Insider's Guide, Ted Wake, director of sales and marketing at short-break specialist Kirker Holidays (kirkerholidays .com), offers his 10 tips for a holiday in the Spanish region of Valencia.

1. There's no better time to head to Valencia. Prepare to pinch yourself as you step out into a surprisingly sunny day, and reward yourself after a successful sightseeing session with a plate of paella and the feel of the sand between your toes on the beach. Even in winter, temperatures are mild.

2. The region is spectacularly diverse, with lots to do from an evening of opera at Valencia's spectacular City of Arts & Sciences to an al-fresco lunch alongside the marina in Alicante. Pick up porcelain collectables in Lladro or revel in baby-boomer bliss in Calpe, a tourist destination developed in the 1970s that has managed to retain some authentic charm.

3. The city of Valencia has one of the most magnificent sandy beaches. It was impressively redeveloped in 2007 to welcome the beautiful people of the America's Cup, and you can benefit from this investment. Try the many watersports available or simply enjoy watching energetic young locals as they surf, windsurf, kitesurf and sail, year-round.

4. If white wine is your tipple, be sure to sample the region's moscatel, a deliciously sweet glass of heaven that blends perfectly with the local cuisine. Valencia is less renowned for wine than other parts of Spain, but its reputation is growing.

5. No visit would be complete without sampling paella, which originated in this region. The hackneyed 21st-century version of this famous dish is not for the locals, however. Join the aficionados in eschewing tourist-trap restaurant fodder and try a paella made with conejo (rabbit), caracoles (snail) and judias blancas (a large white bean). Absolutely delicious.

6. Another gastronomic must-do is a visit to Valencia city's Mercado Central, one of Europe's oldest food markets. Don't let the locals-only ambience deter you. Plunge in and enjoy delicacies including habas – peeled baby broad beans that taste incredible cooked with jamon (Spanish ham) and a touch of garlic. Nowhere in the UK would you find farmers picking broad beans when they are so small, sweet and delicious, let alone finding the time to peel them. Valencia's growers are justifiably proud of their produce.

7. Most of Spain enjoys a breakfast of churros (sweet doughnuts), but in the Valencia region it's traditional to have fartons (sponge fingers).

8. Among the impressive architecture of Valencia is the city's cathedral, a stupendous structure that like so many of the religious buildings here was once a mosque. Sit discreetly at the back during a Sunday afternoon service to enjoy the setting at its finest. Or you can pull up a chair at a café in the cathedral square to marvel at the scale and beauty of its exterior.

9. Architect Santiago Calatrava hails from Benimamet, a small village not far from Valencia. He is noted, locally, for his design of the city's spectacular Arts & Sciences building.

10. The Parque Natural de la Albufera, with its beautiful freshwater lagoon and rice fields, is a delight at any time, but particularly in the early morning. Invest in the services of a private guide. There are wonderful wildlife encounters to be had all year round but bird lovers will feel blessed in autumn and spring when migratory species abound.

For more information on holidays in Spain and elsewhere, visit the website of Aito (Association of Independent Tour Operators) at aito.com