As every Who fan knows, the Time Lord’s adventures in space and time mostly take place in Wales. Since Doctor Who’s reboot in 2005, Cardiff and the Welsh countryside have doubled for landings everywhere from London to cyberspace. But this week the Tardis touches down in a city of the far future: a place with soaring, looping, blindingly white buildings.
Colony world Gliese 581 D is in fact the cultural complex of the Spanish city of Valencia, known as the City of Arts and Sciences. It’s the exuberant fantasy of architect Santiago Calatrava who created an opera house like a spaceship; an Imax cinema resembling a giant eye; a science museum that could be an aircraft hangar crossed with a whale skeleton; and the largest aquarium in Europe, with 45,000 living creatures of 500 different species.
The Doctor and his new companion in colony world Gliese 581 D
Not so long ago, Spain’s third-largest city had a reputation for being down-at-heel, but ahead of hosting the 2007 America’s Cup, it had an expensive makeover. Nowadays it has all the ingredients for a first-class city break: a lovely old town, excellent museums and restaurants, a beach on the doorstep, lively nightlife and 300 days of sunshine a year.
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Travel back in time
Valencia’s oldest quarter, Barrio del Carmen, has narrow, winding alleyways leading to the magnificent Gothic Silk Exchange with its impudent gargoyles, a Rococo palace housing a ceramics museum, old-school tabernas, gourmet restaurants and boutiques.
At the heart of the barrio are two elegant plazas, a 17th-century basilica – decorated by exquisite frescos by the Baroque painter Antonio Palomino, court painter to Charles II – and a patchwork cathedral founded by the King of Aragon when he conquered Valencia in the 13th century, ending the 500-year reign of the Moors.
Inside there’s a Goya painting of an exorcism depicting demons and what’s said to be the Holy Grail, the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper, whose stone dates from the first century. On Sundays, girls with elaborate hairstyles and wearing traditional colourful silk costumes pose for photographs outside.
The Mercat Central
A few streets away, the Mercat Central market hall is a temple to food, an Art Nouveau palace crammed with gleaming fish from the Med, ruby legs of ham, plump vegetables from Huerta – the market garden that has encircled and fed Valencia since the time of the Moors.
Valencianos stop for horchata, a milky drink made from tigernuts that is served with sugary buns, or a plate at Central Bar, owned by the city’s most famous chef, Ricard Camarena.
Explore the future
On a sunny day, approaching the City of Arts and Sciences really does feel like stepping into the future, especially if you arrive via the River Turia. Following a devastating flood in the 50s, the river that runs through the city was drained and turned into a sunken park that ends in Calatrava’s futuristic city. So instead of hopping on the metro or a tram, you can hire a bike and meander along the green belt of the riverbed – without encountering a single car en route.
The Science Museum and the Hemistèric 3D Imax cinema (right)
From the interactive science museum, it’s a ten-minute cycle to the broad, sandy beach. Restaurants border the palm-lined promenade at Las Arenas (The Sands), including La Pepica, where Spanish royalty, Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway have all tucked into paella.
Valencia is the birthplace of Spain's national dish and Valencianos take it very seriously. They would never dream of eating it in the evening: only at lunchtime, which lasts from 2pm to 4pm. There's no seafood in paella Valenciana - it's made with rabbit, chicken and snails when they're in season. The plump, stubby rice - bomba or bahia - is grown in the paddies that ring the freshwater lagoon of Albufera, to the south of the city. The seafood version is called fideuà, another one-pot wonder, made with fish, shellfish and vermicelli pasta.
For further information, go to visitvalencia.com
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Radio Times Travel holidays
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For more ideas on Spanish city breaks visit radiotimes.com/spain