Valencia may not be the first city on the lips of those thinking of visiting the Iberian peninsula, but this is changing fast. Playing host to one of the most bafflingly won sporting trophies of all – The America?s Cup ? put Valencia firmly at the centre of the yachting and boating community this year, and when the first Formula 1 Grand Prix to be held there takes place in 2008 the rest of the well-heeled are guaranteed to sit up and take notice. It is likely that they will lie what they see: an open, relaxed, airy and vibrant city, Valencia provides the perfect anecdote from the crush of Barcelona or the baking heat of Madrid. Right on the coast, this ancient city has been vital to the economic development of Spain, and Madrid in particular, with one of the largest and busiest ports in Europe.

Valencia is now a city growing internationally in both stature and recognition. The Centre for Arts and Sciences, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias or City of Arts and Sciences is an ensemble of five areas in the dry river bed of the now diverted River Turia begun in 1996 and built to commemorate the millennium. They are composed of an opera house, a cinema, gardens, a science museum and an aquarium. The complex is a striking landmark integrated into the heart of the city, sunk into the riverbed, and contrasts beautifully with the mixture of Baroque and Gothic styles of architecture predominant in the city.

And this architecture sits wonderfully well with the sense of space one gets in Valencia: although it hustles and bustles like any modern European city, there is unquestionably a sense that there is space and time enough for everything there. Whether touring the city by car, or exploring on foot, you find none of the crowded sense of urgency present in Barcelona. It is a pleasure to get to know, both as a tourist, taking in the view from the spectacular medieval towers in the heart of the old city, or as a resident, enjoying the many festivals which take place on a regular basis (just watch out for the decibel levels when they wheel out the fireworks).

Property prices in Valencia have traditionally been relatively calm, compared with the ups and downs which the Costas have undergone, and the stratospheric levels prices have reached in the Balearics. This did, however, begin to change as plans for the America?s Cup and now next year?s Grand Prix came to light in 1994. House prices leapt by 30% after the announcement, and some flats as much as doubled in price.

Prices are still rising now, but exponential rises have calmed; 2005 year saw a 15% increase, rising around the same amount last year, and as a long term investment it looks pretty good: the weather is fantastic for the majority of the year (during which the beach down by the marina is the place to be), and the rental market is almost guaranteed due to the demand from Valencians themselves, let alone the appeal it has for both holiday makers and sports enthusiasts.

You can buy a seven bedroom villa there, in the popular Montecañada, for around £860,000, or a luxury villa eight kilometres outside the city with six bedrooms for £487,000, and there are many more apartments within the city, and down by the new marina which are still a relative bargain.

Outside of the city, falling in love with the region of Valencia is also easy, and one of the reasons is its feeling of complete seclusion compared to the regions to the south, and the Costas. And if the idea of city life doesn?t appeal, you could do worse than taking a look at where the wealthy people of Madrid choose to holiday. The town of Benecassim, an hour?s drive to the north, has long been popular with the Spanish looking to escape the dusty heat inland in the summer. It is an utterly Spanish holiday town, charming without being brash, right on the coast, with a beach which stretches into the distance for miles.

A new development just a stone?s throw from there, in Portocala, is a fine example of the kind of property which many people looking for a second home in a tranquil spot are after.

A selection of one, two and three bedroom apartments, built to a very high standard, with sea views, and easy beach access are currently being constructed right on the water with wonderful views to the Mediterranean. Modern apartments, completely secure and with spacious rooms, and lots of outdoor space, are being sold here for a snip of what one would pay further down the coast, but have none of the associated noise and cultural spinoffs which commonly come with a house on the south coast of Spain. Phase one, already complete, has practically sold out, and phase two, due for completion next month, is going extremely fast according to the developers Onofre Miguel (www.onofre-portocala.com telephone + 34 635 612 258).

One bedroom apartments cost from ?328,900, and two bedroom apartments will cost from ?352,000. The biggest properties, which feature oodles of outdoor space in the form of large balconies and a roof terrace with lovely views, are priced at ?545,250. Within the development itself a shopping centre is under construction, and a five star hotel will also appear on the site in the next few years, so all amenities will be available without going into Benicassim. The beach is reached by a short bus journey in high season.

And just as down the coast in Valencia, property here is likely to be a good investment, as well as a smart place to buy a second home, with steadily appreciating prices, rather than the dramatic rises and falls which are to be found in other parts of Europe. And of course when the Grand Prix season begins all you have to deal with is deciding amongst the family whether to take advantage of living down the road, or making a killing from renting your house for the weekend!