Valencia, Spain

A Unique City on the Mediterranean

Valencia, Spain

A Unique City on the Mediterranean

Most people think of City of Arts and Sciences when they think of Valencia, Spain. It is a modern complex that includes a planetarium, oceanarium and a museum. It’s probably one of the most famous structures you’ll find in Valencia, Spain. And the space is probably among the most unique you’ll find for meetings and special events. That alone should catch your attention for business travel.

Valencia’s Central Market. Courtesy of Spain Tourist Office

When Valencia, Spain landed the America’s Cup in 2007, it gained even greater attention in the international meetings industry (Oranges, palm trees, art deco, paella, daytime fireworks, Spain’s best food market, hot chocolate with pumpkin fritters, the Mediterranean, Roman ruins, horchata, rice fields, another Parador….

Still, it seems to be one of the best kept secrets from Americans: a little more than 50,000 visited there in 2015.

Mark Oreglia, professor in the department of physics at the University of Chicago, The Enrico Fermi Institute, has participated in four different events held in Valencia. One program he attends is the International Linear Collider Workshop ECFA, a scientific conference that was held in Valencia in 2012.

“For international balance reasons we cannot go to Valencia too often, but most of my colleagues would like to!” Oreglia explains. “Far and away that is the locale my colleagues remember most fondly. Its just a magical place, but still runs efficiently for business travelers.”

The program has been held in major international cities, such as London, Paris, Chicago, Tokyo, Beijing, Geneva and Frankfurt.

What makes Valencia a standout in the meetings industry and for business travelers? It’s a relaxed city that is one of the more cost effective cities in Spain.

Valencia, Spain Logistics

Valencia Airport is a regional airport that is served by many European airline hubs, such as London, Frankfurt, Paris, Rome and Zurich. This may help partially explain why  the top countries for visitors to Valencia in 2015 were from Italy (388,560), France (270,527), UK (203,722) , Germany (131,034) and Switzerland 123,386).

But for Americans and others who want to visit from outside Europe, Valencia will likely require a connection — a one hour flight from Madrid connection on Iberia. And it’s worth it because the airport is just a four-mile transfer to the city center.

Valencia is also served by high speed train through AVE , Spain’s high speed train that connects cities throughout the country, such as Madrid (1 hour and 45 minutes) and Barcelona (3 hours and 15  minutes). And it’s very easy to simply step on the train and transfer to where you want to go (more time for shopping, taking pictures and enjoying the food).

The Verdict?

Valencia is Spain’s third largest city with 786,000 as of 2015 — and it offers many other reasons to visit. Located in the southeast coast on the Mediterranean, the weather is pleasant and Valencia has a mix of architecture, an amazing old town, beaches,  gastronomy — it’s also the birthplace of paella Valenciana (the most authentic version of paella), culture (more than 35 museums), festivals, shopping, nightlife and more. This city is creative and a natural fit for the meetings industry.

Ayre Hotel Astoria Palace Exterior in Valencia, Spain
Ayre Hotel Astoria Palace Exterior in Valencia, Spain © Rob Hard 2016

Valencia is a port city that’s popular with cruises. And the city has more than 17,000 hotel rooms. There are more than 150 hotels in Valencia, and the region has more than 400. There are five 5-star hotels and roughly more than 70 4-star hotels.

Upon my arrival, I stayed at Ayre Hotel Astoria Palace, a 4-star hotel that’s conveniently located in the center of Valencia with nine floors. There are a total of 204 guest rooms with all the standard comforts you’d need. There’s also a bar/lounge, a small fitness room (where I used the elliptical – though I’m never sure why I do that when I walk all day on the road) and 12 meeting rooms. (A smaller, two-day congress was being held at the hotel during my stay.)

For a less urban experience, Parador de El Saler is located about 20-25 minutes outside the city center. This parador has all of the creature comforts that any meeting professional or attendee would enjoy – gorgeous guest rooms (some with sea views), dining options, relaxing lobby lounge areas, a spa, an outdoor swimming pool, outdoor terraces, beach access, an 18-hold golf course and a modern convention center that can hold up to 400 attendees.

Other popular hotels in Valencia include:

  • The Westin Valencia (a 4.5 star resort hotel near  the historic center with 135 art deco guest rooms and a fantastic outdoor garden and terrace where you can relax and enjoy drinks and tapas)
  • Hotel Balneario Las Arenas (a 5-star luxury hotel and resort with more than 250 guest rooms, located near Malvarrosa beach with separate conference facilities, including an auditorium and meeting rooms, and a full-service spa)
  • Hospes Paula de la Mar (a 5-star boutique hotel with 66 rooms and suites, located in a 19th century house near the historic city center in Valencia that is in extremely high demand for high-end business and leisure travel; during my visit to Valencia a major sports team fully rented it out)

Principe Felipe Science Museum at City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia
Principe Felipe Science Museum at City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia © Rob Hard 2016

More than 185,000 of Valencia’s nearly 1.9 million visitors in 2015 attended meetings and events (Valencia hosts more than 900,000 international visitors each year). Conventions scheduled in Valencia include:

And Valencia offers several venue choices for meetings and conventions.

The Valencia Conference Center is a visually stunning. Designed by Norman Foster between 1993 and 1998, the building is shaped like the lens of an eye — and very sustainable. The Valencia Conference Center is surrounded by gardens, and cool, fresh air passes is drawn into the foyer as it passes over the curved-shaped pools outside the venue (reducing the need for air conditioning).

Daylight floods throughout the center, and low energy, LED, presence detours automatically turn lights on and off. Solar tiles on the roof (which also forms a canopy above the entrance) have generated more than 1.5 million kWh of energy in five years. And catering their catering services uses integrated crop management (a sustainable approach that conserves natural resources while producing food in an economically viable manner).

