An hour and 30 minutes drive north of Benidorm, on the pretty Costa del Azahar (Orange Blossom Coast) lies the historical city of Valencia. Famous for its beautifully shaped City of Arts and Sciences buildings and La Falles de Valencia (The Festival of Fire), Valencia is the third largest city in Spain where culture and industry come together. With its huge harbour area, it is the busiest container port on the Mediterranean Sea.
The city remained one of Spain's major industrial centres until the early 1990's when certain measures were put in place to expand its tourism and cultural interests. Many areas of the city received extensive renovation, and a new 4 kilometre long beach promenade was built, giving easier access to the city's northern beaches.
The huge City of Arts and Sciences building, or rather collection of buildings, is Valencia's main tourist attraction and houses some delightful local and international exhibits, events and performances. The first building to be opened, and its most iconic is named L'Hemisféric, and its modernistic shape incorporates both a theatre and planetarium surrounded by a large picturesque lake. The interior of its dome has been made into a 900 square metre screen allowing for the most realistic projection of outer space and our planetary system.
Another just as impressive building is the 26,000 square metre Prince Felipe Museum of Science that enthrals visitors with fantastic displays of our earliest life forms through to modern day, with some fascinating permanent exhibitions such as the Electricity Theatre, Zero Gravity Hall and Chromosome Forest. Everything about the City of Arts and Sciences is big, and they don't get much bigger than the Oceanográfic.
Incorporating an area of 110,000 square metres, this futuristic looking building is home to the largest aquarium in Europe and is a kids favourite with somewhere in the region of 45,000 animals of over 500 species. There are further beautifully designed buildings where visitors can enjoy music, art, ballet and opera performances, as well as various conventions and international sporting events.
Las Fallas de Valencia
Held in mid March each year, Las Fallas de Valencia was originally a feast for the patron saint of carpenters, St Joseph that has now grown into one of Spain's largest, and most certainly its loudest festival. Attracting a whopping 3 million revellers, it is a huge 5 day celebration of fire and fireworks where many months of painstaking labours of love are burned in a single evening.
Competing groups and neighbourhoods spend up to a year constructing massive wood and papier-maché puppets and caricatures called ninots that are so beautiful, and extremely funny at times, it seems such a shame to burn them; especially when they can cost thousands of euros to build and at times are so big they need cranes to move them. But then, I'm sure the 3 million odd spectators put enough money into the city's coiffures to cover these costs.
Valencia enjoys good transport links, having its own international airport, a regular city bus system and even ‘Boris' style bicycle rental ranks. Throughout the city there are welcoming shady parks and plazas surrounded by shops, boutiques, street cafes, bars and restaurants. Being a coastal city, fish and seafood is abundant and featured highly on most restaurant and tapas bar menus, but be sure to try one of the delicious paellas, as Valencia is the birthplace of this famous Spanish dish. There are numerous architectural attractions to visit, as well as modern shopping complexes, sports stadiums, water parks and theme parks.
Backed by old fishermen's quarters and a wide promenade, Valencia's main city beaches are Las Arenas and La Malvarrosa which are about 60 metres wide and consist of fine sand. Both are over a kilometre long and have received the Blue Flag Award for their cleanliness and facilities. Beach volleyball is popular on the beaches and during the year there are events such as kite festivals and air shows, as well as some fantastic sand sculptures on display.
The beach front promenade is another place to enjoy a few drinks and a meal with a great selection of bars, restaurants, cafes and ice cream stands. There are also a variety of craft stalls selling clothing, leather goods, jewellery and fashion accessories. The novelist Vicente Blasco Ibánez had a summer home here that has now been dedicated as a museum showcasing his works.