Strains of Mozart wash over me. As Act II of Don Giovanni reaches its crescendo, I lean back and close my eyes. I could be in Valencia’s opera house, but I’m on the subway.

For proof of how cultured this Spanish city is, look no further than its underground, where classical music is piped into the carriages. I think this could be the hallmark of civilisation.

My husband and I discovered just how civilised during a three-day visit to this Mediterranean port.

Such are its cultural credentials that Valencia, the third largest city in Spain, has spawned a national dish, paella, a worldclass opera house and an internationally renowned painter, Joaquin Sorolla.

His impressionistic handling of light and colour has long delighted his collectors, who hail him as a giant of the 20th century. Mooted as Spain’s answer to French impressionist Claude Monet, he’s the most famous Spanish painter you’ve never heard of.

That could change, as Sorolla, Spanish Master Of Light, opened at London’s National Gallery on Monday with 60 of his paintings, most of them on show in Britain for the first time.

Like Monet, he would paint in the open air, setting up his easel on the town beaches.

Born in 1863, Sorolla found early fame, annoying his rivals. Although he travelled widely, he always returned to the beaches of his childhood for inspiration.

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