24 Hours in Valencia by Alicia Waite

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I've never had any particular desire to go to Valencia. it's not somewhere people really talk about, it's not on anyone's 'must-see' list, so I hadn't really thought about. But when the opportunity arose to spend a night there last week, we took it - and were so pleasantly surprised. 

We were very kindly put up by the Caro Hotel, which proved to be the best location we could have had, at the centre of the old town; the hotel itself is in a converted old palace, and the area was all narrow lanes, with sky-high crumbling buildings either side, pastel pink churches and beautiful old squares. 

We had so little time in the city that we spent most of our time just wandering around in the sunshine but here are a few little tips we picked up along the way. 

1. Don't miss La Pepica

It was Las Fallas festival when we were there, which meant there were thousands of people all over the streets and bangers exploding every ten yards, which just got really annoying, so we jumped into a cab and went straight to a beachside restaurant we'd both read about to escape the noise. La Pepica opened its doors in 1898, and has been serving what is universally acknowledged to be the best paella in the world. A favourite of Hemingway and Orson Welles, as well as Queen Sofia, the walls are covered in faded photographs of Spanish celebrities who've made the pilgrimage to sample its wares. All pastel pink and sky blue, 70s lino and stainless steel, it has an old-world charm which is so romantic, we're already planning another trip back. 

2. The Beach

We were there in early March and very luckily saw the sun, which lit up the most immaculate and massive stretch of beach. We wanted to explore some more, so didn't have time to relax on it, but would heartily recommend anyone that does have the time to do so. There's restaurants and stores all along the palm tree-strewn boardwalk, which give the whole place a bit of an 80s Miami feel. 

3. The Arts and Science Museum

We jumped in a cab from La Pepica to the Arts and Science museum (which took about 5-10 mins) and walked back into town from there. The museum is... nuts. The Spanish do architecture in the most dynamic and awe-inspiring way, and this museum is the ultimate showcase of that. There's so many elements to it - which cover the opera house, an aquarium, and the museum itself, none of which we actually had time to go into - each of which is as bizarre and gravity-defying as the last. Definitely worth a look even if you can't go in. 

4. The old river bed

After a massive flood a few years ago, the government redirected the river outside of the city centre, and filled the former-river bed with a beautiful park. We walked all the way back from the beach to the centre of town along here and on a sunny Spring day it was heaven. 

5. Mercatbar

Having read a lot about Spanish chef, Quique Dakosta, we made sure to visit one of his two Valencian restaurants (the cheaper one...). Despite some incredibly dodgy interiors, and questionable lighting, it was amazing. I'd highly recommend the Thai ceviche and the Bao buns, and don't leave without trying the egg-potato bite thingies, which i've forgotten the name of (helpfully).

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The Museum of Arts and Sciences

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Valencia Beach

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Les Airelles + Courchevel 1850 by Alicia Waite

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This year, I was determined not to feel broken when I arrived at my parents' house for Christmas. In the past I've crash-landed on the doorstep on December 23rd, an emotional wreck from too much holiday season partying: when Monday nights become fair game for a drinks party and your gym membership is a mere memory, reminders of which are tucked away in the bank statement you won't be looking at for roughly two months. You have so much fun but it's accompanied by terrible diet, zero exercise and the resultant moroseness. Personally, I just totally run out of steam.

Looking down the barrel of a Christmas wedding and four drinks parties in a week i wasn't sure how to accomplish this optimistic idyll, until an opportunity came my way to accompany Natalia from the Jo Vickers PR team and a group of travel journalists to Les Airelles: a beautiful hotel in Courchevel 1850. I was a late addition to the team sheet, and so had limited information, but the words 'private jet, Crème de la Mer facial, skiing' were enough to make me cancel all my pre-Christmas plans and head to Farnborough Air strip instead. 

Firstly the transport. It's not every day you are invited to fly with Jetfly. The company run a fleet of 22 turboprop jet planes, which are co-owned by a series of Jetfly subscribers across the world. If one of those co-owners decides they need to get from Amsterdam to London in the next 24 hours, Jetfly ensures they can access one of the fleet in order to do. Yes, this is how the other half live. 

The planes (Pilatus PC-12s for those in the know), are a unique burnished champagne-gold chosen by Philippe Starcke, who also designed the understatedly luxurious interiors. But the best thing about them is the size: large enough to feel totally comfortable, stable (and safe for those people who aren't the best flyers) but small enough to land and take off from the famous Courchevel Altiport; something I've dreamt of doing since I was a seven-year-old.

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If the journeys to and fro were a dream come true, we could hardly believe our luck when we arrived at Les Airelles: a pink, hand-painted gingerbread house coated in a thick layer of icing sugar, a.k.a. the best December snow the Alps have had in years. 

In terms of hotels, I'm usually a fan of clean lines, muted colour palettes and understated elegance; Les Airelles has none of these things, and is all the better for it, especially in a ski resort. It's everything you want in the cold. It's warm and cosy, with fires dotted throughout, wooden panelling and plush velvet cushions on every surface. A flashing, twinkling Christmas scene complete with life-sized polar bears, giant candy canes and fake snow greeted us in the lobby, flanked by smiling staff in traditional Austrian uniforms, who whisked away my ski boots, helmet, gloves and goggles to store them in the heated ski room downstairs, ready for tomorrow's activities.

What followed was two days of total contentment because Les Airelles has their atmosphere totally nailed. The staff were so friendly and inviting it was easy to forget you hadn't known them for years, but you never felt pestered, or guilty for how wonderful they were being. I never felt like they were bending over backwards to accommodate my needs (which can sometimes make me feel uncomfortable in hotels of any level and consequently not that relaxed) because everything was already done. They pre-empt anything you could ever want. 

And I mean everything. When you head downstairs to the ski room, (which is run by Bernard Orcel, who edits the best designer ski and mountain wear in a series of luxury stores), the team put your heated ski boots on your feet, lay your skis on the snow and hand you a warm helmet and gloves before you ski straight off down Le Jardin Alpin, so the worst part of skiing is totally eliminated. After 31 years of carrying skis, poles, boots, gloves, goggles, ski pass etc. etc. in a calamitous pile up a thousand hills, getting my hair stuck in the bindings, this was a revelation. Add to that a Crème de la Mer spa with indoor swimming pool, choice of two hot tubs (one inside, one out), cryotherapy room and sauna and a two Michelin star restaurant and I was basically in heaven.

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And amidst all of this, the skiing. I've been lucky enough to have skied since I was four as my parents were big enthusiasts, so I was SO excited to be getting a couple of unexpected days in, especially when the snow was so incredible. As if that wasn't enough the three days we were there were quintessential bluebirds: bright, clear, blue skies, not too much wind, and knee-deep powder. There really are no better conditions, and there's nothing that clears your head like being in the mountains, especially when you're feeling grey and stale from winter in London. Every time I go skiing I realise how fundamental being outside is to my mental health, and swear to try harder to get outdoors when I return to the city. A new year's resolution which I intend to stick to as long as I can. 

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I really cannot think of a better way to end the year. What made it extra-special, was the team of people I was there with, none of whom i'd ever met but who were such a wonderful, fun and relaxed team of people, I left feeling I'd spent a long weekend with my oldest friends. Thank you to Natalia and Jo Vickers PR, Jonny at Jetfly, Les Airelles and Kendra, Gabriella, and Elle for making it an unforgettable end to what was an exhausting, but magical, 2017.

Pictures from Courchevel 1850

Les Airelles

Jetfly

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