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: