The narrow east-coast region of Valencia stretches from the seaside town of Vinaros in the north to the mountain-backed Costa Blanca city of Alicante in the south. Its capital city, Valencia, lies slap bang in the middle of this coastline, the administrative and cultural hub of the region, a dynamic place where sea meets land, old meets new, and, whenever there's reason to party, flame meets firework fuse.
In 2003 there were plenty of excuses for a knees-up. As well as the annual Fallas celebration, a mad March week of bonfires and bangers which gives Valencianos the reputation of being several fingers short of a full set, Valencia won the league on the city's Saint's Day, and the jumping up and down and singing outside Mestalla stadium and the City Hall went on well into the night.
It didn't stop there. There was parading the trophy, winning the UEFA Cup final, parading the UEFA Cup and a celebratory final match which left the most hardcore of fans with a serious case of sleep-deprivation. But Valencia aren't the only club in the city, and los ches (the local dialect for 'the guys') weren't the only Valencianos jumping up and down in front of the City Hall.
The city's unfancied second team, Levante, won Division Two to reach Primera for the first time in 41 years, bringing the region's tally of clubs to an unprecedented three – Villarreal, from up the coast in the province of Castellon, are currently enjoying their golden age. And although Levante have since bobbed between the top two divisions, they're back in the top flight for 2010/11 and make the city even more worth visiting.
Historically, Valencia is a place which has been in the wars: 1,000 years ago a mercenary knight called El Cid briefly rid the city of its Moorish rulers in an episode massively distorted in the famous film of the same name starring Charlton Heston as a dead man on a horse.
In fact, the Islamic occupation of the region was one of its most prosperous eras, and many place names derive from Arabic roots – such as Benicassim, to the north, where there is a Glastonbury-without-wellies music festival every August, sunny Alicante, and that favourite haunt of the British package tourist, Benidorm.
The Moors also irrigated the area, and their heritage is left inland from the golden sands and the horrid high-rise blocks that line the coast, mile after mile, behind them. The Albufera lagoon is a beautiful natural park full of wild birds and paddy fields which have been there since the area was irrigated before the turn of the first millennium.
This is the rice-growing region of Spain, and thus the home of paella, traditionally eaten with chicken, rabbit and snails (not fish, as the tourist traps elsewhere in Spain would have you believe). The pine-surrounded mountains of Alto Turia, in the North West of the region, are also worth a visit.
But the city of Valencia is the jewel in the crown, with its azulejo-domed churches, its football-pitch-filled park in the bed of the dried-out River Turia, its wacky modern science park, its attractive beaches, and its never-say-I'm-off-now nightlife. What's more, when Levante join los ches in the top flight there's Primera football every weekend, whether at the imposing Mestalla or the rather more sedate Estadio Ciutat de Valencia, no doubt giving further excuse to blow off a few fingers.
Explore Valencia with the interactive map below; click the club badge to get a club guide.
For more local information, see the relevant club pages: Valencia CF, Villarreal CF and Levante UD.
For regular updates on the crazy world of Spanish football, see our blog La Liga Loca
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