It’s a tongue in cheek television programme and one of the first mass holiday destinations but I am curious to find out what Benidorm is really like.
“Who can see the rhino? ” said Dennis our driver as we climbed up a steep mountain above the town. Things were getting more and more bizarre I thought, until I realised the rhino was actually the animal-shaped mountain to the right of us. We had decided to take a jeep trip away from the beautiful beaches and towering hotels of Benidorm and thanks to Marco Polo Tours in a surprisingly short time were driving along the Sierra Aitana mountain range. Nearby was the second highest, but most prominent, peak, Puig Campana , popular with mountaineers and serious climbers. It looks as though a square hole has been sliced out of its summit and legend has it that Roldan, a giant, created the gap because he had been told his wife would die when the sun set behind the summit. By creating a great notch in the mountain he could enable her to live a little bit longer.
|View of Benidorm|
Back in Benidorm, with its familiar pubs, English fish and chips restaurants and penchant for fun, it’s easy to forget that a change of pace is possible and an unspoilt countryside is waiting to be discovered.
Despite its annual 6 million visitors, the old town - the birthplace of Benidorm - is still intact. The 18th century church by the sea with its gleaming blue dome, and the cobblestones of Carrer dels Gats with its small archways, are reminders of the fishing village it once was, before the onslaught of tourism began, way back in 1961. It was then that the decision was made to build upwards rather than outwards, leaving space for parks and swimming pools in order for the seafront to be accessible to all.
I went up to the 52nd floor of the four star Gran Hotel Bali, the tallest hotel in Europe, to get a panoramic view of Benidorm, and its two sparkling beaches Levante and Poniente. Besides cleanliness they are also known for their beach libraries where it is possible to leaf through newspapers and books in both English and Spanish and the fact they are easily accessible for wheelchairs. The roof of the Bali gives a good view of the little triangular off shore island simply referred as L’illa, a twenty minute boat ride away and one of the well known symbols of this tourist community.
Every half-hour boats go from the main port in the centre of town, to the island. It’s a journey worth taking. Once there, a protected walk leads to the summit, an ideal place to witness the many birds who call this island home. It is also possible to step down, inside a bright yellow “Aquascope” - a cross, between a submarine and a glass sided boat - and glide through the waters, viewing the variety of fish and marine vegetation, which also makes it a good area for scuba diving
Restaurants abound in the town and the food is usually fresh and varied although the Spanish do have a tendency to sometimes put pig inside vegetable dishes.
Benidorm is famous for its theme parks. I visited two that were interesting for adults but undoubtedly the main emphasis is for children.
Terra Natura is a zoo, based upon 3 continents; Europe, Asia and America, replicating both the animals and eco-systems, and successfully fills the twins roles of fun and education. My favourite occupant had to be Shusto, a year old rhino and the first to be born in captivity in Spain. Mum, Shiwa, looked very pleased with her offspring, and after a 15 months pregnancy, there was every reason for her to feel proud.
|Terra Natura - Baby Shusto|
Mondomar Park is famous for its water performances. I saw the performing dolphins, which were brilliantly choreographed and made a wonderful show. The empathy with their trainers was evident and it looked natural and well organised. That is if you are not sitting in the two front rows of the audience, who get soaked.
|Mondomar Park - Performing Dolphins|
Coming back home after a busy few days, I began to realise how much more there is to do and explore in Benidorm than its stereotype image leads us to believe.
I flew Monarch Airways. www.monarch.co.uk
And stayed at the Flash Hotel www.flashotel.com
Escorted jeep safari www.marcopolo-exp.es
Specialist sport operator. Escorted jeep safaris in 8 seater vehicles - full day from €59 (Under 12 yrs €48) including entrance to
Mundomar www.mundomar.es dolphin & sealion shows, animals, conservation & play areas.
Terra Natura www.terranatura.com animals in natural settings, attractions, shows & rides, conservation & breeding programme
www.en.visitbenidorm.es (in English) and www.facebook.com/visitbenidorm