Saturday 1 October 2016

Viva Valencia! Welcome to the European city that never sleeps

City Breaks in Spain

Tom Sweeney

Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30

Valencia
Valencia
Valencia's futuristic Opera House.
Paella
Valencia
Horchata

Forget New York - Valencia is the city that doesn't sleep, writes an exhausted but exhilarated Tom Sweeney.

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Set the mood

Valencia's motto is Vivir Sin Dormir - Live Without Sleep.

So I gave it a go. If I'd lain in my leaba in the morning, I'd have missed many of the amazing attractions that make Spain's third-biggest city a first-class long-weekend destination. And if I'd turned in before midnight, I wouldn't have been drinking 2am cocktails in the outrageously ornate Café de las Horas (cafedelashoras.com), where a young fella from Galway got up and sang 'I Wanna Be Like You-oo-oo' from The Jungle Book.

The posh people in the corner must have thought they were hallucinating - they'd spent the evening in the futuristic Opera House enjoying Puccini's Madame Butterfly.

Thank goodness for siestas, or I'd have returned home a wreck.

Guilty pleasure

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The stodge that masquerades as paella on the Costas invariably contains bits of nearly every creature that boarded Noah's Ark.

The real, mouth-watering McCoy, however, which was invented in Valencia, contains only rice, chicken, rabbit and green beans (snails too, if you want).

For paella par excellence, cooked over a fire of orange tree wood, hotfoot it to the beachfront Restaurante Casa Carmela (casa-carmela.com; reservations a must). And try Agua de Valencia, which comes in big jugs and is served in broad cocktail glasses. It's a more-ish mix of champagne or cava plus gin, vodka and orange juice.

Irresistible - and no hangover.

Cheap kick

A Saudi prince is rumoured to have offered €250,000 to Valencia's favourite adopted son, superstar chef Quique Dacosta, to cater for his 40th birthday bash, but it clashed with a Valencia v Barcelona football match.

At €24.85pp (minimum two people), the seven-course tapas menu in Dacosta's Vuelve Carolina restaurant (vuelvecarolina.com) is a meal-deal steal - and a must.

Diners can expect to see new Valencia FC manager Gary Neville tucking in at a nearby table - his brother Phil, who's his assistant, is a regular.

Insider intel

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Walk the beach; hit the bustling Mercado Central for a glass of horchata (tiger nut milk); see the Holy Grail in the cathedral and marvel at the ultra-modern City of Arts and Sciences (above) - the brainchild of Valencia's Santiago Calatrava, who designed Dublin's James Joyce and Samuel Beckett Bridges. You can see sharks inches from your nose in the glass tunnel at the Oceanografic oceanarium (cac.es).

Top tip

Buy a city card (valenciatouristcard.com; from €13.50) for free travel on public transport and free or discounted entry to most of the attractions - it pays for itself. Valencia is vast but flat, so hire a bike and you'll fit much more into your weekend.

Glitches

This is not the Valencia in Los Angeles, where restaurant staff sulk if you don't tip 20pc. Waiting is a noble and well-paid profession in Spain, where 5pc is acceptable, muchas gracias, and 10pc more than shows your appreciation. Don't fret!

Get me there

Ryanair (ryanair.com) has twice-weekly direct flights from Dublin to Valencia, May to October, and regular flights to Alicante (a two-hour train ride away) year-round.

A taxi from Valencia airport to the city centre (8km) costs €20, the metro is €3.90 and the bus €1.40. I stayed at the four-star Primus Valencia, where des-res rooms with breakfast cost from €90 - cheap for a classy joint (hotelprimusvalencia.com).

More information at visitvalencia.es.

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