Valencia: A Spanish jewel not to be missed

July 28, 2011
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

David Brice, CEO of Golf International, reviews destinations on PGATOUR.COM that can be experienced by purchasing a package with Golf international, a leading provider of high-end international golf travel. For more information about this trip or any other of Golf International's destination trips, click here.

Spain is a country that never fails to capture the hearts and often the souls, of each and every one of its visitors. Whether this is to be your very first time on Spanish soil, or your twenty first visit, there will always be wonderful new discoveries to be made and new experiences to be enjoyed. Spain is simply a country filled to over-flowing with so many different attractions that literally provide something for everyone, no matter what their likes and preferences. And golf -- excellent golf - is always close by.

Valencia-Palacio del Marques dos Aguas, the ornately decorated 15th century palace housing the National Museum of Ceramics.
The Mercado Central-Valencia's palace of a marketplace is well worth visiting.
Valencia's 15th century Silk Exchange is an architectural wonder, both inside and out.
The cathedral dates from the 13th century and contains many treasures, including the Holy Grail.
The Tribunal de las Aguas has held weekly court on the cathedral steps since 906 A.D..
The City of Arts and Sciences-an architectural tribute to Valencia's future.
Valencia's beaches are only 15 minutes from the city's center.
The Hospes Palau de la Mar is one of several luxury hotels in and around the old town.
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After all, this was the first country outside of Britain and the USA to ever host the Ryder Cup, an honor Spain was selected for in 1997 when the chosen venue, a course called Valderrama, was sky-rocketed to world-wide stardom. The star continues to shine today, only more brightly than ever and Valderrama is now a part of a complete galaxy of over 300 superb golf courses. Spain has evolved into one of the world's most highly regarded golf destinations and reigns as the undisputed King of Continental European Golf.

An important part of Spain's almost magical attraction to virtually all visitors is its wealth of intriguing ancient cities and towns, each with a personality and appeal entirely of its own. The combination of centuries of history and culture, art and architecture, together with the always superb gastronomy of the region, make for truly memorable city stays. Barcelona, Madrid, Granada and Seville, are perhaps the best known, but these are still only a small sampling.

Worthy of special mention is Valencia, Spain's third largest and a personal favorite of mine, now made very accessible from the USA by Delta Airlines new direct air service from New York. Valencia is an incredible charmer that really does have everything, including world class golf at the front door.

Think of Valencia and probably Valencia oranges or maybe paella, one of the best known dishes in Spanish cuisine, are the first things that come to mind. True, this ancient Mediterranean port city enjoys an enviable location in the heart of one of Europe's most fertile agricultural regions, surrounded by citrus orchards and the rice fields that produce the key element for paella, but this alone doesn't do justice to such a noble city. Valencia's claims to fame extend far beyond the quality of the produce grown in the region.

Valencia has a rich, proud history as long and colorful as any other, but it's also as much of today's world as it is the past. Few other European cities can offer such a varied array of fascinating attractions -- world-class golf included -- and none exceed the vibrancy and appeal, unique to this very special Spanish city.

During more than 2,000 years of history, Valencia has been occupied by the Romans, the Visigoths and was controlled by the Moors for over 500 years. It attracted the attention of legendary Spanish hero, El Cid, who conquered the city in 1094 and chose to spend his final years here. After his death, the Moors re-took Valencia, only to lose it again in 1238, this time to King Jaume I of Aragon, the fabled, El Conquistador.

During the 15th and 16th centuries Valencia enjoyed its glory years, replacing Barcelona as the financial capital of the Mediterranean empire - It had agricultural riches, status as the most important trading port of the region, together with booming ceramics and silk industries. All contributed to many years of prosperity, reflected in the wealth of monuments and historic buildings Valencia boasts today.

All good things come to an end and at the beginning of the 17th century, things began to decline, culminating with the Spanish civil war when, in 1939, Valencia suffered as one of the last Republican strongholds. But Valencianos have a resilience and determination like few others. Just as the Phoenix rose from the ashes, so Valencia has reinvented herself and returned as a bright sparkling gem in Spain's jewel bedecked crown of fascinating ancient cities, but with a unique, 21st century twist. This is a city that invites exploration and the more you explore, the more there is to be discovered.

To obtain a true sense of all Valencia has to offer, take an easy walking tour of the old town, where most of the historic monuments and medieval buildings are conveniently grouped close together. The bustling main square, the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, with its numerous flower stalls and impressive fountain, is a good starting point. On the second floor of the town hall, the Museo Historico Municipal provides an excellent introduction to the history of both the city and the region.

Railway stations may not be on the sightseeing tours of most cities, but Valencia is not most cities and the extravagantly decorated main railway station is a must see - a shining example of the ceramics industry that 500 years ago, Valencianos began developing into fine art. There are more wonderful examples of ceramics artistry through the ages at the nearby Palacio del Marques Dos Aguas, an ornately decorated 15th century palace housing the National Museum of Ceramics. There are stunningly beautiful ceramics dating back to the 13th century, produced in the town of Paterna and Picasso-like pieces from the 18th century, made in Manises (near the airport) where active potteries still exist and are well worth visiting.

