Any suspicions that Spain's third city needs to do a bit of catching up to compete in the style stakes with Barcelona and Madrid are dispelled the moment you step on to the nose-to-tail cow-skin rugs of the Palau de la Mar's lobby. The city's newest boutique hotel, and the only one to boast five stars, the Palau de la Mar opened last year in what was once a pair of grand 19th-century palaces. It has lost nothing of the sedate grandeur - though now it is a very modern affair, painted all in white and decorated with abstract artwork and the odd standard lamp.
A fairy-tale double staircase curves up from the lobby to the main rooms in the original building. In what would have been the back courtyard, an extension has been built from slatted wood. Slightly Japanese in style, it houses more functional but still sensual rooms. All the guests share the calm outdoor space as well as two salons and a bibliotèque, which has a computer and coffee-table books.
A spa in the basement, with a sauna, steam room, plunge pool and gym, completes the hotel that aspires to be a place for the great, the good and the very rich, who will be flocking to the port city for the America's Cup in 2007.
Hospes Palau de la Mar, Navarro Reverter 14, 46004 Valencia (00 34 9631 62884; www.hospes. es). Just off Valencia's main shopping street, Calle Colon, it is also yards from the converted main market where you can drink coffee - or horchata, a milky drink made from tiger nuts - and people-watch from one of the many relaxed bars. Dotted around, too, are up-market shops and numerous restaurants and cafés.
Calle Colon is on the eastern edge of the compact town centre. It lies between the historic area with its cathedral, church tower, food market and impressive 15th-century silk-exchange building, and the Turia dry river bed where you can find the new City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia's new attraction designed by the city's favourite son, Santiago Calatrava.
Time from international airport: a taxi from the airport shouldn't take more than 20 minutes and will cost around €30 (£21).
The 66 rooms, with their dark wooden floors and white walls, are delightfully simple and spacious - though unpacking a few Louis Vuitton cases would stretch the storage space to its limits. There's no such stinting on the bathrooms. Hidden behind floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, they have double basins, a capacious bath and marble clean enough to eat your frittatas off.
Attention to detail with a determined lack of flourish extends to many aspects of the hotel. While the mini-bar is complimentary, in a city where €10 will buy you a good lunch, a desultory ham and cheese toastie sitting alone and naked on a room-service tray for the same price looks rather paltry and certainly doesn't reflect the culture of this distinctly foodie city.
Freebies: plentiful Korres products, specially packaged for Hospes hotels.
Keeping in touch: cordless phone and flat-screen television, but no radio or DVD player. Internet connection is free but, curiously for such a new hotel, not wireless.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Doubles start from €160 (£114) in low season and €210 (£150) in high; breakfast is €14 (£10).
I'm not paying that: the well-located two-star Hotel Venecia (00 34 963 524 267; www.hotelvenecia.com) has doubles from €64 (£45), excluding breakfast.