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 broke the Madrid-Barça monopoly on the title in the early 2000s. Regular performers in the Champions League thanks to frequent top-four finishes thereafter, Valencia CF (‘Los Che’) have recently been sharing La Liga status with unsung city rivals, Levante.
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 proposed new stadium, a ten-year saga of financial shortcomings and worker fatalities, has been revived as a going concern. The project would move the flagship club across to Benicalap, a few kilometres north-west of the Mestalla, but still within the city’s swift tram network.
Valencia’s Aeropuerto de Manises is 8km (5 miles) west of the city centre, in Zone B of the metro network and served by lines 3 and 5. Allow 15 mins (single €2.10) to town. A standard single in Zone A is otherwise €1.50, with T1, T2 and T3 passes for 1-3 days (€4-€9.70), valid for the six-line metro network and buses. Valencia’s train hub, Estación del Norte, is by Xàtiva metro station.
Direct Taxi Valencia (+34 96 007 7705) can be booked online. The journey from airport to town should cost around €16 plus a €3.50 airport supplement.
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.
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.
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.