My last article was entitled I’ve gone on holiday by mistake! This time I’ll be looking at things in reverse: every traveller has found places that turn out to be nicer than expected, or has unearthed hidden gems discovered while passing through unchartered waters. Here, I’m going to run with a single destination; one that the snob in me wanted to see in order to confirm how terrible it was, but found it was actually quite fun: See my last article.
Benidorm’s reputation is of the very worst excesses of tourist mayhem: a concrete jungle of skyscrapers, where low-budget drunken tourists (mostly British) scurry around from beach to bar, only pausing to terrorise the locals before catching a few hours sleep in cheap hotels.
My wife and I are big fans of the British TV comedy Benidorm; a programme that both mocks and celebrates the budget all-inclusive life of tourists who have never learnt to behave properly, and fuelled by cheap booze and the promise of free – or at least cheap – sex, have the opportunity to spend a week or two in chav heaven. This is the stereotype. As a curious type I wondered how bad Benidorm really was. There was only one way to find out…
Two years ago I booked us a week in the charming town of Altea, just a few miles from Benidorm on the train. We spent most of out time in Altea’s magnificent old town, but we made two trips out to Beni.
It became immediately apparent that Benidorm is nothing if not diverse and offers something for everybody. The new town is pleasant enough: the walk from the train station offered up shops selling everything from luxury flooring to gas mask bongs.
We walked down one street that was full of concrete, fast food outlets and downmarket theme bars, but most of what we saw was quite pleasant. Anyway, I quite like the skyscrapers that line the beach: don’t people visit New York and Hong Kong to marvel at the skyscrapers?
We visited the hotel where the outdoor filming for the TV comedy took place. Very nice. I wanted to get a sun lounger and get into character, but the weather wasn’t quite up to it.
Levante Beach is great. Some of it was crowded – sometimes by families who’d brought their lunch back from McDonald’s over the road – but, frankly, I find empty beaches less interesting and lacking atmosphere. Admit it, we like to observe other people.
I found a nice, quiet, bar right on the seafront. Benidorm attracts people of all ages. Many older folk take extended breaks in the sun here. The mobility scooter is the vehicle of choice, and not just with old people. You’ll see youngsters zooming along the seafront on two-seater scooters. I presume the appeals to the young because drink-driving rules don’t apply to the mobility scooter?
We spent some time in the old town. Here, you can eat a fine meal and sip vino tinto, feeling you are in proper Spain. There are some nice bars, and we had a fine tapas meal at Cava Aragonesa just off the beach.
On our second visit we had a few drinks in the Heartbreak Hotel. This American-themed music bar has live music running throughout the day. I nursed a pint of Guinness while a band blasted Oasis songs into my ear. The atmosphere was brilliant. Again, people of all ages and nationalities were represented.
Now, we left at about 8pm so never experienced Beni at night. I would imagine that things get very lively later on, and you might not want to be in certain bars, or in certain streets when the freaks come out. We enjoyed our time there though: it’s vibrant, and much of it is attractive. There’s certainly a holiday atmosphere. I think once you know where you’re going, Benidorm is just fine.