Arriving in Benidorm we left the motorway and found a free parking place with surprising ease and with the anticipation of severe culture shock rising to boiling point we made straight for the western end of the Poniente beach.
Almost immediately it was a huge let down. We had been expecting tat shops and British pubs, the distinctive smell of Hawaiian tropic, fat bellied lager louts with tattoos and peroxide Essex blondes with fake designer sunglasses but there was none of that sort of thing at all. Instead the beach was a very civilised affair with predominantly elderly Spanish people sedately enjoying the sun and a few British left overs from the winter Saga tours where the length of stay could be measured directly in degrees of orange tan. One man had so much tanning oil on his body as he laid out in the sun that if we had had a few rashers of bacon and some eggs then we could have cooked ourselves a full English on his back.
I have to say that Benidorm was nothing like what I was anticipating at all but was really rather pleasant and the beaches were immense and spectacular with beautiful clean sand and blue flags flapping proudly in the breeze. It is an interesting fact that Spain has more blue flag beaches than any other participating country with five hundred and eleven in five thousand kilometres of coastline, the United Kingdom by comparison, has only one hundred and twenty-five in nearly eighteen thousand kilometres. Greece has the second most blue flags at three hundred and eighty-seven and France is third with three hundred and thirty-six. Clearly the United Kingdom needs to get cleaning up!
We walked the entire two-kilometre length of the Poniente and by the time we reached the old town harbour and elevated promontory we had pretty much given up on finding anything to snigger about. In the old town itself there were more Spanish tapas bars than British pubs and there was a notable absence of those awful bars with tacky pictures of the food on the menu. I really hate that! I know what bacon and eggs looks like and I know what spaghetti Bolognese looks like (or what it should look like) and what I also know is that these pictures generally bear absolutely no resemblance to what you are likely to get if you are desperate enough to order it. There was not a bit of it and after wandering around the old town searching unsuccessfully for cheap souvenir shops we had to finally admit defeat and sit in a bar on the seafront and have the first beer of the day.
If Benidorm was a surprisingly nice place then the old town was an especially nice place with a blue domed church, reminiscent of those in the Greek islands, and a pedestrianised area that was positively delightful. I remembered this from my visit thirty years ago but not much else I have to say and with refreshment time over we walked a short way along the Levante in search of what we were sure was the real Benidorm from the television series but without success we called a halt to the expedition and retraced our steps back to the car.
Although we were disappointed not to see what we had come for it was a pleasant surprise and we left with the confirmation that despite the tourists that flock in every summer that Benidorm is a very real Spanish town, with Spanish culture and a Spanish history of tuna fishermen and merchant sailors that was actually quite plain to see. I wished that I had grasped that in 1977 because if I had then I am sure that I would have enjoyed it more then.
All along the sea front there was a programme of environmental improvements that when completed will make Benidorm a place worth visiting and I might even consider it myself in the future in my Saga years. Back at the car we drove back to the motorway, paid the toll and left the mountains of Valencia and motored south back to the scrub of Murcia. We tried to be a bit clever on the way back and see if we could get closer to home before leaving the motorway close to the toll but this went spectacularly wrong when we ran out of exits and ended up paying another €3.70 in road tolls which may not sound a lot but to put things into perspective was the equivilent of about ten bottles of San Miguel at the Mercadona supermarket!
Other posts about Benidorm:
Benidorm, Plan General de Ordinacion
Benidorm, The War of the Bikini
Benidorm 1977 – First impressions and the Hotel Don Juan
Benidorm 1977- Beaches, the Old Town and Peacock Island
Benidorm 1977 – Food Poisoning and Guadalest
Happy to see that not everybody is “against” Benidorm…
I have been in Benidorm for the first time in Summer 1958. It was gorgeous! And since then, every year again until 1973…
A belated comment, but well done and very well written.
I’m a journalist who has been banging on for years about how good Benidorm is for a good beach holiday. I stayed there for a couple of months when I came to Spain to live in 1999, and go back regularly. I’ve just spent the weekend there, partly to avoid the horrendous Fallas en Valencia, but also to research information for the Direct Line Holiday website who have commissioned a couple of articles about the resort. With your permission, I’d love to direct readers to this article and those related to it.
Thank you for reading and the comment. Please direct people this way if you think it might be useful in promoting a surpisingly excellent place!
This must have been a while ago judging by the price of mercadona Smigs.
Can’t believe the UK has so much coastline!
Thought you were already in your Saga years. Don’t they start at 50?
June 2008 so I guess tolls and beer will have gone up a few cents?
Norway has the longest coastline in Europe.
Saga, oh yes, well in and I subscribe to the monthly magazine!
i have been to benidorm since i was 5 years old in 1968. i am going twice this year in may and august. i never get tired of seeing how this little town has turned into the giant glitterball it is today, but you said it all, when you wrote about expecting it to be tacky, and the surprise is it is completely beautiful… i have friends who watch benidrom er and the series and say why do you want to go there..l. like blackpool but with sun… if they would just go once, they would understand why i love this place so much. my memories of my nana and granpa sitting on the beach in their trousers, eating the big oranges that were sold on the beach, to taking all of my 5 kids as they grew up as well with the place…. this year is is just me and my husband, but i will always have a lump in my throat at all the wonderful memories i have had there… oh and yes, i remember the helios being the don juan as well. thanks so much for the memories andrew. debbie barnatt. swadlincote, derbyshire.
Thanks for the comment and for adding your lovely memories.
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I really enjoyed your post about Benidorm and you’re right about the old town, it’s very traditionally Spanish. We used to live about an hour’s drive south of Benidorm and once a year we would spend a weekend there.
I tell everyone to go visit there!
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How interesting. I’ve not been to Benidorm but was prepared to be sniffy about Alicante. No luck. It’s a delightful and thoroughly Spanish town.
Yes, I was surprised how pleasant Alicante is.
A pleasant surprise, indeed
Poniente is still where locals and elderly Spanish folks go. Levante is the crazy party side, especially on the beach and the English square. Well at least it was before this March.
Thanks for the information Dawn. I hope that you are keeping well!