“If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.”
(Rupert Brooke,1914, following his holiday in Benidorm)
I suppose it’s the twin sister of Torremolinos. I’ll be honest, it was never on my bucket list like swimming with dolphins in the Sahara Desert, or skiing in the Maldives. Let’s face it, Blackpool comedians (with no sense of irony) have made a punchline out of Benidorm for decades. However, as ever, the offer of some cheap flights changed my mind. I decided I wanted to see what it was like. The guys from my local go at least twice a year. I like a bit of winter sun and I have to say it was a great experience. I came to the conclusion that, in winter, there are three different Benidorms.
We stayed in what I now call Benidorm number one. It’s quiet in January and has one of Europe’s most brilliant beaches, Playa de Poniente. In summer I guess the sand is almost invisible as there were lots of sun loungers stacked up, but in winter it’s gorgeously empty. I’d call this is ‘Saga Benidorm’. It’s as cheap as egg and chips washed down with a free pint of San Miguel. It’s mostly for Brits and there’s cohorts of lads sat caressing a pint in the afternoon sunshine, the sunlight sparkling off their heads. The vibe is jolly, and conversation switches from football to darts via Brexit. Not that I was listening, I just made that up, but I think that was the gist of it. Retired couples eat three meals a day at the same bars they have patronised for years. ‘Safety’ is the message the menus give, and the selling point is quantity rather than quality. The breakfasts offered were really good, but lunch was prepared by somebody who should have stuck to breakfasts.
Most of the seafront bars boast English credentials, English food, and English football. Fortunately, following current trends for authenticity, there are some decent looking Spanish places and they’re worth a visit. There’s nothing wrong with the English bars, I drink in them often enough at home. But in Spain I want a Spanish bar, except when the football’s on. I don’t want a Carlsberg in a pint pot, I want an Estrella poured into a glass that’s come straight out of the freezer. Both are on offer here, so everyone’s tastes are catered for. Actually, ‘All Tastes Catered For’ could be Benidorm’s town motto.
Benidorm number one is fine. The beach is brilliant out of season and comes complete with weird dancing pensioners, grooving just under the promenade in their morning exercise classes. You’ll just have to take my word for that, but they’re hilarious to watch as there’s always one who’s way out of sync. But, let’s move on to Benidorm number two, the Old Town.
Just like the British, Spanish people like to go out on the lash and Benidorm Old Town attracts people from all over the region on a weekend break to do just that. It caters for them (and us) with authentic bars and restaurants the equal of any city in the country. I’m not claiming it’s as good as a pub crawl in mediaeval Cordoba with a couple of conquistadors, but it’s good. On the downside there’s a lot of tat shops and cheap bling on sale so be ready to avert your eyes. If you listen carefully whilst walking through ‘tapas alley’ you will struggle to hear a language any other than Castilian Spanish, though several of the restaurants are actually from the Basque region in northern Spain. The most famous and highly rated eatery is La Cava Argonesa. The tapas there is rather posher (and pricier) than I’ve had elsewhere, but it is superb.
Whilst the coastline on both sides of the old town is over-developed it doesn’t somehow feel connected to this warren of narrow streets with the sounds, sights, smells and tastes of the real Spain I thought Benidorm had lost. I had superb calamari here and, with true, rustic, Iberian charm, the waiter chose to slop a glass of wine over my trousers. I think he’d had a few sangrias. His colleague said it was the third time he’d spilt stuff that day. Did I get a free glass of wine in recompense? A bit knocked off the bill? I didn’t even get an apology, but it was good calamari. By the end of the meal, I couldn’t be bothered to complain as the rest of the wine got spilled down my throat.
Just beyond the Old Town is Benidorm number three, (in)famous for Hen and Stag Parties. Also known as ‘The Strip’ it’s pretty wild, in a Wild West sense of the word! Be careful of the bouncers/secrurity, whatever you want to call them. They have a reputation for being violent. There are bars where you can drink, smoke, dance, play pool, ride a mechanical bull, watch an erotic performer and have root canal work done all at the same time. The strip makes Las Vegas appear subtle and reserved. Sometimes a place makes you feel old and glad of the fact, and ‘The Strip’ did that for me. It made me appreciate placid Playa de Poniente and the tender Old Town.
Should I go?
I think there are better places in Spain, but it’s worth a visit. Benidorm has a lot to offer and it caters for people of all tastes and none. The price of the beer ranges from cheap to reasonable. There’s plenty of good eateries. ranging from the classy and pricey all the way down to MacDonald’s with everything in-between. The hotel skyline is very built up, but the beaches are pretty out of season. We had a cracking weekend. If the price was right, we’d go back, certainly in winter. I had written it off, and I was certainly wrong to do that.
By the way. If you liked my blog, there’s every possibility that you’ll like the comic novel I’ve recently published. As much as I enjoyed teaching, and respect those who do the job, there’s plenty to laugh at. I spent 30 years giggling. It’s a bargain at £2.20 for the Kindle!
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