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Benidorm Beyond The Poolside

Travel editor Neil Sowerby digs beneath the high rises and finds surprises

Written by . Published on August 14th 2012.


Benidorm Beyond The Poolside

A QUIET supper in downtown Benidorm? Not exactly. El ambiente estaba electrizado, as they say round here (“the atmosphere is electric”). When Spain and Portugal are slugging it out in a penalty shoot-out it’s hard to hail a waiter for a refill of the excellent local red.

Spain WinSpain winPretty soon, though, they’ll be cracking open the victory cava and, Viva Espana, we’ll feel glad we didn’t hole up in some pub called The Gallowgate or The Nelson with all the other Brits licking their Euro 2012 wounds. It’s fiesta time in the Ducado and we’re all amigos now.

 Already, I’m paying lip service to the myth that most of Benidorm is one big Union Jack-draped ghetto – a vulgar beach Babylon of high rises and full Englishs that is forever Harlow or Heckmondwike.

 The stereotypes are joyously confirmed in the hit ITV series named after the resort, which attracts 1.5 million a year from our shores. I’d never seen the show (I have now), on the grounds of “I know what I like”, but it’s always in the background as I step off the plane at Alicante.

Something For The ScotsA wee tipple from home for the Scots

Why, the first place that’s pointed out as we complete our 45km transfer is the Sol Pelicanos Hotel, location for the Solana in the series. There’s no obvious sign of Steve Pemberton and the cast/crew but the shops and bars all around are definitely not catering for the locals.

High Rise Backdrop To The Heavenly MedHigh rise backdrop to Levante beach

That’s just surface, though. The Ducado serves excellent Spanish food to whoever wants to eat it – and it’s not alone. OK, for research purposes, I did finish a long night dancing badly in the Tropical Sport Bar to video karaoke. Alas, it felt more like the end of a very staid family wedding than a louche fling. Just call me a gooseberry. I could have attended one of the notorious shows featuring a pensioner stripper called Sticky Vicky and her ping pong balls, but that would have been gross.

The Tropical sort of summed up the safe option that is Benidorm – a resort that’s accessible and affordable, with the most perfect climate in Spain and glorious, clean Blue Flag beaches but no surprises, no need to shed all the little comforts of home. But it can be so much more if you seek it out.

Levante %28The English%29 BeachLevante – The "English Beach"

Take those beaches. There are two main ones separated by the jutting promontory of the Old Town (with a cute but crowded little strand of its own). The Levante is much the busier with a host of activities. The Cable Ski (http://www.surf.to/cableski) where you water ski without a boat looks a particular adrenalin rush. Sunscreen and sweat writ large, the Levante’s alternative to bagging poolside at your all-inclusive.

The Quieter Poniente BeachThe quieter Poniente beach

The Poniente beach might be a different world. Designer Carlos Ferrater has created a dramatic new seafront promenade that imitates the swirl of the sea. There’s more space to reach the actual waves here. Step back off the boardwalk and there are some terrific seafood restaurants and tapas bars catering for the well-heeled Madrilenos and the like who keep an apartment here to enjoy the annual 300 days of sunshine.

Paella At Barranca PlayaPaella at Barranco PlayaWe chose the Barranco Playa and feasted on paella, the proper vibrant seafood deal washed down with an equally vibrant Alicante white and watched the world go by. Surprisingly little motor traffic helped.

Down this end it’s more low-rise than elsewhere in a resort with Manhattan aspirations, but around the corner is the tallest hotel in Europe, the 52-floor Gran Bali. We took the most scenic of its 18 lifts to the roof and were rewarded with spectacular views across to Benidorm Rock and behind to the 1,400m Puig Campana mountain.

Benidorm From The Rooftop Of The Gran Bali HotelBenidorm from the rooftop of the Gran Bali hotel

Sandcastle, Levante BeachSpectacular sandcastle

Legend links the two. In ancient times the gentle but fearsome looking giant Roldán was forced to live in isolation with his flocks. He found love with a woman without fear and they lived together until illness struck her. He was told she would die when the sun set behind the mountain. To delay this he demolished a chunk and threw it through the air into the sea, forming a small island. Still night came and she died. Roldán took her body to the island, so that it could be her final resting place. Desolated, he lay in the sea by her and drowned by her side.

Benidorm RockBenidorm Rock

Blue Seas With TattoosBlue Seas with tattoos en route to the Rock

View From The AquascopeView From The Aquascope

There was no sign of Roldán when we later took the Aquascope submarine ride from the island (or L’Illa), but lots of marine life. Taking beer and tapas at the island’s cafe, there was a good view of Puig Campana with its distinctive missing chunk. Return ticket for the combined 15-minute ferry ride and a similar time underwater costs 14 euros for an adult, 11 euros for a junior.

You can pay four times as much for another of the resort’s must-dos – a show at the Benidorm Palace. For that you get the full menu with wine and a three-hour cabaret show in a 1,600 seater venue voted Europe’s best theatre-style nightclub, beating even the Moulin Rouge.

