From the outside, Valencia's Mestalla stadium, a half-hour walk over the river from the elegant medieval city centre, looks like it might be a prison. On matchdays, however, it's one of the best places in the world to watch football. The atmosphere can be tremendous, with the club's two sets of Ultras, caged in compounds either side of the posh tribuna stand, singing throughout the game. When the team is losing, however, they are among the quickest fans to scream their discontent.
Before the game, fans collect in the road outside the main entrance, waiting to cheer and boo the team buses, having sloshed down their drinks in the square opposite the ground, flanked by a semi-circle of bars that, when weather permits (eight months of the year), broadcast Valencia's matches, home and away, on television screens to al fresco punters, decked out as if they were going to the game.
The best of these bars is that of Manolo 'el del Bombo', run by Spain's most famous fan, Manolo (the fat guy who bangs a big drum at Spain games, wearing an over-sized beret). It's a great place to have a beer before and after the match and Manolo, God bless him, is always willing to have his photo taken with you.
Mestalla (officially the Luis Casanova stadium, holding 55,000) is a vast, steep arena built in the Italian style, with two grandstands connected by two 'curvas', all touching pitchside, and brilliant views from everywhere except low in the corners.
Valencia have played in this imposing home since 1923, but they've been trying to move out of it for a while now: they're well under way with building the 70,000-capacity Nou Mestalla in the north-west of the city, but they're having problems worthy of an episode of Grand Designs.
Work started in August 2007 and it was supposed to be built for the 2009 Athletics World Championships, but due to financial uncertainties – initially the club's, although the recession which crippled Spain didn't help – work stopped in February 2009 and they still hadn't moved in by the end of 2010. By that time, Spanish newspaper Marca was claiming that some parts of the stadium were already damaged beyond repair. We'll see.
Club address (for now?) Avda. De Suecia, s/n 46010 Valencia
Telephone (0034) 96 337 26 26
CITY GUIDE: VALENCIA
One of Spain's most progressive cities, Valencia has more to be proud of than a fine side. Located in the Levante region, Valencia is famous for orange and lemon growing, which gave the city a provincial feel. Recent redevelopment and investment – Valencia has a new high-tech metro, for example – means the city could one day rival Barcelona as the nation's most cosmopolitan city.
The dialect Valenciano competes with Castilian as the primary language in the region. One nationalist group even denies the dialect's Castilian roots, not that anybody takes them seriously.
Manises Airport is 9km out of Valencia and is well-served by a shuttle bus (number 105) that whisks you into the city centre every 15 minutes.If you prefer to rent a car, aside from the usual multinational companies, try Cunauto at c/Burriana 51 – (0034) 963 748 561.
Public transport is cheap and effective, although most tourist sights are easily accessible on foot. The city centre also supplies plenty of links to the outskirts and the beach.
World-famous tomato-slinging war La Tomatina, held in the last week of August in the nearby village of Bunol. It's surprisingly ordered: battle commences at midday sharp as 40,000 lunatics work themselves into a frenzy, screaming 'To-ma-te! To-ma-te!'. At precisely 1pm an explosion signals the end of the furore, hurling ceases immediately, and it's back home for a quick shower and change.
SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT
Pop down to the busy Sunday markets handily located right next to the Mestalla on Avenida De Suecia. Having gone all that way, you might as well take in a game...
March 12-19 Fallas de San Jose. Spain's biggest bonfire festival, costing 1.2 million euros. The final evening – the Nit de Foc – is an arsonist's playground where even the processional floats are burnt to a cinder; and if that's not enough destruction for you, there's always the bullfighting.
For regular updates on the crazy world of Spanish football, see our blog La Liga Loca
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