The Best Of Valencia

One architect's dramatic, futuristic work has revived the city. Ian McCurrach reports

Spain's third city, famous for its fiery fiestas, has been given a hefty makeover by its home-grown architect Santiago Calatrava. Valencia, just north of the Costa Blanca, has had the reputation of being Spain's party town but outside the labyrinthine old town, parts of it were a little run down. What was once down at heel is now top notch. In the way that Barcelona transformed itself from backwater to boomtown in the early 1990s by regenerating its port, Calatrava has neatly filled Valencia's gap between the city and the sea. He has created the fantastic space-age City of Art and Sciences - huge white concrete folds and cubes growing amid mosaic-lined pools on the dry Turia riverbed, which extends from the historic old town and the port.

Spain's third city, famous for its fiery fiestas, has been given a hefty makeover by its home-grown architect Santiago Calatrava. Valencia, just north of the Costa Blanca, has had the reputation of being Spain's party town but outside the labyrinthine old town, parts of it were a little run down. What was once down at heel is now top notch. In the way that Barcelona transformed itself from backwater to boomtown in the early 1990s by regenerating its port, Calatrava has neatly filled Valencia's gap between the city and the sea. He has created the fantastic space-age City of Art and Sciences - huge white concrete folds and cubes growing amid mosaic-lined pools on the dry Turia riverbed, which extends from the historic old town and the port.

Best hotel

The modern, five-star Melia Valencia Palace, Avenida Paseo de la Alameda 32 (00 34 96 337 50 37; www.solmelia.es), has large rooms overlooking the peaceful Turia Gardens and Palau de la Musica, a mile from the old town. Doubles from €107 (£71) per night. One of the most charming hotels is the Ad-Hoc Hotel, Calle Boix 4 (00 34 96 391 91 40; www.adhochoteles.com). Dating from 1881 in the Xerea quarter by the cathedral, this three-star property features exposed brickwork and exquisite furnishings. Double rooms from €80 (£53) per night.

Best restaurant

Valencia is famous for its paella. Look out for galeras, the distinctively flavoured translucent prawns, which along with bomba rice, grown in paddy fields just south of Valencia near Albuferra freshwater lake, are the two main ingredients that make Valencian paella special. For fine Mediterranean fare with an oriental twist served in a contemporary salon try Seu Xerea, Calle Conde de Almodovar 4 (00 34 96 392 40 00). Great menu and wine list. Around €45 (£30) per head excluding wine. Booking essential. Burdeos in Love, Calle Mar 4 (0034 96 391 43 50), offers traditional dishes and great gourmet tapas. About €30 (£20). In the old fishermen's quarter of El Cabanyal, Bodega Montana, Calle Jose Benlliure 69 (00 34 96 367 23 14), is an old bodega with wooden barrels, and top tapas. From €11 (£7).

Best cultural attraction

Along with the Valencian Institute of Modern Art, Calle Guillem de Castro 118 (0034 96 386 30 00; www.ivam.es) where you can pay homage to all the big-name Spanish artists such as El Greco, Goya, and Velasquez, there is also the Fine Arts Museum, Calle de San Pio V (0034 96 360 57 93). Don't miss the Ceramics Museum, Calle Poeta Querol 2 (0034 96 351 63 92), housed in an over-the-top Baroque palace with an 18th-century alabaster façade. The big draw is the City of Arts and Sciences, Avenida Autopista de el Saler 1, 3, 5, 7 (00 34 96 902 100 031), which punctures Valencia's skyline like a series of bleached cathedrals, giant eyes and prehistoric monsters. Take your pick from the many interactive exhibitions, Imax movies, galleries, walkways and gardens, science museum and oceanographic park, an underwater city and aquarium complete with lakes and lagoons.

Best shopping

Brightly coloured pottery is a chic bargain on the market stalls outside the Art Nouveau girder- and-glass-covered market. Make savings of up to 50 per cent on UK prices at the trendy Spanish shoe chain Camper, Calle Colon 13. For designer clothes bargains, head for Adolfo Dominguez, Calle Sorni 13. Armand Basi, Calle Colon 2, has classic and contemporary menswear at prices less than at home.

Best sightseeing

The romantically named Barrio del Carmen is the oldest part of town. Big and beautiful Baroque façades are the distinctive features, and a climb to the top of the wedding-cake cathedral roof in Plaza de la Virgen rewards you with a beautiful view of the town with its blue-domed churches. The cathedral's museum claims to be the home of one of the three Holy Grails, so look out for the gold cup used by Christ during the Last Supper.

Best nightspot

Fox Congo, Calle Caballeros 35, has a marble bar and titanium and leather on the walls, and attracts the chic crowd. You can salsa the night away at Johnny Maracas, Calle Caballeros 39, one of Spain's hottest salsa joints. At Carmen, Calle Caballeros 38, have a history lesson by dancing next to the 11th-century Arabian city walls, which have been cunningly incorporated into the design.

Best way to get there

Manises Airport is just 10km west of the city. Airlines flying to Valencia include British Airways (0870-850 9850; www.ba.com) from Gatwick for £86 return, Iberia (0845-850 9000; www.iberia.com) from Gatwick for £99 return and Thomsonfly.com ( www.thomsonfly.com; 0870-190 0737) from Coventry for £45 return.

A taxi from Manises to the centre costs about €12-€15 (£8-£10) and takes around 20 minutes depending on traffic. Or take the airport bus, which runs every 15 minutes from the airport bus station and takes around 30 minutes to the centre. Single fare €1 (70p). Trains run between the airport station and Estacion del Norte, the main station, every 11 minutes and take 20 minutes. Single fare €1 (70p).

The best way of getting around this compact city is by foot or by taxi. No journey should cost more than about €6 (£4). For more information contact Valencia Tourism (0034 96 398 64 22; www.comunidadvalenciana.com) and the Spanish Tourist Office (020-7486 8077; www.tourspain.es).

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