Benidorm

It’s only 15 miles (or 25 km) from Calpe, but Benidorm is another world! It’s certainly very different from when I came here as a child back in 1974. According to Giles Tremlett (author of Ghosts of Spain – recommended reading) Benidorm “is to package tourism what Las Vegas is to gambling – the undisputed capital of the world”.

We’re staying at Camping Villasol on the edge of the town, the skyline dominated by a long line of huge skyscraper hotels and apartment blocks lining the coast, with rocky mountains to the rear. There are some 500 vans here, many of which are here for the winter and won’t move until February or March, and whilst the majority of vans are British, there are quite a few Dutch vans here too.

Even though it’s mid-winter, the resort is really busy. From reading the local freebie newspapers there is a sizeable British immigrant population of mainly pensioners who have retired here. Then there are the snowbirds who are here for the winter – mainly British but also plenty of Dutch and Belgian – and there seem to be quite a lot of Spanish pensioners here too, which isn’t surprising as the government operates a scheme called imserso, which subsidises out of season holidays for the over-65’s between October and June, and under the scheme hotel rooms can be had for as little as €20 per night. There are quite a few young families around the place too, especially since the schools broke up for Christmas.

There are two distinct parts to Benidorm: the old town, and the new town. The small, pedestrianised old town feels quite Spanish with lots of narrow lanes lined with shops, bars and restaurants, and there’s a lane known as Tapas Alley where the tapas bars serve some great food.

The new town on the other hand is huge, literally dwarfing the old town with more than 330 high-rise buildings, including the 52 storey Gran Hotel Bali, the tallest hotel on Europe’s Mediterranean coast. The local population of around 70,000 grows to 400,000 in high season, with the resort attracting over 1.5 million Brits each year, and for many it’s a beach and beer paradise. The Spanish have a great colloquial word for these people – guiris – used to describe those foreigners on package holidays who wear socks with their sandals, sunburn easily, and swallow litre after litre of cerveza and sangria.

Walking around the new town, we’ve yet to spot a traditional Spanish tapas bar. Instead, nestling between the hotels are loads of pubs serving all day English breakfasts and British beer, with Sky Sports on the big screens. Between the pubs, there are restaurants (mainly Indian, Chinese and Thai), along with fish and chip shops and takeaways selling pizzas and kebabs.

One thing that’s immediately noticeable is the sheer number of mobility scooters being driven along the pavements, which I guess is only to be expected given the number of pensioners here. The scooters can be rented by the day/week/month, though after a number of incidents involving stag and hen parties only the over 55’s or those with a disability can hire one. Top of the range is the limo scooter, which is a two seater tandem (€90/week), while at the other end of the scale is a mini-scooter (€40/week). They’re a bit of a menace, particularly in shops or when a couple decides to ride them side by side along the pavement expecting pedestrians to get out of their way. Some of the larger hotels have become so fed up that they’ve banned mobility scooters, forcing their drivers to park these along the pavements outside.

So what have we been up to whilst we’ve been here? The weather has been good, with just one day of rain, so we’ve been out and about every day. A couple of afternoons were spent in the old town, though once you’ve had a look around the shops there’s not a huge amount to do apart from eating and drinking. We’ve explored the new town and have walked up and down the promenade a few times.

There’s an Iceland supermarket not far from the campsite which also sells some Waitrose stuff, so it was quite a novelty to see so much British food in one place, and it would have been rude not to have bought a couple of boxes of mince pies (so we did!). The twice-weekly municipal market is held just a short walk from the campsite, so we also went there a couple of times and it was huge – there must have been more than 500 stalls selling all sorts, though we only managed to spend €1 on a bag of clementines!

With Christmas now just days away, it’s refreshing to see so little of the commercialisation that we’re used to in the UK. The Christmas tree and lights are up, and there’s a small funfair and mini ice rink by the old town, but that’s about it. There was a charity carol concert in the campsite restaurant so we went along to check it out, only to find out that we were the choir. A raffle was held after we’d sung along to a few carols, and we won a couple of bottles of wine.

