Valencia is Spain’s third football metropolis after Madrid and Barcelona. With a long, beachlined Med seafront, a party-centric young populace and world-renowned contemporary attractions, Valencia is a Barcelona in miniature, an underrated destination for any discerning football traveller.
The flagship club of the third city, Valencia CF are the only one in the last ten years to have broken the Madrid-Barça monopoly on the title – twice. Perenially third since then, and regular performers in the Champions League, Valencia CF (‘Los Che’) have recently been sharing La Liga status with unsung city rivals, Levante.
All this changes in 2016-17 after Levante’s dismal last-place finish in 2016.
Over the decades, derbies between the two have been few and far between, given Levante’s patchwork history and near permanent second-flight status for much of the immediate post-war period. The pair groundshared Valencia’s Mestalla while Levante’s new stadium was being built in the late 1960s.
The Mestalla had, in fact, been opened with a derby between the two clubs in 1923. As well as occasional internationals, it served as convenient cup-final venue when the opponents were Real Madrid and Barcelona. This was where, for better or worse, Spain were based for their group matches at the 1982 World Cup. It was here that Gerry Armstrong famously scored the only goal of the game for Northern Ireland to beat the hosts.
Considering Levante are always the underdogs, the record in the Derbi Valenciano is reasonable, though two of their victories came in the 1960s. Much was made of the cup clash in January 1999, as it came after decades of the two missing each other in the league: Valencia won 3-0, and went on to win the trophy.
Levante had the edge when they hit a best-ever run of form in the autumn of 2012.
Both clubs are within a short taxi journey of each other, east and north-east of the city centre.
Valencia’s Aeropuerto de Manises is 8km (5 miles) west of the city centre, now in Zone B of the metro network and served by lines 3 and 5. Allow 15 mins (single €2) to town. A day pass in Zone A (T1), that covers both stadia, is €3.70. As the six-line metro network circumvents the city centre, there are buses too. Combined tickets and other passes are also available.
A taxi (+34 96 374 0202) to town should cost around €15 plus €3.50 airport supplement. Note that Valencia’s train hub, Estación del Norte, is by Xàtiva metro station.
The Tourist Office at Plaza de la Reina 19 has an online booking service. For Las Fallas festival in mid-March, the whole town and surrounding area is booked up weeks in advance.
If you’re arriving on spec, and just need a cheap room, there’s a booking office in the main railway station, Estación del Norte, around which you’ll find most of the budget accommodation.
The nearest hotel to the Mestalla is the Hostal Residencia Penalty, a smart one-star with €56 doubles most of the year, a convivial café and all five strides from the Valencia CF stadium. Also close are the five-star Westin Valencia and the four-star Hotel Puerta Valencia. In town, the Hotel Europa is a cheapish option.
Arriving at the Estacion del Norte station, nearby Central Abbey (C/Roig De Corella 8) is a pub-like spot with TV football. Nightlife is concentrated in the Barrio del Carmen, or El Carme, a tangle of narrow streets in the old town, most notably Calle Caballeros. There, Abierto (C/Caballeros 42) s a terrace spot that offers Guinness. The north end of Calle Ribera is lined with bars and restaurants, including Baldo (No.5), with local specialities and the match broadcast outside.
El Cau d’el Rall is a sport-focused bar with restaurant alongside. By the Cathedral, George’s Corner is an expat-friendly pub downtown. In summer, the action moves down to the beach, Playa de la Malvarrosa, an easy journey on metro line 4 or 6 to Les Arenes. The landmark bar/nightclub here is Vivir Sin Dormir, open all year round. Another option is the San Patricio on the seafront.