“By the end…it was clear that Spain’s spiritual and cultural isolation was at an end, overwhelmed by the great alien invasion from the North of money and freedoms. Spain became the most visited tourist country in the World, and slowly, as the foreigners poured in, its identity was submerged, its life-style altered more in a single decade than in the previous century.” Norman Lewis, ‘Voices of the Old Sea’.
On a golfing holiday with my brother and our sons we all agreed that being only a hundred kilometres away was an excellent opportunity to visit the notorious city of Benidorm and see it for ourselves.
Actually I have to confess to having been to Benidorm before because I spent a fortnight there in 1977 at the Don Juan Hotel, which has been upgraded and renamed now but was somewhere along the Avenida del Mediterráneo at the back of the Levante beach. Two weeks in Benidorm was a very long time as I remember so I was happy that this time it was going to be restricted to a couple of hours or so.
We set off early after breakfast on what started out in the best morning weather of the whole week and we travelled the sixty kilometres to Alicante under massive blue skies. This part of the journey took a little longer than was strictly necessary because we were determined to by-pass the motorway tolls and early on in the trip we got snagged up in market day traffic in the nearby town of Saint Miguel.
Once safely past the tolls we picked up speed and motored effortlessly along the A7 Autopista del Mediterráneo travelling north-east through what has to be said is not the best part of Spain in respect of scenery. The land is flat and unattractive with hectares of dusty and barren scrubby land running down to the coast and disappearing into massive salt lakes that obviously aren’t terribly conducive to supporting fertile arable fields.
Around about Alicante as the motorway sweeps past the city the landscape changes dramatically however almost as soon as soon as it passes from the Province of Murcia to the Province of Valencia and the scrub gives way to large dark grey deep fissured mountains that rise dramatically from the flat plains. Sadly we discovered that there is a price to pay for better scenery and there was no way of avoiding a toll that suddenly appeared from nowhere and cost us €5.15 for the second leg of the journey. We were annoyed about that but on reflection it was much easier than using the congested old coast road.
As we passed Villajoyosa on the coast and the one thousand four hundred metre high Puig Campana Mountain to the west we suddenly got our first view of Benidorm and the unique skyline formed by its numerous tall hotels and apartment buildings, which is quite unlike anything else on the Costa Blanca, to such an extent that it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Manhattan of Spain’ or ‘Beniyork’ and I have to confess to being struck by the first sight of Benidorm which was quite a surprise. I didn’t remember it like this and one moment we were driving through brown barren hills when suddenly there it was looking like Kuala Lumpur or Monaco on the Costa Blanca with columns of concrete and glass all shining bright, reflecting madly and looking very impressive in the bright sunshine.
According to the official census Benidorm has a permanent population of sixty-five thousand inhabitants but the population grows by almost ten times to half a million in the summer. It therefore needs a lot of hotel rooms to cater for all the additional people because it is one of the most important holiday resorts in all of Spain. One million three hundred thousand holidaymakers annually visit Benidorm from Britain alone.
The city enjoys a unique geographical position on the east coast of Spain because it faces due south and has two stunningly beautiful beaches on the Mediterranean Sea that stretch for about four kilometres either side of the old town, on the east the Levante, or sunrise, and to the west the Poniente, the sunset, and it enjoys glorious sunshine all day long.
In 1954, the Mayor, Pedro Zaragoza Orts saw the potential of the place and created the Plan General de Ordenación, or city building plan to you and me, that ensured that every building would have an area of leisure land, guaranteeing a future free of the excesses of cramped construction seen in other areas of Spain and it is the only city in the country that still adheres to this rigid rule. This vision for the future sparked the building boom that followed and the flying start that Benidorm achieved in the package tour boom of the 1960’s and 70s.
Until the tourist industry began in the 1960s, Benidorm was a small fishing village that had remained unchanged for hundreds of years. In the early 1960s my grandparents visited Benidorm several times in the first days of package holidays and came home with exotic stories and suitcases full of unusual souvenirs, flamenco dancing girls, matador dolls and velour covered bulls that decorated their living room and collected dust for the next twenty years or so. One thing for sure is that they would have found Benidorm a totally different place to what it is today.
Other posts about Benidorm: