Benidorm. A personal view
Poniente Beach area Benidorm
One of the most bemusing places in Spain is Benidorm.
When you first see Benidorm from the Motorway, you will have your breath taken away, for it is a high rise town, with an incredible skyline in the middle of a barren landscape on a plain adjoining the sea.
Many have seen the Sitcom called appropriately, ‘Benidorm’ with its’ stars portrayed in full technicolour. Madge the Old Lady, cantankerous with a permanent cigarette hanging from her lips whilst she glides around on her electric disability scooter, the gay hairdressers full of innuendos, the swarthy Spanish lothario barman, the naughty English pensioners, the ageing transvestite, there is only one minor problem with this series, it is virtually based on real life!
Levante Beach Area
When one arrives in the Levante area of Benidorm, which is where the majority of the English tourists stay and indeed the series is filmed, one is met by the Benidorm as seen on TV, a virtual characterisation of itself. The accommodation tends to be high-rise flats and hotels, giving the area an almost claustrophobic atmosphere at ground level; there are a multitude of shops hiring out electric disabled buggies , (including double buggies); there are loud and brash cafés doing all day breakfasts and fish n chips; there are Indian restaurants; there are clothes shops selling the normal tourist tat of Tee shirts with a cheeky or downright rude legend on them together with vital equipment for an archetypal hen or stag party and there are the hotels, offering their all-inclusive accommodation, so good that their inhabitants get there, get drunk, stay drunk and then go home a week later, invariably boasting about how good a holiday that they had.
The archetypal British holiday though without the rain and the seagulls continues on the prom. You will invariably be almost knocked over by a lunatic, probably drunken Grandma, driving her disabled buggy; on the beach you will see large single sex groups knocking back their drinks like people who are dying of thirst in the Sahara and you will see plenty of people who, well, let’s just say should not wear the outfit that they had chosen….You know the types, the larger men wearing what the Australians call Budgie Smugglers (i.e.tight swimming trunks) girls wearing bikinis four sizes too small and ladies wearing clothing that would have undoubtedly suited them 35 years ago.
And of course, out of the main Summer school holiday period there are gangs of Old Aged Pensioners.
And most of these Brits will, within a day or two of arriving, be a peculiar shade of sunburnt pink for they are just not used to that rare commodity called sunshine.
Then you move to the central part of Benidorm, actually this area is quite beautiful, the narrow Spanish streets with balconies and shutters on the windows, the ornate architecture, it is lovely and then you get to the central high point between the beaches, this viewpoint is known as the Balcón del Mediterráneo.
It really is unbelievable that this is in the same town as Levante Beach and from this point the high rises in either direction, look more New York than Spain,
You move slightly inland and you are in the Gay area. This is still in the beautiful area of the old town and is a pleasant mix of small shops, bars and clubs, most of which are gay friendly.
Moving south you arrive at Poniente beach, a beautiful beach and I must admit that the only time I have been there was well out of the tourist season and although it did have some shops on the beachfront offering all day breakfasts and tourist tat, it did seem more genteel and less brash than further North. The promenade has recently been refurbished and is well designed. I am told that there are less British tourists in this area and more from Continental Europe.
People tell me that they love the Benidorm nightlife.
Terribly sorry, call me whatever, but the nightlife tends to be split between Karaoke, which in British terms means 'How to murder any song whilst drunk'; Corny has-beens, long past their best and some hammy tribute acts that actually do not sound like the act that they are supposedly a tribute to and without some obvious over the top props, do not look like them either.
There is, however the Benidorm Palace, a British favourite theatre, which has a Vegas style show, complete with Showgirls and books some relatively ‘known’ acts. Why this week, as I write this, they have the Brotherhood of Man performing on Sunday. For those of you that do not remember, they won the Eurovision Song Contest and a number one single in 1976, a mere 41 years ago!
Benidorm on the surface could be any British holiday destination, it could be Paphos on Cyprus, it could be Tenerife, it could be Rhyll in Wales, it could even be Skegness.
However scratch below the surface and there is another world, I am
sure that the average English tourist would be aghast to know that there was a
Bullring in Benidorm, one that still has bull-fights where the bull is killed.
There is a thriving arts scene and you can easily search out an opera or a ballet on a summer’s night, if you get bored of the Karaoke that is.
Head inland and you soon get off the coastal plain and into the mountains, to places like Guadalest, with its’ castle and fantastic scenery. All around this area, the scenery is breathtaking and the area is dotted with ancient villages and towns.
Of course this being Spain, there are many fiestas and being such a cosmopolitan mix of people, the fiestas now encompass the traditional fiestas like The Three Kings day in January; Fallas, where huge effigies are burnt, with accompanying fireworks and music in March; Carnival and the Moors and Christians festivals in September, but now the Spanish include the international ‘fiestas’ of St Patrick's day, Gay Pride, an Elvis Celebration and a huge fancy dress parade. Apparently there are 55 fiestas in Benidorm, so if you go for a week and there is not a fiesta on, then you are just plain unlucky or you could travel to a nearby town one of which is sure to have a fiesta on!
Foodwise, Benidorm is probably as cosmopolitan as a major British city like Birmingham. There are the obvious chains, Indian, Greek and Chinese restaurants. There are the traditional ‘British’ and ‘Irish’ pubs invariably offering all day breakfasts and the like, but there are some wonderful small tucked away Spanish restaurants and Tapas bars together with a handful of fine dining restaurants.
I suppose my message about Benidorm is that it has so many faces, do not write it off as a holiday destination, just because of that television series.