Valencia: See the 25th century, right here, right now

The 32nd America's Cup is currently taking place in Valencia. It's worth exploring beyond the harbour, says Adrian Mourby
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The Independent Travel

Boy, has Valencia changed! The 32nd America's Cup has given this city a great excuse to build, polish and demolish. Down in the docks, the harbour front has been completely taken over by a vast new viewing gallery and a series of large, colourful hangars, where these alarmingly tall boats sleep each night.

In the empty riverbed of the Rio Turia stands the city's major tourist attraction, the City of Arts and Sciences, architect Santiago Calatrava's stunning attempt to build the 25th century here and now.

Change is something Valencia is used to. When Christendom seized this city from the Muslims in 1238, the Great Mosque was turned into a cathedral and the walls were replaced with bigger Christian fortifications. In 1865, the city fathers knocked these down, leaving just an enormous gatehouse, Torres de Serranos, guarding the river bridge. Then, in the 1960s, the city diverted the Turia itself, leaving an empty natural moat in which Calatrava built his City.

And yet much remains the same. From Torres de Serranos, the main street through Valencia still follows the old Roman road to the Forum. Now called Plaza de la Virgen, people still gather here to drink and talk and watch women dancing to guitars, their hair elaborately twisted and pinned like so many prancing Queen Padmés.

The one problem is that the two Valencias - old and new - are a €10 taxi ride apart. After a morning watching the boats being unwrapped, I travel back into the old city and squeeze my way through crowds that swarm round any piece of rococco architecture. After 20 minutes taking in the smells and colours of the covered market, I slip into Pilar, a thin wedge of a bar squeezed between two converging roads. It's too hot to eat outside.

After lunch, I take a taxi to the Palace of the Arts, Calatrava's newly opened arts complex in the City. In the sun, it is simply staggering. He is the kind of superstar architect who gives you faith in modern design; he's also Valencian-born. His new palace looks like a cross between an ocean liner and a 200ft mechanical egg that is slowly opening.

I'm wondering about going back when it strikes me that this is the first quiet bit of Valencia I've found all weekend, so I sit on the side of the aquamarine lake in which the egg "floats", and just enjoy the view.

HOW TO GET THERE

EasyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com) has return flights for £106. The Confortel Aqua (00 34 963 187 100; confortelhoteles. com) has rooms for €80 (£57) per night.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Valencia Tourist Board (00 34 963 153 931; turisvalencia.es).

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