Somewhere for the Weekend: Valencia

Spain’s third largest city seems ever destined to remain in the shadow of Madrid’s metropolis (three hours by train) and Barcelona’s bucolic charms (four hours by train). Yet, it’s a wonderful place, unsullied almost by the ravages of mass tourism. Filled with elegant, orange-tree lined streets backed by handsome Modernista townhouses contrasted by some of the country’s most dazzling modern architecture in the shape of Santiago Calatrava’s City of Arts and Sciences, and fringed by miles of gold sand beach with acres of green space, you could say it’s one of urban Spain’s best kept secrets.

Indeed, with all this inspiration – not to mention its forgiving climate, mild in the winter, breezy enough to take the sting from the sun in the summer – it has become something of a hub for Spain’s design elite. Wunderkind Jaime Hayon, (think to-die-for fantasy furniture), Luis Eslava (whimsical frills and textures) and Vondom (groovy terrace accessories) have all made it their base and the designers’ aesthetic filters through into every aspect of city life. If only you thought of it you would know it’s one of the most stylish, small-city destinations in Europe for food, shopping, design and architecture.

Everywhere you look there’s candy for the eyes: a regal Plaza del Mercado with its gothic Lonja building and Central Market, the mismatched styles spanning several centuries of the cathedral, and the stately Museo de Bellas Artes, which houses a truly great collection of Spanish masters like Goya, Velazquez and El Greco. There’s the atmospheric Sunday flea market on the Plaza Redonda as well as daily fresh produce markets scattered across its various barrios. Like all good Spanish cities Valencia’s addictively convivial atmosphere comes from an inherent desire to break bread together, resulting in a world class dining scene that makes it ripe for regeneration post recession. Good news for anyone coming in with bright ideas. The place is now rippling with potential and there’s never been a better time to invest if you get in quick.

What the city doesn’t yet have is much by way of noteworthy hotels. The Patio de los Patos, considered by many to be the city’s best hotel, is curiously lacking in atmosphere, but affordable boutiques are stealthily sweeping in to make their mark. A sign perhaps of a more experience-driven market who would rather spend their Euros in the city itself than holed up in a bedroom.

The 21-room Hotel Balandret for example is a bright and breezy spot right on the seafront with prices starting from as little as €65 per night. Named after a famous painting titled ‘El Balandrito’ by the venerated Valencian impressionist Sorolla, who so exquisitely captured the light and essence of the Valencia seaside, it became the inspiration for the hotel’s décor too. Esparto grass lanterns, pressed concrete tiles in sandy hues, stripped wood floors and teal walls, cane furniture and windows as wide as your smile, give it a barefoot, beachy vibe that’s perfect for a weekend getaway. Add in the food factor: chef Albert Lluch came from this year’s World’s Best, El Celler de Can Roca, but now cooks more casual seaside fare like Altea clams steamed with foraged seaweed and fried squid with curried mayonnaise. All that’s left for you to do is fall asleep to the sound of waves gently lapping the shore.

How to have the perfect weekend

Shop til you Drop: Raid the treasure box that is El Kartell’s flagship store, filled with sleek Italian home wares like daffodil yellow dining chairs and copper lampshades.

Tapas Hop: After stocking up on your own Spanish spoils, Ricard Camarena’s tapas bar in the jewel-like bosom of the Central Market, makes a perfect pit-stop for a glass of wine and a platter of pristine seafood.

Lunch on the Beach: Just seven minutes’ drive from the city centre, Arroceria Duna is a hidden spot among the dunes on one of the region’s most unspoiled beaches. A mind-boggling choice of 50 or so different rice dishes, make it a local favourite.

Japanese-Mediterranean Fusion: Minimalist Nozomi was inspired by chefs José Miquel Herrera and Nuria Morell’s travels to Kyoto. Book well in advance to bag a spot.

The Star Chef: Currently number 39 on the World’s 50 Best list, Quique Dacosta offers tandem dining at this central locale: Vuelve Carolina for a lively buzz and vamped up tapas; El Poblet on the first floor for a more formal take on radically evolved fine dining. Squeeze in both if you have time.