It's only a short stroll to the Plaza del Patriarca and the Colegio del Patriarca containing a small but choice collection of paintings including three El Grecos. Golfers should pay attention to the book of miniatures, once owned by Philip the Handsome, which contains a scene of 15th century golfers - Did the game really begin in Scotland? Next door is the 15th century university and its library containing a copy of the first book ever printed in Spain, dating from 1474 and of course, printed in Valencia.

The Plaza del Mercado is home to the Municipal Market, a veritable palace of a marketplace that is Spain's largest and most beautiful -- an elegant modernista design of glass and steel. Take the time to explore inside and discover the cornucopia of produce, meats and fish coming from the surrounding area, known as the Huerta.

One of Valencia's most outstanding landmarks stands opposite the market -- the 15th century and unashamedly flamboyant, Lonja de la Seda, the Silk Exchange, built by the city's prosperous silk merchants and a palace in which they carried out their trading. This is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture that must be explored thoroughly, both inside and out to gain a true appreciation of its spectacular beauty. Just across from the Lonja is the medieval church of Los Santos Juanes, take the time to at least pay a courtesy call.

Another of Valencia's never-ending stream of sightseeing highlights is her magnificent, Gothic cathedral, built over the Great Mosque in the 13th century. Located on Plaza de la Reina, the cathedral is flanked by an octagonal, minaret-like bell-tower called the Miguelette. If you are up to climbing the 200 steps to the top, your reward will be one of the most spectacular views over the city and across gleaming ceramic domes to the Huerta, Valencia's super-productive garden.

Take the time to really explore the cathedral, which as with most things Valencian, is filled with interest and surprises. The main entrance is Baroque and quite interesting, but the Romanesque, Portal de Palau, is utterly fascinating and the Gothic, Puerta de los Apostoles, facing the Plaza de la Virgen with its statue and Star of David in the rose window above, is captivating.

Pass this portal at around noon any Thursday (except Holy days) and you will witness Valencia's famous Tribunal de las Aguas (Water Court) where all disputes concerning the Huerta's irrigation waters are settled. Eight men dressed in black carry out the proceedings in local Valenciano, with instant judgments being made and nothing recorded in writing. If fines are involved, they are assessed in medieval currency and there are no appeals. The tribunal has been held every Thursday since the year 960 when it was instituted.

Inside the cathedral there are many treasures, the most important being the Capilla del Santo Caliz -- the ornately decorated, Chapel of the Holy Grail. Enshrined here is the 1st century chalice, said to have been the one used by Christ at the Last Supper.

While Valencia has many more historic sites to be explored, it remains a city with as much involvement in today's world and the future, as it does with the past. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the amazing, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) perhaps a tribute to Valencia's own optimism for the future.

In the 1950's Valencia experienced serious flooding of the River Turia, which ran through the city. The citizenry decided to divert the course of the river from the south side of the city, directly to the sea, leaving an empty river bed within Valencia, where once the river had flowed, just north of the old town. Avoiding the temptation to develop expensive office complexes and apartment buildings -- all good for the city coffers - they instead dedicated the entire space to a green belt area of parks, gardens and in 1997, the futuristic, City of Arts and Sciences.

Local celebrity architect, Santiago Calatrava, was commissioned to design the entire complex, a small city within the city. The end result is one of the most stunningly elegant, modern day architectural accomplishments in all of Europe. If Valencia didn't have the wealth of historic attractions that it has, this most recent achievement would attract a large audience, entirely of its own, from around the globe. Center piece of the development is a huge new opera house, accompanied by a planetarium, a science museum, Europe's largest indoor aquarium, an Imax cinema and a laserium, all featuring the very latest technology. The City of Arts and Sciences is something that must be seen to be believed.

And this is still only a fraction of all Valencia has to offer visitors. There are magnificent, pristine beaches sitting only a short 15 minute drive from the heart of the city and for some, this maybe the best place to stay. Imagine savoring the luxury of 5 star hotel, such as the Hotel Las Arenas Balneario, with views across the sparkling Mediterranean Sea and a selection of wonderful restaurants scattered along the beachfront, only a few steps from your room.

If you prefer to have all of the city sights just a short stroll from your hotel, then look to the old town where there's an array of very good hotels, including the excellent, Hospes Palau de la Mar, an elegantly converted 19th century mansion house, filled with atmosphere and charm. Another accommodation idea for the more avid golfers is the plush, Parador de El Saler, sitting on the first tee of Spain's number 2 ranked golf course, El Saler -- and Valencia's city center is still less than a 20 minute drive.

Valencia is a very special city with so much going for it, nobody should resist the temptation to take advantage of the new direct flights from New York and experience this charmer personally. The only danger is that once tasted, you will find yourself drawn back to Valencia again and again.

For more ideas on how to include the best of Valencia on your next trip to Europe, contact the Spain experts at Golf International by calling toll-free, 1 (800) 833-1389 or click here.

©2011 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.