Modern Meets Medieval

Travelers uncover Spain’s Holy Grail and much more

By: Jamie Wetherbe

Valencia, Spain, is a city of hidden treasures: castles wait behind high walls; narrow streets open up to centuries-old churches. The world’s narrowest house is even squeezed into the city’s architecture the sliver of a building’s entrance looks no wider than a closet.

Valencia’s history is a cultural patchwork that has shaped the city into what it is today. The Iberians’ paintings cover some of the city’s caves. The Moors introduced oranges to the region, and the silk industry grew up during Moorish times. The Romans also made their mark, notably in Sagunto, where a well preserved Roman theater sits. The Arabs bestowed their castles and architecture to Valencia; the Christians also left their imprint.

Even though the city has collected many cultures over the centuries, perhaps Valencia’s best kept secret is how it has managed to stay off of American tourists’ radar. Europeans have long known about this coastal gem, but U.S. visitors often only make it to Spain’s larger cities, opting for Madrid or Barcelona instead of venturing farther east.

But this 2,000-year-old city is on the rise, and travel agents can bet that clients will want to venture to this seaside town to see two very famous cups.

Hosting America’s Cup

Valencia has been chosen host the 32nd America’s Cup, with the final regatta setting sail in June of 2007. The decision to hold one of sailing’s most important events here wasn’t taken lightly.

Typically, the country that last won the Cup plays host, but since land-locked Switzerland is the defending champ, Valencia beat out several other eager cities to host the event likely for the same reasons the city attracts travelers.

Valencia offers reliable weather conditions and boasts 300 sunny days a year. All of the Valencia’s beaches are public, giving clients ample locations to sunbathe along the Mediterranean.

As the third largest city in Spain, Valencia is also one of Europe’s fastest growing cities. To make way for the famed regatta races, the city has revamped its harbor at the Port of Valencia. Come race time, the port will offer bases for the America’s Cup teams, an extended dock and several shopping venues, including a high-end Prada shop.

In Search of the Holy Grail

Another one of the city’s treasures also comes in the form of a cup. Tucked away in one of the city’s cathedrals sits what some experts believe to be the Holy Grail. The cup that some believe Jesus drank from during the Last Super was hidden in Valencia from thieves during the third century. The Holy Chalice, once used by popes during Mass, is now on display.
I must admit the small, brown piece of flatware is a strange thing to come face to face with. Inside a small room in the cathedral, the cup is encased in glass, and patrons come from all over just to share space with it. The dimly light room makes the cup difficult to see from the pews: This is when a zoom lens comes in handy.

With the popularity of the “The Da Vinci Code” and an upcoming movie based on the book starring Tom Hanks, more and more travelers will want to get up close to this relic. Tour operators have even started selling tours based on “The Da Vinci Code,” allowing clients their own search for the Holy Grail.

A City Within a City

Valencia has also made way for the modern. Where the Turia River once flowed and flooded, now sits Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences. It seems the city spared no expense turning the former riverbed into a 21st-century landmark.

Even if clients don’t go inside, the City of Arts and Sciences is a spectacle in itself. The complex stretches more than a mile and is made up different buildings. Each all-white mammoth creation was designed by Santiago Calatrava a renowned architect and native Valencian.

This “city within a city” includes a center for performing arts, a planetarium and a science museum (resembling a dinosaur’s backbone), and recently the opera house opened which is best described as a giant eyeball.

An aquarium sits at the other end. While clients would be wise to spend a day exploring the entire complex, if they only have time for a short visit, the aquarium is not to be missed. Inside, visitors navigate a series tunnels and caves to get up close to creatures of the deep.

Shopping and Other Treats

While it’s best to cab it to more central locations, Valencia is a city best explored by foot. Modern and Medieval Valencia come together in the historic center, where visitors can take in the architecture and souvenir shops. For those looking for some brand-names, Valencia hosts several high-end shops like a Carolina Herrera store along Calle de la Paz.

Clients won’t go hungry while in Valencia. Guests looking for a modern dining experience should check out Lalola. The decor looks like giant checkers spread across the wall, and the food has a tasty and trendy presentation. Clients looking for something more white-tablecloth, but still reasonably priced, should check out the multi-course fare at Vinatea. Both restaurants offer entrees in the $30 range.

Clients should also try traditional Valencian treats like horchata (an ice cream-like drink made from the tiger nut) and paella (a meet and rice dish).

But whatever your clients crave old or new Valencia is sure to meet their needs.


Getting There: Iberia airlines offers nonstop flights from New York and Miami to Madrid. From Madrid, Iberia offers connecting flights to any major city in Spain, including the 45-minute trip to Valencia.

Where to Stay: I spent the night at the Hotel Valencia Center, located on the modern Avenida de Francia and walking distance from the City of Arts and Sciences and several shopping centers.

Hits: The daily breakfast buffet was always quite a spread with options like eggs, cheeses, fried tomatoes, lattes and more. The hotel also features a small fitness center and restaurant, and the rooftop pool offers panoramic city views. The staff was friendly and helpful.

Misses: The Hotel Valencia Center opened its doors not too long ago, and it’s still trying to work out a few kinks. During my visit, the leaky air conditioning caused a large puddle on the ceiling of many rooms. Wake-up calls weren’t always consistent nor was the Internet.

Plugging In: Guestrooms feature high-speed Internet access, and the front desk will provide clients with a cable. Guests can also pay to log on at the hotel’s business center.

Rates: Single rooms start at about $150 a night, while suites cost about $375.



America’s Cup
The City of Arts and Sciences
(Ticket prices range from about $9-$23.)

Tourist Office of Spain in Los Angeles