We’ve had an interesting time here in Benidorm, it’s been an eye opener. Whist we’ve enjoyed our time here, I’m not sure that I’d like to be here at the height of summer. Tomorrow we will be moving inland to a small town called Crevillent, where we’ll be staying until after the Kings on 6th January (more on that next time).

Mike

Benidorm then…
… and now
It’s a concrete jungle…
… enclosed by a green belt and mountains
Early evening at Tapas Alley in the old town
One of the tapas bars
More tapas bar
Chuletas de cordero – one of my favourite tapas dishes…
… and another favourite – pulpo a la Gallega (I made this one!)
Christmas lights in the old town
Outside the Plaza de Toros…
… and inside
The oldest fish & chip shop in town
The Spanish are lotto mad
There are lotto stalls all over the place
On the campsite
I imagine you must have to get up super early in Benidorm to get a broadsheet or the FT
Carol had to make do reading the local rag
Our winnings at the carol concert
‘I think she’s dead!’ We did a first aid course at the campsite
Christmas caravans
The Benidorm Palace (think Circus Tavern)
We didn’t expect to find an Iceland here
A group of British ladies on their way to the bar
A lane in the new town
Most zebra crossings in the new town have the warning in English only!
Line dancing class or flashmob? We weren’t sure!
By the beach
The beach at night time
New town bars and restaurants
I was given this Red Lion euro in my change at a restaurant
And here is the said pub – the best pub in Benidorm… allegedly
Some of the English breakfast places, like this one, made Weatherspoons look decidedly upmarket…
… so we went to a nice Dutch place for ours!
Mobility scooterville

10 thoughts on “Benidorm”

    • Lol … Very few ‘foreigners’ here in sunny Benidorm – a world away from Greece! Sending festive greeting back. Carol x

  1. Benidorm was my first ever holiday abroad in 1985 when I was 21. It was even more developed then than the picture from 1974, but there was nothing on the Poniente beach. I still love visiting for a short time, and I can see the attraction for long-term stays as the competition keeps prices so cheap – so the cost of living (especially if you enjoy a few drinks) is minimal.

    Reply
    • Yes it’s definitely a popular place! Not so cheap along the sea front though, but away from there you can get some lovely wine for less than €2 per (unmeasured) glass.

  2. Hi both. We were in Kalamata for the kings, at the same time as yourselves last year. We are back in Greece, on a campsite near Nafplio. Hope you have a super Christmas and an adventurous new year. Sue, John and Ana the dog x

    Reply
    • Hasn’t the past year just flown by?! Hope you’ve been practising your swimming ready to catch the wreath on the 6th. We walked up that ‘hill’ at Nafplio – still remember every step. Enjoy the ouzo and the festivities – and keep in touch! Carol and Mike x

    • Hi again Mike and Carol, we will definitely keep in touch, we owe you both a beer, tinto verano or ouzo, wherever it might be. This to thank you for all the super places, that we have visited along the way following your blog. There are so many including – the Hamsa restaurant in Krakow, Mazel Tov in Budapest and Shtastliveca in Sofia. We’ve enjoyed following your footsteps on walking tours and many places of interest, in so many countries. We now even search out Stolpersteines, which we had never heard of until you mentioned them. Thank you once again. Bye for now Sue, John and Ana the dog x

    • Thank you so much for your lovely comments, we’re so glad that you’ve enjoyed the blog and found it helpful. If you find yourselves in Thessaloniki then definitely check out the stuffed onions at To Elliniko!

  3. Thank you, that was an excellent write up and confirmed much of what I had heard about the place. Worth a visit, and good to stock up on some British essentials, but I think all the mobility scooters would drive me a bit mad too.
    We’ll be making our way there in February just as some of the snow-birds might be leaving…

    Reply
    • Thanks for getting in touch, good to hear from you. Yep it’s definitely worth a visit, though we won’t be rushing back anytime soon!

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