351km (218 miles) SE of Madrid, 361km (224 miles) SW of Barcelona, 650km (404 miles) NE of Málaga

Valencia's charms -- or lack thereof -- are much debated. Some claim that the city where El Cid faced the Moors is one of the most beautiful on the Mediterranean. Others write it off as drab, provincial, and industrial. The truth lies somewhere in between. This Mediterranean port is in the midst of a Bilbao-type renewal. Valencia's answer to Bilbao's Guggenheim is the jaw-dropping City of Arts and Sciences.

Set amid orange trees and rice paddies, Valencia's reputation as a romantic city seems more justified by its past than by its present. Hidden between modern office buildings and monotonous apartment houses, remnants of an illustrious past do remain. However, floods and war have been cruel to Valencia, forcing Valencianos to tear down buildings that today would be architectural treasures.

Valencia has a strong cultural tradition. Its most famous son was writer Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, best known for his novel about bullfighting, Blood and Sand, and for his World War I novel, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Both were filmed twice in Hollywood, with Rudolph Valentino starring in the first version of each. Joaquín Sorolla, the famous Spanish Impressionist, was another native of Valencia. You can see his works at a museum dedicated to him in Madrid.