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Guide to Valencia

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Valencia is perhaps best known as the birthplace of paella but is also a coastal region where you'll find some of the best (and busiest) beaches in all of Spain.

Valencia is also home to magnificent mountains and vast tracts of virgin territory largely overlooked by the millions of foreign visitors who choose this Eastern region of Spain as their preferred holiday destination. The city of Valencia, Spain's third largest city is the capital of the autonomous region of Valencia. The Valencian region consists of three provinces – Castellon in the North, Valencia province in the centre and Alicante in the South.

Modern Valencia

As you pass through the city of Valencia on the A7 motorway which links it with Alicante all you see is an ugly urban sprawl which conceals the many treasures of the city centre and its immediate environs. This may explain why, in the past, many beach-bound tourists never gave the city a second glance – until the development of the fabulous new City of Arts and Science which has put Valencia firmly on the world map.

Now the word is out that Valencia is one of Spain's most exciting cities – home to an unorthodox but effective marriage of ancient history and awesome futuristic architecture. The city's triumph in securing the bid to host the Americas Cup in 2007 and 2008 has secured its place as one of Europe's most dynamic regional capitals.

Beaches of Valencia

The gorgeous golden sandy beaches of the Costa Blanca, to the South of Valencia city, are a magnet for hordes of foreign holidaymakers whilst the Spanish tend to stick together in the lesser known seaside resorts of the Costa Azahar (the stretch of coastline between the Costa Blanca and Valencia city).

The beaches of Castellon, North of the regional capital, also attract mainly Spanish visitors and of the three provinces of Valencia this is the one least affected by foreign influence. The city of Castellon is highly industrialised but the mountainous hinterland is a completely different world of delightfully traditional pueblos which seem frozen in time. Every summer the village of Benicassim, just North of Castellon city, attracts tens of thousands of young music fans to an international festival of A-list stars (it's the Spanish equivalent of Galstonbury only with better weather!)

Further south along the Valencian coastline there's the mega tourist resort of Benidorm – one of the Mediterranean's biggest party playgrounds which boasts a huge range of tourist attractions including the Terra Mitica theme park, Terra Natura wildlife park and Aqualandia water world.

Off the beaten track

The unspoilt mountain villages inland from Valencia are a joy to explore for those 'Lonely Planet' type tourists keen to savour more the region than its bustling beach resorts. Even at the height of summer, these mountains offer cooling breezes, rivers, waterfalls and ice-cold pools to the delight of visitors prepared to stray off the beaten track.

The plains around the city of Valencia are awash with paddy fields, which produce the famous short grain paella rice and orange groves.

Immediately to the south of the city lies L'Albufera Lake, one of Spain's most important nature reserves and home to more than 250 bird species including herons and flamingoes. You can take a trip round the lake in a barquita (traditional wooden boat) and stop for lunch in one of the lakeside restaurants.

Alicante is the second largest city in the Valencian community and its international airport opens the door to the Costa Blanca for millions of foreign visitors each year. It's a thriving, cosmopolitan city with a wealth of good shops, restaurants, historic sites and cultural attractions. Its stunning seafront promenade and seven kilometres of sandy beaches make it a magnet for both Spanish and foreign holidaymakers.

Elche, just south of Alicante, is home to Europe's largest palm gardens and the popular tourist resort of Torrevieja. The southern end of the region is where you'll find the largest salt flats in Europe.

Places of interest in the region of Valencia

Valencia City

The capital with its outstanding monuments, in particular of the Gothic period such as La Lonja and the bell-tower Miguelete.

Alicante

The second largest city of the Valencian Community and dominated by the Moorish castle Castillo de Santa Barabara.

Costa Blanca

One of the most famous Spanish coasts. Its magnificent sandy beaches and ideal infrastructure make it a first class touristic center. Among the most important cities here are Denia, Calpe and Benidorm with its non stop nightlife.

Costa Azahar

The 'Orange Blossom Coast', in the North of Valencia, not only offers great beaches but beautiful towns like Peniscola with its great medieval castle or Oropesa which has conserved the 16th century Tower of the King, erected as a defense against pirates.

A true pearl is the enchanting Morella with its narrow lanes and enclosed by 14th century walls.

Castellon

Worth visiting alone fot its most remarkable monuments such as the cathedral Santa Maria and the town-hall.