Valencia, Spain

When Spain’s third largest city landed the America’s Cup in 2007, it could finally stick two fingers up to its bigger sisters, Barcelona and Madrid. Not that it hadn’t anything to be proud about beforehand – the sun-soaked port of Valencia has earned the gratitude of chefs everywhere for being the birthplace of paella, and the city’s glut of 15th-century architecture was turning heads even before its recent renaissance. Now, however, Valencia’s fast gaining a reputation as a designer-boutique shopping destination, a culinary hub (and not just for the ubiquitous paella), and a party city every bit as banging as Brighton or Barcelona. Add to that a stretch of beachy Mediterranean coastline, a handsome historic harbour, a cloud-free sky, and some world-beating museums and galleries, and you’ve got yourself a year-round European city-break destination with looks, brains and attitude.

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Areas in Valencia

When to go

Famously, Valencia enjoys more than 300 cloudless days a year (part of the reason its oranges are so tasty), only seeing remotely serious rainfall infrequently in autumn and spring. July and August are usually exceedingly hot and humid, leading to a mass exodus of locals from the city and the closure of a fair few restaurants and shops. The fringes of summer – May and June and September – can be the most pleasant periods to visit, although Valencia makes a good year-round destination.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    Nine kilometres from the city centre | Valencia Airport receives regular easyJet and Ryanair flights from Gatwick and Stansted. Metrovalencia trains 3 and 5 run between the airport and the centre of the old town every 20 minutes or so.
  • Boats

    Car and passenger ferries run regularly between Valencia’s port and Ibiza, Palma de Mallorca and Mahon (www.trasmediterranea.es).
  • Trains

    The architecturally splendid Estacion del Norte is slap in Valencia’s city centre, beside the Town Hall, and runs near-hourly services to Barcelona, Madrid, and a host of other Spanish cities.
  • Automobiles

    Car rental’s not really necessary in and around Valencia as public transport is excellent, city-centre parking can induce angina, and the surrounding area is comprehensively covered by the metro. If you do want your own wheels, however, Avis (www.avis.com) have a desk at the airport.
  • Taxis

    There are plenty of ranks in Valencia city centre, with the white cabs displaying a green light when free. To book a car in advance, try Radio Taxis (+34 96 370 3333), or Taxi Star (+34 639 616 666).

La Tomatina

La Tomatina

It’s not an architectural marvel, nor a museum of historical treasures, but the folk festival of La Tomatina, in the small Valencian town of Buñol, is one of the cultural highlights of modern Spain. Well, we say ‘folk festival’; it’s more a mass food fight – and a marvellous example of how humanity can latch on to something ridiculous and turn it into tradition. They story starts with a scuffle at a summer parade in 1945 when rambunctious youngsters went ballistic (literally) with a vegetable stall in the market, until the police intervened. They returned the next year to commemorate the anniversary, and again the next.  More people joined in each passing year. Eventually, the city authorities gave up trying to stop them and instead started giving them tomatoes. Today, on the last Wednesday in August, around 40,000 eager fruit-flingers flock to the town square at 9am to pelt each other with 125,000kg of tomatoes, over the course of an hour, until the streets run red with juice. It is all both violently joyful and profoundly silly, and although the actual event only lasts an hour, the spirit of revelry fills most of the week. Accommodation’s in short supply in Buñol, but if you’re joining in the madness, Hospes Palau de la Mar in Valencia is an hour away. (Photo credit: MikeJamieson(1950) / Foter / CC BY-SA)

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