The Valencia Convention Center combines the historic features of this city with state-of-the art facilities. It has three auditoriums (seating for 25, 460 and 1,460) and nine meeting rooms.

A total of 32 congresses were held here in 2015 (a total of more than 35,000 attendees combined). Many medical conventions and technology congresses are drawn here.

The City of Arts and Sciences was designed by Spanish architects Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candelahe. It’s also a visually unique complex — made up of six large elements: the Hemisfèric (IMAX Cinema and digital films) the Umbracle (landscaped vantage point), the Príncipe Felipe Science Museum (an innovative interactive science centre), the Oceanogràfic (Europe’s largest aquarium with over 500 marine species), the Reina Sofía Palace of the Arts (dedicated to opera), and the Ágora (a multipurpose space in which concerts and many activities take place).

Conferences, exhibitions, projections, guided tours and workshops related to science, technology, nature and art, designed to stimulate curiosity and learning with different types of audiences are held here.

Other popular venues for conventions in Valencia Spain include:

  • Oceanografic
  • Palau de les Arts
  • Palau de la Musica

Watching and learning for our next step. Courtesy image

Every March, the city center in Valencia comes alive to celebrate Fallas. Fireworks are displayed daily during lunchtime in the old town and the city and people fill the streets day and night.

Some of Valencia’s popular activities include:

  • Learn to make Valenciana paella. Escuela de Arroces y Paella Vaenciana is located in the old town and where you can sign up to learn to make paella (or schedule a private event). It was one of my most memorable experiences in Valencia.
  • Visit Valencia’s Central Market. Foodies always enjoy checking out the market when visiting European cities. Valencia’s is a modernist building – made of stone, wood and colorful glass – that opened in 1928. And it has more than 950 stalls. You’ll find everything here. Enjoy the bar in the market if you have time, and take home special gifts for your culinary friends (highly recommend getting saffron from here).
  • Schedule a guided tour. Valencia has many choices for tours, including tapas, architecture (the old part of the city is filled with gothic, neoclassicism and baroque), museums, churches and more. You can even experience some of this by taking a bike tour through the city. To be honest, shopping is an enjoyable part of visiting Valencia (A couple of the items I brought back a paella pan and a folding hand fan as a birthday gift for a young, teenage girl from Vestals Abanicos – the shop painted her name on the handle for me).
  • Enjoy the local cuisine. The city has more than 2,000 cafes, bars and restaurants. You’ll find everything from tapas restaurants to fine dining throughout Valencia, Spain. And enjoy the local beer and wine! A few of my stops (which are also great for private events) included La Valenciana (it’s not just a cooking school), Baracca Toni Montoliu, Panorama Restaurante (a beachfront restaurant with stunning views of Malvarrosa beach, Restaurante Seu Xerea (one of Valencia’s best restaurants that specializes global local food that is rooted in the Mediterranean cooking style) and the Mediterranean and Café de las Horas (you won’t be disappointed by this small, memorable and colorful nightspot known for its live music and unique drinks). And always check with your hotel concierge for tips, too.
  • Visit the Lladro Museum and take a tour. The history behind the famous porcelain sculptures began in 1953. A behind the scenes tour will give you an appreciation for the work that goes into creating, decorating and firing each piece. If you’re planning to visit on your own, you’ll want to schedule a personal tour in advance.
  • Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences. Santiago Calatrava is the Valencian architect behind this scientific and cultural complex that sits along the River Turia. It’s a visually stunning mix of white and glass buildings. The City of Arts and Sciences includes the Oceanographic – Europe’s biggest aquarium, the Hemisferic – a digital 3D cinema with daily educational films that run less than 45 minutes, the Principe Filipe Science Museum – temporary interactive exhibitions and workshops throughout the year, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia – an opera house where concerts, ballets and other performances are scheduled, the Umbracle – an open-access garden where you can also enjoy a nighttime drink, the Agora – a versatile venue where private events are hosted, and the Assut d’or Bridge – which is used for traffic and as a pedestrian bridge.
  • Taste horchata. Horchata is a sweet, milky drink made from tiger nuts. Many people think of it as a Mexican drink, but it originated in Spain. And you can find carts in Valencia where you can buy it. MonOrxata Factory is where you can schedule a visit or private event to watch how it’s made and to taste it for yourself.
  • Enjoy dinner at a baracca in the countryside. Baraccas are traditional Valencian houses that you’ll find in the countryside. They are made from raw materials, such as wood, reeds and mud. It’s part of Valencia’s cultural heritage. With its own orange orchard, Baracca de Toni Montoliu is a unique experience for group events Be part of the experience to make paella. Enjoy your time to explore the property, help select fresh ingredients, eat oranges directly from the trees and enjoy a traditional Valencian meal. If going on your own, check with the restaurant for their hours.
  • Golf at El Saler Golf Course at Parador de El Saler. Built in 1968 by Javier Arana, known as the architect of Spanish golf, this is a par-72, 18-hold course. It is recognized as one of the three best golf courses in Europe. The course layout is varied, ranging from beach links to areas of a typical Mediterranean forest. And it’s located about 20 minutes outside of Valencia.

And if you’re a bit adventurous, there’s even Albufera Natural Park, which includes Spain’s largest lake and an important wetland with rare species of wading birds and a variety of wildlife. It’s located just outside the city.

For more information about meetings and events in Valencia, Spain, contact the Valencia Convention Bureau.

Rob is editor of Business Travel Destinations. He reviews international destinations for meetings and events -- where business travelers go, the hotels where they stay and their lifestyle preferences on the road. Rob was previously the event planning guide for About.com (owned by The New York Times Company) from 2007 - 2011. His articles also appear in business travel publications and travel sites internationally.