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Where Mardi Gras meets Bonfire Night

Costa Rica

They celebrate spring early in Valencia, down on the twinkling Mediterranean coast. At whatever time of year, this, one of Spain newest city break destinations, is celebrating something, in the streets and on the sea.

Join the five day party

Valencia stages one of the world''s oldest, zaniest
extravaganzas, the Las Fallas Fire Festival (mid March). Think five
day street party - Mardi Gras meets Bonfire Night. Teams of artists,
sculptors and painters spend months working up hundreds of elaborate,
often absurd creations (ninots) in paper, wood and Styrofoam, poking fun
at anything in sight. They parade these towering monsters through the
streets for days, then torch them in a midnight blaze that makes Guy
Fawkes look puny. You keep your strength up on oodles of buñuelos, the
special fallas donut dunked in hot chocolate, and vast pans of paella.
Make sense of this happy bedlam with Valencia VIP Tour (0034 963555 415,
www.valenciaviptour.com). They show off the
best of the ninots, then lunch you in a homely Spanish restaurant.
(£68 for two people.)

Wander the elegant plazas

Then wander on through Valencia’s distinguished old heart, past 14th
century fortified towers built on Roman foundations, the Gothic palace
and La Lonja Silk Exchange, over elegant plazas, and under cloisters and
mediaeval gateways. (The Valencia Card gives the freedom of Metro, bus
and trams: £7, 2 days, www.metrovalencia.com) And as you turn the next corner, you just might meet the next crazy, amazing parade.

City of the thoroughbred yachts

In 2007 Valencia hosted the world''s biggest yachting jamboree, the
America Cup. Landlocked Switzerland defended their title here. The maritime spiriit prevails. You can see great, thoroughbred yachts zipping through the inshore waters at any time.

Silvery shells of science

Take a full day for the city''s other big, audacious statement to the
world, sprawling over the nearby dry river bed of the now diverted River
Turia. The five-part Arts and Sciences Park, designed by local galactico
architect Santiago Calatrava, is a series of silvery shells and a giant
eye reflected in acres of decorative water. The L Hemisferic
(planetarium) takes you touring the universe. The Museum of Sciences has
three floors of interactive exhibits.

Europe's largest aquarium

The features in the Arts and Sciences Park are destinations in their own right. The L''Oceanogràfic is worth an afternoon.: Europe''s largest aquarium links 10 marine habitats by tunnels - you
walk alongside sharks. Regular features on the 900 sq.ft IMAX screen
(English soundtrack) are high octane films on dolphins, the Grand Canyon
and a trip all along the Nile. The last piece in place was the world
class Palacio de las Artes concert hall, opened in 2005. See
everything with a combined ticket - £22; www.cac.es.

Capital of paella

Is this the capital of paella? The local chefs swear they make the very best, using the region''s own pricey bomba rice. The short, almost round grains puff out like an accordion to soak up the stock - they use mainly meat here. Sample the many excellent restaurants along the Paseo
Marítimo boardwalk - usually under £30 for two.

The local tapas are another twist on the infinitely inventive Spanish
quick snack. Look for boquerones en vinagreta (marinated white
anchovies and capers); and banderilla de vegetales (grilled, marinated
vegetable and mushrooms on a skewer).

Casa Montaña, old tavern near the port, is an institution. They take
their anchovies so seriously, they employ their own de-boning expert.
Michirones (cooked fava beans) are a house classic. They extol even the
humble potato: ‘gathered in the dry Montes Universales - tasty and keep
their texture for our patatas bravas and cod croquettes.’

Their signature dish Titaina features tuna, tomatoes, peppers and pine nuts.
For cheese, try the cured Zamora, or Espadan Sierra (external
fermentation and natural curd). For sweet’ The Tocino De Cielo, all egg
yolks and sugar and their trademark tomato marmalade. You can order many
wines from the huge cellar by the glass.

About £50. 0034 96 36 72314 www.emilianobodega.com

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