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Annie Fitzsimmons

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PHOTOS: Valencia Beyond Calatrava

Posted: 08/31/11 06:50 PM ET

Starchitect Santiago Calatrava's masterpiece of design, the City of Arts & Sciences, has dominated the Valencia cityscape for more than a decade. While the city's pride in the work of its most famous son is well-deserved, Valencia has many other cultural highlights.

I arrived in Valencia on one of the sleek, high-speed trains that now connect the city with Madrid and Barcelona. The ride was such a pleasant experience that I wanted it to last longer.

I wandered around town and ate manchego and tomato sandwiches, which are sold everywhere like mozzarella and tomato in America. I drank glasses of fresh juice from Valencia oranges. (In a nod to local flavor, every Starbucks has an orange squeezing machine.) I craved crunchy bits of paella every day. I tasted the overly sweet local beverage Orxata, made of water, sugar and tigernuts and sold on street corners.

A tour of the City of Arts & Sciences is not to be missed for its space-age, jaw-dropping size, scope and design, but, on a closer look, the gleaming white exteriors show dirt in the cracks, like it needs a giant hose to wash it down. On every visitor's list is the Oceanografic Aquarium and the cool displays at the Museo de Las Ciencias (Science Museum), both equally appealing to both kids and adults.

Beyond Calatrava, here are 10 things I loved about Valencia.

Paella at La Matandeta Alfafar
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You’ll remember the paella here. But you’ll never forget the family and their sincere joy in serving you and teaching you about the area’s most famous dish, the specialty being Paella Valenciana, made with rabbit, chicken, duck and snails. It’s an easy $30 cab ride outside the city center. The family lives above the restaurant and also teaches paella cooking classes. Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Batali stopped here on their PBS show Spain…On the Road Again. (Carretera Alfafar-Saler, Km. 4)
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