Not long ago, Valencia was one of Spain's least interesting major cities.
Madrid and Barcelona were destinations, while Valencia was a pit stop surrounded by orange trees on the way to the beach.
Today, Spain's third-largest city on the eastern Mediterranean coast buzzes with excitement.
Valencia still starts with its original attractions, sun andsand. The city enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year, and temperatures inmidwinter are comfortably in the 60s and 70s. It leveraged thisFlorida-like weather into hosting the 2007 America's Cup yacht race, an event which reinvigorated the industrial port.
Even though the boats have left, much remains to see and enjoy.Valencia has morphed into a major cultural center, with signaturearchitecture by famed native son Santiago Calatrava and some of the continent's most exciting new museums and galleries.
The destination is easy to reach. Although no direct flightsexist from the U.S., numerous connections are available from Madrid andBarcelona. Many of Europe's low-cost airlines, led by Ryanair andeasyJet, have set up major bases at the airport just out of the city.There's also a local Spanish low-cost alternative called Vueling thatflies to other major cities in Spain and Europe.
Despite its ultra-modern introduction, Valencia has a longhistory -- in particular, a golden age of commerce and arts during the13th through 15th centuries. In the historic center, don't miss thecathedral, which blends Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroquefeatures, and the outstandingly beautiful silk exchange, the Lonja dela Seda, one of the most outstanding examples of secular gothicarchitecture.
The city offers top-flight shopping. In the central foodmarket, nearly 1,000 vendors sell all types of authentic Spanishfoodstuffs. Designer boutiques crowd the nearby crammed pedestrianstreets. Spanish fast-fashion chains led by Zara and Mango offercouture clothes at everyday prices that even in these days of the weakdollar are affordable. Zara, in particular, sets its prices lower inits home market than elsewhere in Europe or the U.S.