Travel Black Book With Grace Cheng

Vibrant Valencia

From culture to food to charming architecture, the Spanish city has them in spades

Who: Ms Grace Cheng, 35, Singaporean co-founder and editor-in-chief of GET.com, a lifestyle and personal finance website. She is married to Mr Pedro Pla, 34, also a co-founder of the portal. They have two children - Ramses, four, and Ranefer, two.

Feature Destination: Valencia, Spain

Why: I'm a big foodie, so one of my favourite things about Valencia is the food. You can find an abundance of fresh seafood, tapas, local wine, food markets and the city's signature dish, paella - a dish of yellow rice cooked with seafood or meat and vegetables in a flat and wide pan.

The sunny, Mediterranean climate means that winters are mild, so it's the perfect place to visit all year round.

Whether you love modern architecture or have a soft spot for charming old buildings, you will find something interesting in Valencia.

For a contemporary architectural wonder, visit the City of Arts and Sciences. If you prefer ancient buildings, wander around the old town (El Carmen) for its Roman and Arabic architecture.

Valencia is also a green city that outdoor enthusiasts will love. The Turia Riverbed - there is no longer a river - is a 9km path lined with parks, trees and gardens, and runs through the centre of Valencia.

I love strolling along the riverbed in the shade with an ice cream in hand while feasting my eyes on the architecture.

Favourite hotel

The Westin hotel (Amadeo de Saboya, 16; www.westinvalencia.com/en). The five-star hotel is within walking distance of must-visit places such as the Central Market, City of Arts and Sciences, the old town and Turia Riverbed.

The hotel is elegant, full of character and has its own art gallery. One of my favourite things about it is the beautiful garden full of palm trees and Mediterranean flora, where I would sit and unwind after a long day in town. The marble floors and the huge Swarovski crystal chandelier in the lobby are impressive too.

The large and comfortable rooms are in Art Deco style.

It's also a good place to spot celebrities. George Clooney has stayed here and players of the Valencia football club stay here when they have matches. A deluxe room starts at €200 (S$300) a night.

Favourite restaurant

My favourite place for a relaxing meal while enjoying the beautiful sea view is Arroceria Duna (Paseo Pintor Francisco Lozano modulo 3 s/n, 46012 El Saler; www.arroceriaduna.es/en/cuisine), which specialises in paella and rice dishes. It also serves a variety of meat and fish dishes. A paella here costs about €20 a person and is a must-try.

Don't skimp on the starters because they are just as good as the main dishes. Valencian tomatoes are flavourful and unique to this area, so make sure to order a tomato salad with anchovies to get a full taste of Valencia.

Best breakfast

One of the hidden gems I discovered in Valencia was a cafe called Dulce de Leche Boutique Ruzafa (Calle Pintor Gisbert 2; www.facebook.com/DulceDeLecheRuzafa), located in the trendy and bohemian neighbourhood of Ruzafa. It serves cakes, pastries, croissants, pancakes, sandwiches, freshly pressed juices and milkshakes. I love the fresh orange juice here because the oranges are grown locally and are full of flavour.

Must-try

Valencia is the birthplace of paella. One of the best places to eat it is at Arroceria Duna.

Horchata is Valencia's signature drink. Made from chufa (tiger nut), it is a refreshing sweet drink served with fartons (doughy pastry). The best place to get it is at the famed Horchateria Daniel in the Alboraia neighbourhood (Avenida de la Horchata 41, 46120 Alboraia; www.horchateria-daniel.es). A glass costs €3.

Favourite museum

One of the most famous places in Valencia is the City of Arts and Sciences (Av. del Professor Lopez Pinero, 7; www.cac.es/en/home.html) on the Turia Riverbed.

This cluster of futuristic buildings includes an interactive science centre, an Imax cinema, an opera house and the largest aquarium in Europe.

Local experience

Wine is an integral part of Spanish culture and Valencia has many wine-tasting routes. I visited the Hoya de Cadenas estate (www.hoyadecadenas.es/1-2-11-home.htm) for a tour and tasting of three of its finest wines for €9. Its Vino de Liria, a local wine, makes an ideal souvenir for wine lovers. Prices are €10 to €20.

Favourite neighbourhood

The old town, El Carmen, is full of narrow, shady streets and beautiful old buildings. I love making stops at cafes and restaurants for tapas and pastries. There are many small shops, vintage stores and terraces to rest and sip wine. I also like Ruzafa, a trendy neighbourhood.

Best shopping

One of the most unique things to buy in Valencia is silk. I visited La Lonja de la Seda (Plaza del Mercado, 31), a beautiful gothic building that used to be a silk trading centre and is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. Entry costs €2.

Museo y Colegio del Arte Mayor de la Seda de Valencia (www.museodelasedavalencia.com) is a silk museum (entry is €6) which highlights the history and process of silk making. It also has a shop selling silk scarves and apparel.

Another thing to look out for are handmade shoes. In the neighbouring town of Elche, handmade leather shoes cost €100 to €200 a pair.

Best view

The Marina Beach Restaurant (Marina Real Juan Carlos I, Paseo de Neptuno, 46011; marinabeachclub.com/en) is a lovely place to watch the sunset. It's right on the beach.

There is also a pool, a sky bar, a lounge area and a club. They have great cocktails (about €9 each) and the clawed lobster creamy rice (€19.50) is to die for.

Worthwhile side trips

I enjoy exploring the beaches in the nearby fishing village of Javea. They're surrounded by cliffs and mountains and have crystal clear, turquoise water that is great for snorkelling.

Another great find are the caves in the town of Bocairent. These man-made Moorish caves are full of round windows and chambers that are interconnected. In Bocairent, you will also find the Clariano River - a great place for a walking tour.

Event to bookmark

Las Fallas is Valencia's most renowned festival, held over five days and nights in March to commemorate Saint Joseph.

The whole city is decorated with huge papier mache statues (ninots) with satirical themes.

During the day, people dress up in traditional fallero outfits and cook paella over an open fire on the streets. At night, the city is lit and turns into a massive street party with music, food and firecrackers.

On the last night, all the ninots are set on fire and burned as entire streets of fireworks go off. It's spectacular, but make sure to take along ear plugs as it can get very loud.

Ideal length of stay

A week or two in Valencia is a decent amount of time for one to soak in the rich architectural sights, culture and enjoy the local cuisine.

You will also have enough time to visit the beaches of Javea and Denia or explore neighbouring villages.

I wouldn't recommend going during end-July or August because it can get unbearably hot.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 21, 2016, with the headline 'Vibrant Valencia'. Print Edition | Subscribe