Discover Spain’s newest “it” city

The city of Valencia, Spain, has long been associated with iconic orange trees and paella, the mouth-watering local dish. But lately, this Mediterranean hot spot has been getting the nod from international jet-setters for more current developments, such as an extreme seaside makeover, progressive architectural growth, international sporting events and a booming arts and culture scene.

Valencia’s port wasn’t much to talk about until the sun-filled metropolis won the bid to host the 2007 America’s Cup. The move triggered more adrenaline-rush events, including the Formula One Grand Prix of Europe and most recently, the ATP World Tour 500. This tennis competition made its debut last November in the mesmerizing Ágora building—the latest and final instalment in La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, a 21st-century leisure park designed by home-grown starchitect Santiago Calatrava.

The voluptuous lines of this massive Jetsons-like playground feature the ultra-modern Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía (the opera house), Museo de las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe (science museum), L’Hemisfèric (IMAX theatre) and L’Oceanogràfic (the largest aquarium in Europe). The futuristic hub also paints an iconic skyline on par with other international cities.

El Mercado de Colón was a market when it first opened in 1916 and now serves as a luxury shopping mall. With a picturesque flower shop on one end, cafés on the other and a bookstore and gourmet-food kiosks downstairs, it’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon. Try the horchata, a milky, almond-sweet drink that is popular with natives.

The walk through the narrow streets from the market to Hotel Dimar winds past Calle de Sorní where shops like Escada and Furla are waiting to meet your credit card. If you’re hunting for the Rodeo Drive strip of this city, Calle Poeta Querol is where it’s at, with Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Cavalli. Other hot retail zones are Calle Colón for the likes of Mango and Zara, as well as El Cortes Inglés, one of Spain’s largest department-store chains.

Most thrilling, however, are the local discoveries. Adolfo Dominguez, one of the first Spanish designers to have an eponymous store in Spain—you may remember Gwyneth Paltrow graced his front row last season—and Bimba & Lola, a trendy, more affordable collection run by Dominguez’ nieces, are both essentials. Valencia’s granddaddy of fashion, however, is Alex Vidal (now the executive director of Valencia Fashion Week). He recently passed his prêt-à-porter torch to his son Alex Vidal, Jr., a standout amongst a group of up-and-coming notables, such as Miquel Suay, Tonuca, Ramón Gurillo, Dolores Cortés and José Zambrano.

When it comes to stylish nightspots, Barrio del Carmen’s Marrasquino Bar is an unpretentious urban hangout. L’Umbracle, in Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, is another popular spot (where it seems the handsomest crowd in the city converge for mutual admiration). And then, there is Malvarrosa’s beachside Vivir Sin Dormir, which means “live without sleeping.” It’s a choice name for the bar, but also appropriate for the city as a whole considering nightlife generally begins at midnight. But when you have this much going on, who has time to sleep?

“Dawn of a New Valencia” has been edited for FLARE.com; the complete story appears in the March 2010 issue of FLARE.