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EXCLUSIVE | Global Gayborhoods: Valencia

EXCLUSIVE | Global Gayborhoods: Valencia

The third-largest city in Spain, Valencia promises beautiful beaches, fresh seafood, and a very welcoming population abound with sun-kissed European charm.

Outside In
Contrary to popular belief, Valencia-brand oranges are not actually from Valencia, Spain, but a Californian invention. Valencia does produce some fine oranges itself, but its true claim to culinary fame is paella. No two versions of this chaotic and delicious seafood dish are the same, but the best are still to be found here -- particularly in the area just north of the city port in Las Arenas.

Foodie appeal aside, Valencia has also been steadily rising as an LGBT vacation destination, partly due to the progressive reforms that began in 2005 when socialist Prime Minister Zapatero legalized same-sex marriage and adoption. Despite the deep Catholic inheritance in Spanish culture, attitudes are following actions, with acceptance and support thriving in the wake of equal-rights legislation.

Tips: Something Old
Despite having long outgrown them, the still-standing Roman walls encircle one of the most beautiful Old Quarter neighborhoods in Europe. A heady, romantic mix of Roman, Moorish, Baroque and Gothic buildings jostles in the narrow streets alongside a surprising number of cafes and bars.

Crowning all the others, however, is the cavernous Cathedral of Valencia (Almoina Square; +34-96-391-81-27), home to an artifact the Pope says might be the Holy Grail, an arm that may have belonged to St. Vincent, a lovely Goya and the best views over the city from the Miguelete bell tower.

Tips: Something New
Rising out of the dry riverbed like a pod of neon space whales, Valencia-born architect Santiago Calatrava's futuristic Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencies, or "City of Arts and Sciences" (www.cac.es), is one of Valencia's main attractions. A city within a city, it is also home to a healthy portion of the city's current cultural offerings, including an opera house/performing arts center, a science museum, an IMAX theater/planetarium and an open-air oceanographic park.

Tricks: Something Borrowed
The third-largest city in Spain, Valencia is no nightlife slouch. Especially in summer, the LGBT bars and clubs around the local gay area, the Barrio del Carmen -- or "el Carme," -- just northeast of the Old Quarter become packed with newly tanned, vacationing bodies.

One conveniently located staple, the mammoth Discoteca Puzzle (Carrer de Maties Perell?), is spread over two floors and has a terraced VIP area, drawing a consistently large crowd with its weekly parties and drag shows. Nearby, the Deseo 54 nightclub (Calle de la Pepita, 15) is also in solid standing with party-hungry, dancing clubgoers; it hosts weekly parties and drag shows.

Tips: Something Blue
With the approach of June, the mild Mediterranean waters -- within diving distance of downtown Valencia -- are heating up and attracting an even mix of oiled, baking bodies from America and northern Europe. The bulk of the Parisian crowd won't strip down until it arrives in August, but the international gay scene will be revving up in style throughout the summer.

The gay-friendliest beach, the Playa la Devesa, is one of the more beautiful and undeveloped, precisely because it is a bit outside the downtown area. The short bus ride on the Yellow Line to Mirador de Albufera, however, and the following ten-minute walk through a pine forest will really make the day feel like an escape.

Tips: Hotels
A perennial top choice among queer and straight travelers, the Vincci Lys hotel (Avenida Martinez Cubells 5;; +34-96-350-95-50) is temptingly located in the heart of Valencia, close to the major sights and the train station. Beyond the bar of luxe amenities and top-notch service, the Vincci Lys has a lovely restaurant stocked with fresh local produce and is also the only central Valencia hotel with its own parking lot.

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