Saturday, November 26, 2011

Benidorm

by Robert Bovington

Twenty-nine years ago, my wife and I enjoyed a two-week package tour holiday in Benidorm. Yes, really - we enjoyed it!


Benidorm 1982

I am not quite sure how we came to decide to visit the Costa Blanca for a holiday - perhaps it was cheap - I can't remember.

Initially the resort itself didn't impress us too much. It appeared to suffer from all the worst excesses of mass tourism. High rise hotels and apartment blocks, restaurants that served "full English breakfast", burger bars, discos and nightclubs.

Even back then we weren't really into lazing on the beach - nor were we party animals. Our idea of a good holiday was to do some sightseeing that maybe included a visit to a museum. We might go for a walk in the countryside making sure that we visited a hostelry for a midday drink or two. So how come we found Benidorm so enjoyable?

For a start, the town is handily placed to visit some delightful places in the province of Alicante. On our holiday we went to Altea, Guadalest, Alicante and the Isla de Benidorm.

Altea is a pretty little town only ten kilometres north of Benidorm. The old village comprises a labyrinth of narrow alleys between whitewashed houses, dominated by a blue-domed church. The only problem is that one has to climb more than two hundred steps to reach it! However, it is well worth the effort.


Guadalest
Guadalest is quite spectacular. This mountain village is carved out of a mountaintop and breathtaking views can be enjoyed there, especially from the tower of the castle Peñon de la Alcalá. This ancient citadel towers over the village which itself is picturesque with its artists' workshops, cafes and museums. It is well worth a visit if you can tear yourself away from the beaches and bars of Benidorm. You won't be alone, however, because Guadalest is one of the top tourist attractions in Spain. It will still be less crowded than Benidorm's beaches though!

La Isla de Benidorm
The little island that can be seen from the beaches of Benidorm is a nice place to visit if you fancy a picnic. It is called la Isla de Benidorm because it is an island near Benidorm! Boats leaving the port take about 20 minutes to get there. The island is uninhabited except for a summer bar and hundreds of birds - the feathered variety - you need to visit Benidorm's discos and nightclubs for the other sort. Boat trips can be taken to other places along the coast such as Calpe, a pleasant place to visit despite modern day colonisation - there are Northern European establishments including British bars serving full English breakfasts and pints of bitter. The town is a mix of old and new and has a traditional fishing village and a quaint old quarter. The Peñon de Ifach, a 332 metre rocky outcrop that serves as a nature reserve, looms over the town.
Alicante, the capital of the province, is worth a visit. It has a castle, a marina, parks, promenades, museums and art galleries. In my view it is much more interesting than Benidorm. We visited by train. It was a pleasant journey travelling between Benidorm and Alicante along the narrow-gauge track. Another excellent train journey from Benidorm is on the Limón Express. It is a narrow-gauge vintage train. It is called the Limón Express because it is painted a sort of lemony colour. Travelling on this train is more of an excursion than a means of getting from Benidorm to Gata de Gorgos. At this destination passengers can visit a guitar factory or watch artisans at work making basketwork. The little train passes through spectacular landscape - enough to make you intoxicated if the champagne that is served to passengers doesn't!

Mirador del Castillo

We did do a little swimming and sunbathing during our fortnight in Benidorm but not on the crowded Levante or Poniente beaches. Instead we made our way to the little beach near the Mirador del Castillo. We much preferred the old town of Benidorm with its Spanish bars rather than the International bars and restaurants and had excellent paella, the speciality of this region, in one of the establishments near the Mirador.
I have to confess, though, that most evenings were spent in one of the hundreds of International bars. I had good reason - the 1982 World Cup was being held in Spain whilst we were there! It was the first time that I had encountered large screen TVs in bars. Many establishments also had live entertainment - a band playing on one side of the room - a football match on the other side. We positioned ourselves in the middle so that my wife could face the music whilst I watched the World Cup - I faced the music later for watching football on holiday!

We did a few touristy things like going to a medieval banquet where we watched jousting whilst tucking into heaps of barbecued food and great quantities of wine. We went on a trip to the mountains where we rode on a donkey to a picnic site, ate our packed lunch and consumed further great quantities of wine.

So even we museum hopping, party poopers enjoyed Benidorm and I would guess that many people still do. All the things that we enjoyed are still available and more. There are theme parks, water sports, night-clubs, discos, restaurants and bars galore.

Benidorm has also endeavoured to improve its image. Over the last couple of decades it has tried to appeal to all types of people not just the working classes of Northern Europe looking for a cheap foreign holiday. In a lot of ways it has succeeded. It is said that it is now the cultural centre of the Costa Blanca - I wouldn't go as far as that. It has a healthy pop music culture - many top artists have appeared there including Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. The International Song Festival is held there annually. However for what I call culture - classical music, opera, museums, art galleries and historical architecture then surely Alicante and Elche or, further afield, Valencia need to be visited.

However I will concede that Benidorm is an extremely popular holiday destination. It has come a long way from the small fishing village of the 1950s.

Robert Bovington
Roquetas de Mar
November 2011


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