Valencia becomes the focus of world attention this summer as it plays host to the America's Cup. Andrew White explores the Spanish city and finds it has much to offer landlubbers too.

IT is 1am and I have been listening to Senor Emiliano Garcia, proprietor of the Casa Montana tavern, speak for the past two hours. Our charming and amusing host has held myself and my colleagues enthralled with his anecdotes and musings on life.

The fact that he speaks not a word of English hardly seems to matter, as Snr Garcia is possibly the most enthusiastic man I have ever met. He is passionate about good food, fine wine and - perhaps above all - his home city of Valencia, where I am staying for three days to soak up everything the historic city has to offer.

Valencia is emerging from the shadows of Madrid and Barcelona and this summer it is set to command the sporting world's attention when it hosts the 32nd America's Cup.

The America's Cup is a big deal. The most prestigious of all sailing regattas and the oldest trophy in international sport, from next week 11 challengers will battle it out for more than a month for the right to take on the Swiss yacht Alinghi in the final race series in June.

With BMW, Prada and Louis Vuitton among the glamorous backers and sponsors at the event, Valencia will be buzzing.

As a result, millions of pounds has been spent to ensure everything is in place to welcome the hordes of tourists set to descend on the city to watch the racing. But even without the America's Cup, Valencia has much to offer.

It is an ancient and beautiful city, with delights at every turn. The city's cathedral is its proud centrepiece, with the Miguelete bell tower dominating the skyline. Museums and monuments surround the many fine plazas and it is worth taking the time to explore the many narrow streets, stopping occasionally to sample a refreshing glass of hortacha - a local soft drink made from the milk of the tiger nut

A feature of the city is the Turia Gardens, which run right through the centre of Valencia. It is actually a river bed, which was drained in the middle of the last century when it threatened to flood.

A slow walk along its length from the city centre takes the visitor to the ultra-modern Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, a major culture and entertainment centre. The futurisic setting includes a hands-on arts and science museum, great fun for kids and kids at heart, the multi-media L'Hemisferic with its Imax cinema, and a spectacular garden promenade called L'Umbracle.

For culture vultures there is also the imposing Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, a magnificent building and a world class opera house. Finally, there is L'Oceanografic, the largest aquarium in Europe. To call it merely an aquarium is doing it an injustice, with the 45,00 specimens representing the planet's many seas and oceans.

Back in the old city it is obvious that food is very important to the people of Valencia. One look around the huge indoor market - the Mercado Central - is a testament to that fact.

The sights, sounds and aromas from almost 1,000 stalls selling cheeses, hams and, of course, fish and seafood, are enjoyable, even if, like myself, you have no intention of buying anything.

The city has many fine restaurants and, if you're in Valencia, you have to try paella - after all, the dish was invented here. One of the very best paella restaurants is La Pepica, frequented by the Spanish royal family and a favourite of Ernest Hemingway, who even mentioned it in one of his novels.

The restaurant is charming and the food magnificent, but it is not alone - I can also recommend the Civera restaurant and Ocho Y Medio.

Which brings me back to Snr Garcia and the Casa Montana, an establishment that cares so much about the quality of food it serves it employs someone exclusively to fillet the anchovies. The tapas was one of the finest meals I have ever eaten and, accompanied by some magnificent wines from Snr Garcia's cellar, it rounded off a memorable trip.

My visit included a stay at the five star Hotel Las Arenas, close to the America's Cup base. Clearly a favourite of the yachting crowd, the hotel was immaculate, the restaurant top class and the service faultless.


Andrew travelled from Darlington to London King's Cross courtesy of GNER.

easyJet fly to Valencia from London Stansted, London Gatwick and Bristol with prices from £22.99 one-way (incl taxes) and return from £33.98 (incl taxes) for immediate bookings log onto or 0905-821-0905.

A double room with a sea view at the brand new five star Hotel Las Arenas (Tel: 00 34 963 120 600 / costs £200 + seven per cent tax per night, bed and breakfast.

Valencia Guias ( provides walking and cycling guided tours of Valencia. Prices: ten euros (£6) for a two hour walking tour or 22 euros (£14) for a three-and-a-half hour cycling tour, including bike rental.

For more information on Valencia go to the Valencia Tourism & Convention Bureau website