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Last updated : Nov 2009
Valencia and Murcia
Valencia and Murcia -

Spain’s third-largest city with a population of approximately 800,000, Valencia is famous for its orange groves, its fruit and vegetable market which is one of the largest in Europe along with its lively nightlife. It is also a popular tourist resort with beaches a short bus ride from the town.

The newest tourist attraction is Santiago Calatrava’s City of Arts and Science Park. The Hemispheric, an amazing glass structure, houses a planetarium, IMAX dome and laserium. The Palace of Arts boasts the largest oceanarium in Europe. Valencia’s Cathedral claims possession of the Holy Grail. The Fallas (March 15th-19th) is a major festival culminating in the burning of papier-mâché effigies satirising famous Spanish figures and a magnificent fireworks display.

Alicante and the Costa Blanca

The Costa Calida in the province of Murcia lies to the south of Alicante and is thinly populated except in the areas around the river valleys. Summer temperatures here can be unbearably hot in the resorts and especially inland.

Murcia, the town, has a cathedral, university and small old quarter. The salt water lagoon at Mar Menor is good for watersports, while nearby, La Manga offers tennis, golf and so on. Other resorts include Mazarrón, La Unión and Aguilas.

The best time to visit Cartagena, founded, as its name implies, by the Carthaginians in the third century BC, is during Holy Week. The town museum has a good collection of Roman and pre-Roman artefacts. Space on the beaches around Torrevieja is at a premium during the summer.

Further north along the coast is Alicante, the most important town on the Costa Blanca. The town is dominated by the vast Moorish castle of Santa Barbara, which offers superb views of the city.

Excursions from Alicante include a run inland to Guadalest, a village perched like an eagle’s eyrie high in the mountains and accessible in the last stages only by donkey or on foot. Also of great interest are several historical sites, including the castles at Elda and Villena, and Elche, famous for its forest of a million palm trees, Botanical Gardens and Basilica, where a medieval Mystery play is performed to celebrate the feast of the Assumption, August 14th-15th.

The Costa Blanca has expanded rapidly in recent years and most of the coastal towns between the Peñón de Ifach and Alicante are primarily tourist resorts. Temperatures are higher than on the Costa Brava and the beaches tend to be more extensive. Benidorm is the largest and most intensively developed resort. The new Terramitica theme park is proving popular with visitors. One of many places of interest in the area is the Peñón de Ifach (Ifach Rock), 5km (3 miles) beyond the walled town of Calpe.

The Costa del Azahar

This coastal region extends from Vinaròs and the Gulf of Valencia to beyond Denia. The region has expansive beaches around Benicàssim, but its most outstanding feature is, the medieval fortress town of Peñiscola, a dramatic sight when viewed from a distance. Other places of interest are the ruined castle of Chisvert, inland from Peñiscola, the 16th-century Torre del Rey at Oropesa, and the Carmelite monastery at the Desierto de las Palmas.

North of Valencia is the attractive provincial capital of Castellón, Castellón de la Plana. This small town is situated on a fertile plain, and is the centre of a thriving trade in citrus fruits.