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Published: March 5th 2018
Benidorm in winter.
It’s the ugly sister of Torremolinos and I still have nightmares about that place. Blackpool comedians, with no sense of irony, have made a punchline out of Benidorm for decades. OK, it was never on my bucket list with Botswana or the Maldives. However, as ever, the offer of some cheap flights changed my mind. I decided I wanted to go to see if it was as bad as I imagined; and I imagined it to be pretty bad! On the positive side, I like a bit of winter sun; and it was an interesting experience. I concluded that, in winter, there are three very 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 the sands are almost invisible as they are carpeted by sun loungers, but in winter it’s gorgeously empty. 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 cohorts of aging ‘lads’ who sit boozing in the sunshine, as the sunlight sparkles off
their bald pates and blurs their faded tattoos. 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. To be fair the breakfasts offered were 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. They’re the ones without the Union Jacks. There’s nothing wrong with the English bars, except that in Spain I want a Spanish bar. 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.
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. You are set up for a great break because you can eat and drink in 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 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 down side there’s a lot of tat shops and cheap bling so be ready to avert your eyes. Walking through ‘tapas alley’ you will struggle to hear a language any other than Castilian Spanish; though several of the eateries hail from the Basque region. The most famous and highly rated 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 grotesquely 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 and by the end of the meal I couldn’t be bothered to complain.
Just beyond the Old Town Benidorm number three is the Xanadu, the Nirvana, the very Arcadia, for Hen and Stag Parties. Also known as ‘The Strip’ it’s a kind of chav zoo where you can go and watch people collapse, vomit, and get beaten up (for no obvious reason) by the criminally violent door staff. 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, it’s like a nightmare version of Blackpool. Go on TripAdvisor and read the reviews of the ‘Red Lion’. The tales of thuggery are frightening and all too believable. Sometimes a place makes you feel old and glad of the fact, ‘The Strip’ did that for me. We couldn’t wait to leave, back on the sea front I felt able to breathe again. A visit to this hellhole makes you appreciate placid Playa de Poniente and the tender Old Town.
Should you go?
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 is 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 irredeemably ugly, but the beaches are pretty in winter. We had a cracking weekend and, if the price was right, we’d go back. Some folk love the place; I wouldn’t go that far, but I think it’s pretty good, certainly in winter (it might be gruesome in summer). I had written it off as a dump and I was certainly wrong about that.
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