In an era when a homogenizing global culture can erase the differences between cities around the world, it's refreshing to find one with such a well-defined personality. Valencia, now the third-largest city in Spain, was once the capital of the Kingdom of Valencia which, during its golden age in the 14th and 15th centuries, eclipsed Catalonia in importance. And it still has a plump and prosperous air, thanks in part to its worldwide trade in citrus fruits and vegetables.
There are certain advantages to life in "The Big Orange." Few cities in Spain have such gorgeous public buildings, and, even if Valencia isn’t quite a cultural powerhouse on the level of Barcelona or Madrid, it's still a civilized town with a rich artistic past and present. Then there's the perfect Mediterranean climate, the beaches, the fine medieval centro histórico—and the deep-rooted traditions of which Valencia is fiercely proud, most notably the great spring fiesta of Fallas, in which allegorical figures are set afire amid world-class firework displays and the extraordinary mascletá (best described as a symphony in explosions). Among Spaniards, Valencia has a reputation for exuberance and sensuality, as well as an inordinate fondness for staying up late. It’s also emerging as one of the country's most forward-thinking food cities. In short, what’s not to like?