By Glynna Prentice, International Living

With winter here, I’m starting to daydream again about living in Valencia. It’s one of my favorite cities in Spain…

There’s a lot to like about Valencia. First, there’s the location and climate. It sits right on Spain’s eastern Mediterranean shore. That means urban beaches and a temperate climate that is spring-like much of the year.

Next, it’s a major city—Spain’s third-largest—with all the big-city amenities I like, including an international airport, plenty of culture (it’s especially famous for music), and great restaurants, bars and cafes. Yet Valencia is reasonably small—about 810,000 in the central city and around 1.6 million in the urban area—so it’s manageable.

A big city in a small package, with sandy beaches and warm Mediterranean waters to boot? Hard to beat, in my book. And the icing on the cake is the affordable real estate.

Valencia’s property market tanked during the global recession. But, thanks to the great bargains this offered and Valencia’s underlying attractiveness, it was also one of the first markets in Spain to begin recovering. The smoking-hot deals were snapped up fast, but good-value deals still are still around…just pick the neighborhood that best suits you.

Personally, I like the historic center for its charm, walkability, and its convenience to Valencia’s Central Market, one of the best and largest in Spain. Valencia’s historic center is also one of the largest in Europe, with plazas filled with medieval buildings and narrow, winding streets of residences with lovely neo-classical facades.

Within the center, the El Carmen neighborhood has more inexpensive real estate than anywhere else…but it also has lots of busy bars and many unrenovated buildings. But you’ll also find some gems here…like a third-floor, bright, 581-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment. With wood-beamed ceilings and an open plan, it also has an exterior balcony. All for just $118,800.

You’ll pay more on the center’s eastern side—the neighborhoods known as La Seu and La Xerea—but they’re quieter and chic. An attractive two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment is listed for sale in La Seu for $167,400. A fourth-floor apartment with 839 square feet, it has balconies looking out on the street, is recently renovated, and comes furnished.

It’s easy to imagine living here. From La Seu, you’re only a 10- to 15-minute walk from the Central Market and historic buildings, but you’re also an easy stroll to Valencia’s commercial areas and to the tranquil Turia Garden park that runs through the city. And this two-bedroom gives you a guest room for friends and family eager to visit Valencia.

I also like Exposicio, a modern neighborhood directly across the Turia Garden from La Seu and La Xerea. Streets here are broad, with attractive, modern apartment buildings lining both sides. Shops, restaurants, and cafes are on these buildings’ ground floors and pavements are wide enough for outdoor cafe seating.

You see upscale neighborhoods like this one in all of Spain’s large cities, and they offer an extremely comfortable, enjoyable lifestyle. Just pop down from your sunny apartment to enjoy a coffee or tapas at the cafe next door…then stroll down the street to shop at the greengrocer and the butcher shop. The Turia Garden is nearby—and if you’re up for strolling a half-hour or so—you can take walking paths through the park to the City of Arts and Sciences, a complex of museums, concert halls, an IMAX cinema, and Europe’s largest oceanarium.

I recently found an apartment listed in Exposicio for $162,000. A second-floor, two-bedroom, two-bathroom place with 818 square feet, it’s been renovated and gets lots of light. It’s farther from the Central Market (but just a short trip by bus), but it’s near shopping and other amenities.

I could easily see myself living in any of these apartments, in any of these neighborhoods. They all offer attractive, affordable Spanish living in one of the country’s most sophisticated cities: just slightly different versions of the same dream.

It’s hard to choose among them. But then, that’s a pretty good problem to have.

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