Benidorm – Holiday Review
Many Happy Returns
by Richard Jones
It’s been dubbed the ‘Miami of Europe’, ‘Little Manhattan’ and also ‘Blackpool with the sun’. But whatever your opinion of Benidorm, it’s a place that everyone should visit at least once.
I spent a long weekend on the Costa Blanca a year ago, so why was I keen to return this summer? Well, I had three reasons in fairness – my friend John’s 50th birthday, a younger pal Tom’s stag do and my own ‘non-landmark’ passing of age.
For me, like most people, the continuous pull of ‘Benners’ has nothing to do with unearthing an undiscovered or alternative side to the Spanish city. As with the popular ITV sitcom that bears its name, Benidorm the resort is all about familiarity – the same setting, same people and same jokes, year in, year out.
The British love affair with the Costa Blanca – the ‘white coast’ halfway down Spain’s eastern shoreline – began with ‘sun, sand and sangria’ holiday packages in the 1950s. Now, Europe’s largest holiday resort, Benidorm’s success was, is, and always will be built around its two main attractions – long stretches of blindingly white sand and a microclimate that guarantees 3,000 hours of sunshine a year.
“For most Brits, the energetic Levante area is where to head”
During the 1950s, the city’s mayor, Pedro Zaragoza, decided he wanted hoteliers to build upwards so each visitor could get a beautiful sea view and everything was in close proximity. As a result, the infamous tower blocks sprang up, and Benidorm’s hotels are now able to accommodate up to a half a million tourists at any time.
For most Brits, the energetic Levante area and its beach lined with over 5,000 sunbeds and parasols, is where to head. But if you walk a couple of blocks back from the bustling seafront you will find the quietly reserved Hotel Servigroup Nereo – one of the best in the Levante area. The rooms are large, comfortable and modern, and most have a private balcony looking out towards Benidorm Island.
I stayed at Nereo on a full-board basis and found the food in the buffet restaurant to be mouthwateringly good. There is a massive variety of hot and cold options, including themed dishes, vegetarian choices and delicious desserts. Meanwhile, the chefs in its show cooking area expertly prepare meat and fish on an open grill in front of you.
The Nereo’s breakfast is also second to none in the city. The choice of streaky or back bacon, along with different types of sausages, scrambled, poached and fried eggs, and a variety of omelettes, are a Godsend after a few too many sangrias the night before.
“There is gold sand and impossibly blue sea”
The hotel also houses a main lounge bar, ideal for meeting up for a couple of drinks before heading out, while during the day its raised pool area has plenty of sunbeds and parasols, meaning there’s no need for territorial towels here. As an added bonus, if you book a stay at a Servigroup hotel, there is also a free express transfer with Beniconnect, helping you avoid a long-drawn out mini-tour of the area after and before your flights.
Although ‘levante’ means ‘sunrise’ in Spanish, the area bursts into life when the night owls come out to play. Everyone walks around in shorts and t-shirts, cooling down on the warm nights with six bottles of ice-cold San Miguel or a litre of refreshing sangria for as little as €5.
The popular English Square or strip, which incorporates the streets Gerona, Ibiza, Mallorca and London, submerges visitors into another world. There are regular bars, disco bars, karaoke bars and themed bars, including Stardust, Chaplin’s, Sinatra’s, Yorkshire Pride, Black Chicken and, where everyone seems to end up at the end of the night, Cafe Benidorm.
People, young and old, also throng to see the resort’s tribute acts, whether it’s Take That, Rod Stewart, Queen or U2, as well as unique comedy shows. We saw one of the stars of the Benidorm TV show, Crissy Rock, perform an x-rated stand-up routine at Morgan’s Tavern (which doubles as Neptune’s in the series).
Whereas the Levante side is the ultimate ‘Brits abroad’ destination, Benidorm’s tourist board is keen to attract sophisticated and independent travellers. If you walk as far west as you can the reward is far fewer crowds at Poniente. There is gold sand, impossibly blue sea, loads of space, a delicious breeze and a newly built promenade.
“Make a beeline for the classier Old Town”
But the loveliest part of Benidorm is actually the cobbled streets of the Old Town. So if you want to swap soggy fish and chips for tasty tapas and piquant paella, then make a beeline for this classier and much more Spanish part of the resort.
If you’ve never visited Benidorm, then your perception of the place is likely to be based on the ITV sitcom, which, after a decade on our screens, is still hugely popular. High-rise hotels, mobility scooters, fry-ups, bingo halls, happy-hour pints – the Spanish package holiday stereotypes go on and on. But after speaking to people who visit the place regularly, they are proud of its big, brash and bawdy reputation. “It is what it is,” they say.
In 2018, it will be 65 years since the aforementioned Mayor Zaragoza revolutionised a former fishing village by getting General Franco to agree to tourists wearing bikinis. Benidorm has never looked back, and thankfully there’s no sign of the place planning its retirement just yet.
Richard Jones was a guest at Hotel Servigroup Nereo who offer rooms from £100 per night based on two adults sharing on a half-board basis.
Monarch, the scheduled leisure airline, operates year-round flights and holidays to Alicante from Leeds Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham, London Gatwick and London Luton airports with fares, including taxes, from £41 one way (£69 return).
For further information, please visit monarch.co.uk