I’ve gone to Spain to visit my lovely friends Linda and George every year bar one (when we instead went together to Istanbul) since 2006. On the hour’s drive from Alicante airport to their home, about halfway into the journey, the towering buildings of Benidorm stretch along the coastline and in their own way they are quite awesome. Maybe not the kind of ‘awesome’ one is immediately looking for amongst the stunning scenery in this southern part of Spain with its dramatic rocky landscape but there’s no missing it. Last year, I took a bus from the airport to Benidorm where Linda picked me up but I didn’t see much of the town. This year, going on holiday with Jonathan, Lyndsey and Baby Gale it was decided we’d take a proper look at this famous seaside resort and hence the four of with Linda – also kindly acting as our guide and interpreter – took a day trip there on Friday.
Until the 1960s Benidorm was a small fishing village; now it is Europe’s largest holiday resort with over 5 million visitors a year and has the most high-rise buildings per capita in the world. It has been called the birthplace of package tourism and earlier this year announced it was to apply to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site based on this history. With its huge long stretches of beautiful fine sandy beaches its immediate attraction is obvious, as well, of course, as the wonderful weather. In UK it’s known for having once attracted rowdy crowds of Brits seeking cheap lager and fish and chips but over the last couple of decades Benidorm has mellowed and the town is popular with families as well as a large number of elderly people.
On the promenade behind Poniente Beach (one of three main beaches) is a park where locals as well as holidaymakers sit in the shade of palm trees to talk; dogs are walked and games played. I saw tables set up with people playing chess and there was a nice sense of community.
Yes there are the high-rise buildings – and it has to be said, many very ugly – but once you’re in the town the perspective is very different to the one you see from the motorway.
We wandered along the promenades a bit before heading into a quieter part of town just above the Poniente Beach where Linda’s research had found a restaurant that seemed to have mainly Spanish reviews on Tripadvisor and thus suggested we might find something more authentically Spanish. And we did! Bar La Cofradia was great.
We opted to sit outside where a welcome breeze gently blew along the narrow road. Inside though it was attractive with its Moorish tiled walls.
They were so friendly. And they didn’t really speak English so it was very fortunate we had Linda to translate for us while Jonathan also searched the depths of his memory to recover some of his Spanish GCSE. They showed us the lobsters were still alive so we would know how fresh their seafood was.
We ordered seafood paella and there was a bit of a discussion about it and what they would put in it. It seemed to be a family-run business and the ‘mother’ cook came out to discuss what vegetables she’d bought at the market that day and could put in the paella. It takes some time to make a paella from scratch so we ordered beers and wine and some little complimentary tapas came with them to keep us happy while we waited.
While our paella was being cooked the restaurant started to fill up. There were older guys who sat down for just a beer and a tapa; families shared plates and tucked into larger meals. They were all Spanish; we were the only visitors there. Baby Gale, who is very sociable at not quite 4 months, was in his element smiling at everyone and receiving smiles back. The Spanish love children. Lyndsey was stopped by elderly men a couple of times wanting to look at her baby; one was concerned he’d be OK in the heat (even though he was being very well protected by his mother!). When our paella came it looked excellent and tasted good too.
It was definitely a long, leisurely lunch – just as it should be on holiday – and we enjoyed the peace of the location. The Bar was a great find and definitely a fun place with good food and friendly service. Afterwards we went in search of the Old Town for a glimpse of how Benidorm once was before the high rises arrived.
We made our way to Plaça de la Senyoria …
… and Plaça del Castell …
… that lie on a promontory that juts out between the two main beaches. The Moorish influence was clear and it was quite pretty. However, there were lots of English bars and tearooms and some bars opened from 9pm till late, so it might be a very different place at night.
We made our way back to the car via an air-conditioned café where we drank Cokes or coffee and cooled off while Baby Gale had a feed before the journey home. We’d had a really lovely day and I enjoyed the trip to Benidorm and finding out what it’s really like. The highlight of the day was definitely lunch – the food and the friendly owners – but it was also nice to have a good walk along the top of the beach in the sea air. Back home in the tranquil setting of Linda and George’s home we settled down to enjoy the beautiful evening with glasses of cava and recounting our day to George (who’d gone to a music group practice; he plays saxophone).
And as the sunny day gently slipped into night …
… we saw a bright star and a crescent moon hanging in the sky …
What a beautiful ending to a lovely holiday.