Valencia's modern face is exemplified by Calatrava's soaring, sculptural bird-like City of Arts and Sciences, which contains a science museum, theater, gardens and an aquarium.
The Prince Felipe science museum is full of hands-on and fun
exhibits -- in one, you become a secret service agent and attempt to
solve crimes using high-tech devices. L'Oceanogràfic, Europe's largest
aquarium, offers a series of different watery habitats connected by
stunning underground tunnels.
More upscale culture is found at the center's Palace of the
Art, which has stages for opera, dance and theater. Music is focused at
the nearby Palau de la Música.
A less highbrow passion is the local soccer team, FC Valencia.
In the past few years, it has battled it out with rivals Real Madrid
and FC Barcelona for the top of the tables. The stadium holds upwards
of 70,000, and tickets to most matches are available on the same day.
Kickoff often is at 9 p.m., allowing for tapas-bar hopping
beforehand. Fans crowd in the bars around the stadium, munching on such
specialties as marinated squid, fried calamari, anchovies and other
types of seafood snacks, all washed down with glasses of cold lager on
the tap or squirts of fresh, lemony white wines.
The historic center city is also home to the most historic tapas bars. Bar Pilar,
which opened in 1917, is particularly picturesque, with
pink-and-black-tiled walls. It calls itself the "home of mussels" and a
bowl of spiced shellfish is a meal in itself. Even in this day of the
fading dollar, a stomach-full of tapas and beer for two came to less
More refined seafood is found all over the city. Casa Civera,
(Mosen Fernandes 10; 34 96 352 97 64), just in back of the Town Hall,
offers a shiny, sparkling silver bar for munching and taking a quick
meal, and a spotless dining room. There's an excellent wine list with
selections from the area and from all over Spain. (Once known for
plonk, Valencia now produces some fine wines
A meal here does not come cheap -- expect to pay over $50 a head.
Valencia's best-known dish is paella, and the best place to find
it is not in the touristy hangouts along the Valencia beachfront, but a
short drive south of the city, near the renowned rice-growing region
called the Albufera.
At L'Alter (L'Alter Ca Juliet 3, Picassent 34-961 230-537),
just outside the village of Picassent, paella is cooked in giant pans
over orangewood before being set in the middle of the table.
There's paella with chicken and rabbit, paella with all sorts
of seafood, paella with the classic saffron-flavored rice and paella
with black rice covered by the ink from squid. All come with the
slightly burnt, crisp bottom that injects extra flavor, all are
delicious and all are reasonably priced. A meal for two, without wine
but including dessert costs a mere $40.
After a long lunch, how about enjoying a relaxing game of golf?
Six championship golf courses are within a 20-minute drive of the city
The one with the best reputation is the splendid links layout Campo de Golf El Saler set in the Albufera Nature Park
alongside the Mediterranean. The holes run amid sand dunes and pine
trees and contain some of the deepest fairway bunkers outside of
The golf course is set on the grounds of a gorgeous, recently renovated parador, part of the chain of luxury lodgings.
While most paradors are historic, this hotel is resolutely
modernist, and sits on the beachfront like a spaceship ready to blast
off. Inside, the décor is minimalist black and white, with large, open
spaces and vistas. Rooms go for upwards of $300 a night.
But it is not necessary to spend so much to enjoy Valencia.
Most of the hotels, like most of the city, recently have been upgraded
and it's possible to enjoy a stay in numerous nicely redone budget
hotels. The Hostal Venecia,
right on the Town Hall Square, costs a mere $90 a night for a
more-than-adequate double room. For an additional $7.50, there's a
nearly unbeatable buffet breakfast.
Whether your budget is luxury or economy, newly energized Valencia is a treat.