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Anchors Aweigh


Billionaires, royals, actors and models, both the real and the nearly there, started flitting in and out of Valencia over the long holiday weekend here to celebrate this start (well, once the wind picks up) of racing to choose the challenger to the 32nd America’s Cup, the top-of-the-line yachting event that will continue on into July. You know where I was with all the glittery festivities going on: parked on the sofa, wiping noses and reading that page-turner “Old Hat, New Hat.”

Must be that darn Spanish mail – my invitations probably got lost. But that’s OK – it’s not like I have anything to wear anyway. And the billionaire/royal/actor etc. crowd seems to be doing fine without me. Plus, I’m not part of the gang Valencia would like to convince to visit, since I’m already here.

Spain in some ways is the Florida of Europe. Brits, Germans and other pale Northern peoples come here for their annual infusion of cheap sun and booze, and their numbers have only increased with the cheap intra-Europe flights that have been offered over the past few years. In fact, some of Britain’s traditional, coastal holiday spots are dying as they just can’t compete with the usually more reliable Spanish sun. But these tourists – many of them on cheap package tours – don’t drop a lot of Euros when they visit. So for many years Spain’s been trying to diversify its tourist base and what it has to offer visitors.

The America’s Cup is Valencia’s bid for a higher international profile. Like other cities, in Spain and elsewhere, it’s using the event as a catalyst for major spending to revamp the city and hopefully its image. Sometimes this works, as with Barcelona – now officially a Cool City of the World – after its ´92 Olympics. Sometimes this doesn’t, as with that same year’s Expo 92 in Seville.

Valencia has never had the tourism cachet of some of Spain’s other sites – certainly not the country’s two larger cities, Madrid and Barcelona, nor even smaller places like Toledo. It has its appeal, and the region’s beaches get more than their share of lobster people, but it simply hasn’t been seen as a site that’s as compelling as other places.

But now, tourism is up, the beautiful people showed up at least for the weekend, and Valencia and its America’s Cup renaissance are all over newspaper travel sections.

The formerly – what’s that architectural term? oh yeah – “scruffy” port area has been fancied up around where the America’s Cup team headquarters are, with restaurants and bars and a park and that general port scene where you can stroll around and even if you’re not a yachtsman, you can look like one.

So the key question is, will it stick? The port area might be modified, the next Cup go somewhere else, the beautiful people move on. But, besides the Cup, Valencia has Formula 1 racing, some new fancy-schmancy hotels and the new City of Arts and Sciences with attention-getting architecture and the largest aquarium in Europe and a performing arts center whose director is determined to make it a “world-class” site.

Work on the America’s Cup port area went on and on, but the important elements were in place early: Some terraces where you could have a snack and a drink while sitting outside and looking at the water were open for business even with the construction mess scattered next to them. I’m hoping the terraces at least stick around. That’s a nice option in any port town – and you don’t need an invitation to enjoy it.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 9:21 AM | Permalink

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