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WEEKEND HOPS: 48hrs in Valencia - HISTORY ON TAPAS; It's the home of the Holy Grail, but you don't have to be Indiana Jones to find it..although you may find yourself among sharks.

Byline: NICK RIPPINGTON

I DUSTED off the fedora and put in some extra practice with the bullwhip. If Indiana Jones could do it, so could I.

I had travelled to Valencia, the third largest city in Spain, following a lead to track down the Holy Grail.

Yet I must admit to a sense of anti-climax when I entered its hallowed resting place. There were no flying axes attempting to decapitate me, no skeletons of previous failed adventurers falling in my path and no one attempted to run me over by rolling a giant granite ball in my direction.

No, the only problems getting in to Valencia's Cathedral were the ill- disguised pickpockets hanging around the entrance (perhaps they took confession immediately after a successful crime spree) and the fact that the search party accompanying me couldn't find a EUR1 coin for the meter.

However, once the lights came on, there in all its magnificence was the goblet that no less a person than the Pope had declared to be the true Cup of Christ on his last visit to the city. Made from wood and decorated with gold it stands in a glass case behind an impressive altar in a magnificent building that took five centuries to construct.

A monument to Gothic and Baroque architecture, the cathedral towers over Valencia's historic old town. It is awesome to gaze up at its high-ceilinged splendour and reflect on how the Valencians managed to put together such an impressive edifice. How many of them, for instance, did it take to change the light bulbs?

The locals are very proud and also protective of their religious monument.

Even the city's senior citizens rally around at any sign of a threat. When McDonald's rudely opened a branch next door, septuagenarians stood shoulder-to-shoulder, casting bricks at it and chanting uncomplimentary slogans.

This was the Temple of Doom in their books, a gross carbuncle on the backside of their heritage.

Outside the old city walls, Valencia is expanding at a phenomenal rate. The new city of arts and sciences is a brilliant concept, set up in a unique architectural environment which emphasises space and beauty.

Put together by the prolific architect Santiago Calatrava, a Valencian, and the now-deceased Felix Candela, it occupies the old riverbed after the Turia itself was diverted south of the city following a catastrophic flood in 1957.

It occupies 350,000 square metres and possesses an Imax cinema, a science museum, an opera house and Europe's biggest marine park. All this, by the way, cost a fraction of the amount spent on The Dome.

While the science museum is a wonderland for kids, the marine park is the real jewel in the crown. Fantastic in its conception, when it officially opens in February it will contain 45,000 creatures living happily in 42 million litres of water. You can see dolphins and penguins, while sharks swim above and around you - their eyes watching you as if you're the next course in the buffet.

Visiting Valencia has something for everyone. The history buff, the food connoisseur with a particular penchant for paella and tapas, the child with the active imagination and the shopaholic. Oh yes, and the bars aren't bad, either.

With attractive flight deals to Alicante with Monarch Scheduled you can discover it all for yourself.

Meanwhile, I'm off for my latest big challenge. Has anyone done Indiana Jones and the Bayeux Tapestry?

WHAT'S THE DEAL?

MONARCH Scheduled (08700 40 50 40; www.flymonarch .com) will fly twice daily to Alicante this summer. Return prices from Gatwick and Luton pounds 95, Manchester pounds 115.

HOLIDAY Inn Valencia (reservas@holidayinn valencia.com; www.valencia .holiday-inn.com) has double rooms from EUR92. Imperial Park Country Club (info@ imperialpark.org; www. imperialpark.org) has rooms from EUR36.

FURTHER info: visit www.landofvalencia.com

CAPTION(S):

CONTRASTS: Valencia has plenty to offer visitors from pavement cafes to the Holy Grail relic, inset
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 12, 2003
Words:655
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