Med frame of mind

While Madrid has majesty and Barcelona has Gaudí, Valencia has that famed rice dish and a laid-back Mediterranean attitude.

Caro Hotel
The former palace of the Marqués de Caro is a sharp new boutique hotel, a 2000-year history lesson and an archaeological dig in one. Behind its 19th-century façade are remnants of the 12th-century Arabic city wall, 15th-century Gothic arches and a timeline of tilework, all cleverly preserved in a seven-year restoration and showcased in minimalist interiors by Barcelona designer Francesc Rifé. Dramatic column bases from a Roman circus loom over the chic Meta lobby bar, and each of the 26 rooms features an echo of the city's history. The hotel's location is unbeatable: in the heart of the old town and close to the leafy cycle paths of the reclaimed Turia riverbed linking the city's ancient and modern quarters. Calle Almirante, 14. 
Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía
Between the old town and the port lies the gleaming white City of Arts and Sciences. Try to catch any concert or opera at the helmet-shaped Palau de les Arts, designed by Santiago Calatrava. It's the hub of a vibrant cultural scene reflecting the Valencian love of music; just about every village in the region has a brass band. The oddly desolate 35-hectare city-within-a-city also has a huge aquarium, a science museum and a planetarium resembling a giant eye. Avenida del Profesor Lopez Piñero, 1. 
Horchatería El Siglo
Sipping a glass of horchata alongside well-dressed families in Plaza de Santa Caterina is an only-in-Valencia moment. Tiger nuts are ground to produce the milky horchata de chufa, usually served with sweet finger buns called fartons (no sniggering). El Siglo has been serving horchata since 1836, and its tiled façade and Art Nouveau interior are impervious to fashion. Plaza de Santa Caterina, 11; +34 963 918 466
The alleys off Mercado Central and around Plaza de la Reina are lined with time-warped shops that have specialised in handmade wares for generations: plaster saints, oil pourers, paella pans and everything fallera for the traditional Valencian outfit, from false plaits and peinatas to petticoats. Sombreros Albero (Plaza Mercado, 9) stocks an encyclopedic range of Panamas, as well as sailor caps, Kenyan safari hats and 1950s-style ladies bathing caps. Turrones Ramos (Calle Sombrereria, 11) is the city's best-known maker of the Valencian specialty nougat turrón; also try its wafer pillows filled with ground almonds called almendras rellenas. Espadrilles, first worn by 14th-century peasants in Catalonia and Valencia, thrive in workshops and boutiques such as L'Espardenyería de Aïnna Munt (Calle Derechos, 19). At Encaris Tomero (Avenida María Cristina, 11), staff crochet the cotton toes and heels of espadrilles while selling the label's funky patchwork and layered streetwear.
El Poblet
Drive 100 kilometres south of Valencia to Quique Dacosta's eponymous three-Michelin-starred restaurant at Denia. Or sample his theatrical style at his new city restaurant, El Poblet, above his ground-floor tapas bar. The greatest-hits "historical" dégustation features a brilliant trio of deconstructed paella and a lovely "citrus orchard" dessert. Correos, 8. 
Casa Roberto
In the home region of paella, this "boutique del arroz" is the city's best-known purveyor of the much-loved rice dish. The crowd favourite is paella Valenciana: chicken, rabbit, snails, artichokes and green beans with a perfect socarrat crust. Maestro Gozalbo, 19. 
Central Bar
The best seat in town is a stool fronting the black-tiled counter at Ricard Camarena's tapas bar at Mercado Central, one of Europe's oldest and finest covered markets. Try more-ish bocatas or inspired tapas, perhaps baby "sepionet" cuttlefish with leek and bacon. Mercado Central, Plaza del Mercado.