25/11/2013 17:09 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 05:59 GMT

Is Valencia the New Barcelona?

Valencia, the third most important city in Spain, used to be the best-kept secret. Not anymore. Valencia has been selected on several occasions by the prestigious travel guide Lonely Planet as one of the coolest top five cities and with one of the top ten urban beaches on Earth.

It hosted a couple of America's Cup yachting races and an annual street circuit Formula 1 motor race. The stunning building of La Lonja, a Unesco World Heritage Site where the rich and powerful merchant classes met and made business, recall the 15th century, when Valencia ruled all the Mediterranean. Also it enjoyed the first Golden Age in the Iberian Peninsula and inherited a rich mix of cultures from the Romans to Muslim Al-Andalus. A bridge between Europe and Africa. This wealth of influences has allowed this city to maintain a unique vision always in the process of reinventing itself. Spoilt by its location by the Mediterranean sea and with the beautifully built City of Arts and Sciences, mainly designed by the Valencian Architect Santiago Calatrava, it now seems it is enjoying a second Golden Age. No wonder it has become in the international circles as the city to visit - and to live.

The Councillor for Beaches, Lourdes Bernal, said that

"the choice by Lonely Planet of La Malvarrosa and Las Arenas beaches among the world´s top ten confirms the great importance that our beaches have, as well as the honour of knowing that it has been Lonely Planet, one of the most praised and widely read guides, which has placed our beaches and restaurants in this position".


The old district of El Carmen has now become too overcrowded. If you want to visit where the Valencians go, head to the Ruzafa district. Not far from the main square, you will find libraries as bars, galleries as nightclubs and places where you can leave your children making a book while you enjoy a nice glass of vino and relax. Anything goes. Spaces like: Slaughter House, underground cultural events, art exhibitions and drinks; Ubik, a cornucopia of workshops, books, talks and a dedicated space for the children; Ca Mando, great tapas and wines at good prices; Copenhagen, for the vegetarian crowd and their friends; Cafe Berlin, when we get peckish in the afternoon, wonderful cakes, teas and carajillos (coffee with brandy aromatised with cinnamon and lemon); finally to enjoy the night, Xtra Lrge Playground, an exhibition space, a nightclub and a cocktail bar. All in the same place.


However, if you need a bit of nature and tranquility, you can travel to the Albufera National Park situated in the outskirts of Valencia. A freshwater lagoon covering some 21,120 hectares. A natural paradise with some of the few virgin beaches remaining in such a touristic area. Its proximity and the diversity of the flora and fauna make it well worth a visit. Boat rides and nature spotting tours are popular and easily organised.

For a day out, aim for the picturesque village of Chulilla. It is about 45 minutes by car or you can use the coach service, La Chelvana. A Medieval castle around which the white houses develop ending by the river. It makes a dramatic scene. And if you feel like eating great tapas and bocadillos (baguettes), pop in at the Pub Royal, a family run bar since 1970, in the nearby village of Villar del Arzobispo. It has gained a well-deserved regional reputation and it is worth a visit.