Rising Mediterranean player
One city, two beautiful faces: Spectacular new architecture and mega sports events are to help Valencia to rise to the ranks of the Champions’ League of European cities. But Spain’s third largest city can also play the charm card – and enchant visitors with lovely parks, trendy medieval districts and long beach promenades
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Urban splendour by the Mediterranean
Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias:
This is no fleet of alien spaceships forced to land in Valencia. What you see here is the work of star architects Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, a whole ensemble of futuristic buildings that grace Turia Gardens in the southeastern part of the city. The “City of Arts and Sciences” complex took shape between 1991 and 2006. Today, it is the landmark of the new Valencia and comprises, among other things, one of Europe’s largest aquariums, a spectacular opera house and a family-friendly science museum. The attractions are very popular and visitors can expect lengthy waiting times at the door.
Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias: Avenida Autopista del Saler 3-7. Admission prices and opening times vary according to attraction, weekday and season. Check website www.cac.es (English and Spanish)
Bed of roses: Turia Gardens stretch for seven kilometers across the city, so that many Valencianos have their favorite park on their doorstep. The Turia River flowed here right into the 1960s, dividing Valencia’s old and new towns. When flooding repeatedly posed a threat to large residential areas, the river was diverted. The ensuing discussion about how best to use the dry riverbed lasted some two decades. Instead of the highway that was originally planned, landscaping of the 110-hectare park with its many fountains, orange trees and green areas was begun in 1984 – and transformed Valencia into one of the greenest cities in Spain.
The Romans worshipped their pagan gods here, then came the Moors and built a mosque, which was forced to make way for a Gothic-style Christian church in the 13th century. But Valencia Cathedral is more than a place steeped in history; for more than 500 years, its Santo Cáliz (Holy Chalice) Chapel has also held a particularly legendary relic: the Holy Grail from which Jesus Christ and his disciples are supposed to have drunk at the Last Supper. The mighty towers of the former fortress are also a must for everyone interested in seeing more of medieval Valencia.
Valencia Cathedral: Plaza Almoina, Tel.: +34-96/391 81 27. A section of the cathedral is open for prayer at all times and for sightseeing at the following times: Mon-Sat 10am-5:30pm, Sun 2-6:30pm (from 1 November to 31 October), Mon-Sat 10am-5:30pm (1 November – 19 March). Admission: €4,50, reduced €3 (including audio guide in English, German, Spanish and other languages). www.catedraldevalencia.es
Beach, sport & “fiesta”
Barrio del Carmen / El Carme:
Ancient walls, young people: That’s what you will find in Valencia’s trendy El Carme district. Some of the hippest bars, clubs and pubs have opened up here, at the bustling heart of the historical old town. They are often overcrowded (especially on Plaza del Carmen, Plaza de la Virgen and Calle Alta), but who cares, patrons simply spill out onto the sidewalk and party under the open sky. As anywhere else in Spain, the party doesn’t get going until midnight but continues at least until dawn. It’s well worth taking a stroll here during the daytime, too, and visiting the two imposing city gates, Torres de Serranos and Torres de Quart, any of a number of museums and Iglesia des Carmen, the Baroque church that gave the district its name.
El Carme: Iglesia del Carmen: Plaza del Carmen 7, +34-96/315 20 24. Museo del Carmen: Calle Museo 2, +34-96/315 20 24. IVAM (Museum of Modern Art): Calle Guillem de Castro, +34-96/386 30 00, www.ivam.es.
America’s Cup and
Barcelona is living proof of how mega sports events can change the face of a city. The Olympic Games staged there in 1992 heralded a wave of modernization and growth that has continued to this day. “If they can do it, so can we!” said the Valencianos, and started by bringing the prestigious America’s Cup to the city in 2007 and 2010, and creating a brand-new harbor especially for the international sailing elite. The next big coup came soon after, in 2008, when Formula 1 racing first came to Valencia’s spectacular city track. Since then, the city has regularly hosted the European Grand Prix.
Marina Real Juan Carlos I (formerly America’s Cup Harbor): Marina Real Juan Carlos I, Tel.: +34-96/381 20 09, www.marinarealjuancarlosi.com. Formula 1 in Valencia: next race June 26, 2011, www.valenciastreetcircuit.com.
La Malvarrosa and Las Arenas:
Taking the tram from city center to the beach is a ten-minute trip in Valencia. The city’s popular beaches are Las Arenas, Cabanyal and La Malvarrosa and together they are almost three kilometers long. Bars, cafés and restaurants line the beach promenade (Paseo Marítimo), and strolling along white sands, you can often catch a delicious whiff of paella or deep-fried fish. Some of the nicest hotels in Valencia have (re-)opened in the last few years behind Paseo Marítimo. Good to know, too, is that the beach is not just popular with locals and visitors during the bathing season, but also a great place for long strolls on mild winter days.
Pictures: Corbis (3), Schulz/Hemispheres/laif (2), getty images, mauritius images