Scene of Danny La Rue’s final performance, it is celebrating its 35th anniversary with a new show, Surreal, inspired by Spanish masters Dali and Bunel. If that sounds a mite highbrow, don’t worry! Carmen, Rat Pack and Thirties glamour all got paid homage. It was lots of jolly fun but by the early hours overstayed its welcome for this particular rock fan.

For dining recommendations without musical accompaniment see the Fact File below.

The Old Spain %26#8211%3B The Sierra Cortina %28We Called It Teo Cars!%29The old Spain – the Sierra Cortina

We stayed in the well-run (hard-pressed lifts apart) 4* Hotel Melia Benidorm, a 10-minute walk from Levante. It’s typical of the resort’s top-end family hotels, but there are boutique options (see below) and, the five-star resort, the Barcelo Asia Gardens, set in serene mountainside gardens 15 minutes away. Asian-themed with appropriate cuisine and a Thai spa, it has just become part of Leading Hotels of the World and is priced accordingly.

Welcome To Terra MiticaWelcome to Terra Mitica

Ready For Splash Down At Terra MiticaReady for splash down at Terra Mitica

Carousel At Terra MiticaCarousel high jinks at Terra Mitica

If that sounds too sybaritic, it is handy for some great walking trails in the Sierra Helada and Benidorm’s theme parks, which cluster outside the town. Terra Mitica is the pick. This huge park is based on Mediterranean culture and history, from Egypt to Greece, and has lots of activities and white-knuckle rides.

 

Mondomar ShowMondomar sea lion show

Aqualandia is one of Europe’s largest water parks, with Mundomar marine and animal park next door.

 

I’m not a lover of rollercoasters or sea lion shows, so I was just happy to wanter around Benidorm’s Old Town. In truth nothing remains of the old fishing village founded in 1325. The ambitions of the town’s mayor during the Franco era to create the modern resort swept much away. But I liked the street of Basque pinchos joints and the view from the belvedere. Alas, San Jaime, the 18th century parish church, was closed for siesta time when I got there.

Benidorm Old TownBenidorm Old Town flies the flag

In a special chapel inside lies a small sculpture found, the story goes, in a boat adrift  at sea. This is the Virgin of Saint Suffrage, patron saint of Benidorm. The annual Patron’s Festival starts the second week of November, lasts five fun-filled days and features the re-enactment of the discovery.

Such beloved traditions are celebrated in a series events throughout the calendar. A Spanish heart beats under the surface of big, brash Benidorm.

 

Fact File

Asia GardensBarcelo Asia GardensGetting there:
Fly to Alicante, which can be reached from 22 UK airports. We flew Monarch, which operates year-round flights from Manchester with fares, including taxes, starting from £38.99 one way (£69.50 return). All customers are allocated a seat at check-in; however, seats can be pre-allocated on scheduled Monarch flights for £5.99per one-way flight to ensure that families and groups are seated together.  Extra leg-room seats cost from only £14.99. On-line check-in is available between 18 days and four and a half hours prior to departure. Visit www.monarch.co.uk.
Alicante Airport is 45km from Benidorm. Many hotels operate a shuttle service. Direct bus fares start from €8. Expect to pay up to €80 for a taxi.

Staying there:
Melia Benidorm 4star, Avenida Severo Ochoa 1 03500 Benidorm
Tel: 00 34 966 813 710 www.melia-benidorm.com/en/index.html. Rooms from £120 B&B

Two boutique hotels come highly recommended: Villa Venecia, Plaza San Jaume, 1, 03500 Benidorm and Hotel Fentiche, Panaderos no 4, 03501 Benidorm.

Outside the town: Barcelo Asia Gardens, Eduardo Zaplana Avenue, Glorieta del Fuego (www.asiagardens.es). Room rates from €240.

Attractions:
Benidorm Palace, Avenida Severo Ochoa 13 03503 Benidorm
www.benidorm-palace.com.
Terra Mitica www.terramiticapark.com.
Mundomar www.mundomar.es and the adjacent Aqualandia www.aqualandia.net/en/aqualandia. Joint tickets available.
Gran Bali for the spectacular views: www.granhotelbali.com.

Eating there:
Casa Victor, C/del Tint 23, 03830 Muro del Alcoy www.menjarscasavictor.com.
Cerveceria Malpas, Calle Santas Faz (00 34 965 858 086).
Barranco Playa  Edificio Emperatriz, Calle Vicente Llorca Alós 14,
Playa De Poniente, 03500
Ducado, Avenida Almeria www.ducado.restaurantesok.com.
La Cava Aragonese, Pl de la Constitucion 03501(00 34 966 801 206).
Restaurante L’Illa de Benidorm (00 34 965 972 482).

Tropical Bar, Avd Severo Ochoa 6, Benidorm New Town, 03503 www.youtube.com/watch?v=zG5lnkPhJYg

Tourist information:
http://en.visitbenidorm.es
www.facebook.com/visitbenidorm

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