Benidorm – exploding the myths
Poor old Benidorm has suffered at the hands of the media for decades, whose scribes usually follow the hackneyed trail of sun, sand, and sangria; Blackpool with sun, fish and chips and kiss-me-quick hats; boozy Brits in Union Jack shorts sleeping off hangovers on the beach, or geriatrics flooding the cafés during the winter months of cheap accommodation and ballroom dancing on tap. True, it’s Europe’s favourite holiday playground, enjoyed as much by the Spanish themselves as holiday incomers but it has its other side, not hidden but often ignored. But it doesn’t take much searching to find it…
Unfortunately, there are all to many those who, fed on a diet of poisonously scripted hackneyed TV shows, still think that Benidorm, Europe’s biggest resort is elbow to elbow Union Jack shorts slung below bulging pink beer bellies, whose owner’s razored skulls are protected by knotted hankies or baseball caps worn backwards. Whilst this may have briefly been the case in the late 70’s and early 80’s when British tour companies flooded the resort with a fortnight’s cheap holiday, all-in for 3s/6d, it was a relatively short-lived phenomenon. This image disappeared long ago, but is unfortunately maintained through malicious press (often lazy, usually salacious and, sadly – more often than not – British) who prefer to jibe at a sitting sun-drenched duck than actually look at just how far the city has come since those larger-lout, San Miguel swilling days.
So let’s lay to rest a few of the old war horses that the media insist on riding when they dredge their archives while ‘researching’ Europe’s single most popular holiday destination.
Benidorm is wall-to-wall high-rise apartments. (Ever been to New York, chaps?) In 1954 Pedro Zaragoza Orts, the then young Mayor of Benidorm, created the Plan General de Ordenación (city building plan) that ensured, via a complex construction formula, every building would have an area of ‘leisure’ land, guaranteeing a future free of the excesses of cramped construction seen in other areas of Spain. It is the only city in Spain that still adheres to this rigid rule, and if you climb to the top of the Sierra Helada, the promontory at the end of the Rincon de Loix, you get a stunning view of how green the city it and just how close it is to the mountains.
Benidorm has to import sand from Morocco to maintain its beaches. This little gem originated when a tour rep made a joke to his clients while on the coach bringing them from Alicante Airport to their hotel in Benidorm in the early 70s. Unfortunately his comment passed into media history. The resort’s seven kilometres of silky soft sand are absolutely natural, and the city is actually an exporter that supplies high-grade sand to a number of the local resorts. Benidorm spends more on keeping just its beaches clean than most cities do for all their streets.
In Benidorm, with its population of ….. million Brits, you barely hear a Spanish accent. Stick any number you like on the dotted line because I’ve seen almost every number between ½ a million and three million used. There are actually just over 300,000 permanently resident expats of all nationalities in total covering the whole of the Costa Blanca, a stretch of coastline covering over 140 kilometres. Benidorm itself actually has very few permanent expat residents; they tend to congregate in other coastal towns. Altea is predominantly Dutch, Calpe German, and Torrevieja British. When the resort began its phenomenal rise during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s it attracted workers from all over Spain, many of whom set up small regional communities in the city. It is, and always has been, the major resort for internal tourism, in the early 20th century it was known as la playa de Madrid – Madrid’s beach – because of the amount of Madrileños who spent their holidays there – and still do), so, far from never hearing a Spanish accent, you can hear virtually every accent, dialect and language of Spain. And almost every region will celebrate its own saints days and special celebration, so there’s a fiesta going on somewhere in the city almost every day of the year.
Benidorm was a fishing village before the tourist boom. This is perhaps the pearl of all duff quotes. Benidorm never was a fishing port – the harbour is too shallow. But the history of the resort has always been linked with the sea. It provided the most skilled crews in the whole of the Mediterranean for the almadraba, the complex method by which tuna have been caught since Phonician times. It was also the source of many of the captains and crews of the Spanish Merchant fleet, whose experience of dealing with many nationalities during their travels worldwide held them in good stead when the world reversed itself and began to arrive on their beach front.
So, if Benidorm is no longer the last resort of the boozed-up brain-dead on a fortnight’s cheap alcohol bender, what is it? Curiously it is what it always was, apart from the brief period of cutthroat tourism in the 70s and 80s. A high quality, good value resort that was recognized as such long before the Brit-brat pack arrived.
It would befalse to say that Benidorm no longer attracts the budget holiday-maker who wants no more than to bake pink on the beach after having had a good old knees up the night before. Of course it does, but what it is also attracting in major numbers are short-break holidaymakers in search of a few days R and R without breaking the bank. And in a city that has more hotel stars than the whole of Greece, an average of 315 sunny days a year, and almost nil atmospheric pollution, it’s no wonder that the hotels have a 90% annual occupancy rate. And they aren’t full of pensioners having afternoon tea dances and doing knees bend, arm stretch arthritic exercises on the beach in flashing day-glo lycra. In the summer months a whacking 65.5% of visitors are under 45, most of them families, with a further 20% being under pensionable age.
Sad isn’t it, when urban myths are exposed as nothing more than journalistic hyperbole? Or to put that another way; if bone idle hacks were prepared to move their buttocks from in front their keyboards and actually visit Benidorm, you might be one of the 55% of repeat visitors who never miss their annual meander to the Med. Still, it’s easy to knock what you know nowt about isn’t it!