Valencia, birthplace of paella, is as much a feast for the eyes as the appetite. Historic and modern architecture, urban gardens made in former riverbeds, sandy beaches, natural parks and a thriving arts scene – this is one destination where you don’t have to forgo city for country or seaside for metropolitan hustle and bustle.
10am: Wake up at the 5* Caro Hotel (http://www.carohotel.com/). Awe-inspiring modern design meets seamlessly with the original stone work of several eras: the old palace of the Marquis of Caro, ruins from the thirteenth-century Arabic defensive wall, gothic arches and nineteenth-century additions. It’s a microcosm of Valencia’s architectural scene.
From old to new
11am: Stroll through the old town streets to Plaza de la Virgen and you’ll be met with a historical view that could draw you in for hours: the Cathedral, Basilica of the Virgin, the Almoina Museum, the Crypt of Saint Vincent and a series of splendid palaces. Take a walk around and then stroll through the gardens – grown in the former riverbed - or catch the bus to the brilliantly contrasting cutting-edge City of Arts and Sciences (Cuidad De Las Artes Y La Ciencias) (http://www.cac.es/).
Few can help posing for a photo in front of the giant eye - L’Hemispheric – home to an Imax cinema, laserium and planetarium and a captivating building you might feel is watching you. The interactive science museum (El Museu de les Ciencias), landscaped walk (L’Umbracle), the largest oceanographic aquarium in Europe (Oceanografic), will tear you away.
2pm: Take a bus to Albufera Nature Park. Paella was born in Valencia and if that surprises you, you probably didn’t expect to find rice fields here either. You can take a boat ride across the lake and rest for dinner at El Palmar, the village inside the park. This is the optimum place to try Paella Valenciana.
Curtain Up or Bottoms Up?
7pm: Back in the city centre, call in at the avant garde Palau de la Musica (http://en.palaudevalencia.com/), which offers concerts from prestigious international directors and performers. If you’d prefer to head off to bed, make sure you try an Agua de Valencia - a cocktail made from a base of cava or champagne, mixed with orange juice, vodka and gin. Sip from a tall glass while watching the sun set over the sea, or looking across this city’s unique skyline or at the plush terrace bar at the Caro Hotel.
Refuel for Ruzafa
10am: Get a good breakfast in – you’ll need it for the shopping experience offered by the Ruzafa district. Start with Sendra boots (http://sendra.com), a company that celebrates its centenary next year. Diseno al Cubo (http://disenoalcubo.com/) is a launchpad and showcase for artists and designers and curiosity shop Caroline (http://caroline.com.es/) will turn up some quirky buys you’ll be happy to find room in your suitcase for.
1pm: El Huerto (http://www.elhuertorestaurante.es) is a magnificent family home at the heart of Ruzafa. Enjoy the unique serenity of the garden and the dedication of the fifth generation of the family who bring it to you. The nickname El Casinet (tiny casino) has stuck since it was first known as the best place for people from Valencia to meet and talk and now it is perfect for tapas or more formal menus.
Sand between your toes
3pm: Grab a taxi (or a free tourist bus or metro if you have a Valencia Tourist Card) to Playa Malvarrosa, a huge expanse of sandy beach perfect for sunbathing, swimming and sports.
Horchata pit stop
4pm: Horchata is a drink made from tiger nuts, or chufa. A slow drying process gives them their sweetness. Traditional Horchatorias then soak the nuts in water and sugar before grinding them and passing them through a fine net. Horchata is served cold and should be enjoyed with a handmade pastry called a farton – great for dipping!
Take to the sea
6pm: A catamaran tour from the Marina Real Juan Carlos I will take you past some magnificent yachts at the luxury leisure port and out on to the warm waves of the Mediterranean Sea. (http://www.mundomarino.es/) Soak up the last of the day’s sun.
Tapas by the beach
8pm: Playas de las Arenas and Playa de las Malvarrosa are lined with bars and restaurants. If you would rather be out and about, make the most of the food stalls that set up on the promenade - from corn on the cob to Arabic cuisine. Of course, it must be topped off with an ice cream!
Ryanair offers flights to Valencia from Bristol, East Midlands, Stansted, Manchester and Dublin. easyJet offers flights from Gatwick. Iberia flies from Heathrow to Barcelona, with a connection to Valencia. For more information about Valencia, visit http://www.turisvalencia.es.