It’s the name that does it, writes Alf Bennett.
Mention Benidorm in polite company and eyebrows raise.
The reaction, invariably from people who haven't been there, is sniffy, conditioned by half-remembered impressions and lurid TV programmes.
And I shared that view – until I actually went there. So now I am here to tell you that Benidorm is brilliant.
You probably don’t associate the Spanish resort with classy restaurants, tranquil beaches and style but it is all there if you look.
And to do that you have to leave aside both the English zone and the English mentality.
Benidorm is the UK’s most popular single foreign destination but it is not young revellers who go there – rather it’s families and the over-50s with whom it finds favour.
The majority of the resort’s visitors in fact come from other parts of Spain – and they are not coming for Sky Sports and full English breakfasts.
Instead they seek out the lovely Poniente beach, clean and peaceful, where there is a free library and special provision to enable the disabled to take a dip.
They go to the 'Zona Vasca' warren of bars for superb ‘tapas’ or ‘pintxos’ of ham, fish and seafood.
They wander the narrow, picturesque streets of the old town and stop at places like the Cerveceria Malpas for a cold beer and delicious plates of ‘chopitos’ (baby squid), ‘pescaditos fritos’ (small
deep-fried fish) and stuffed mussels.
If there is a better way to spend a Spanish lunch-time show me it.
These tourists take a turn around the Mirador del Mediterraneo, once a castle destroyed by English pirates (sorry about that, senor) but now a stunning, tiled look-out where people come to stare at
the view and where local newlyweds, hot-foot from the altar, have their pictures taken.
This is a Benidorm which many British tourists don’t see. When I spoke to an English couple at our hotel they had never heard of the old town.
Nor were they aware of places like the Cerveceria Victor in Calle Lepanto, a haunt of bull-fighters, home to superb Spanish food and local wines, and less than half a mile from their
And that’s the problem Benidorm’s tourist people have to wrestle with – a real identity crisis.
Money can’t buy the publicity of having the hit television programme named after them.
But the same programme, focused on the less sophisticated aspects of Brits Abroad, also condemns them to the reputation which raises those quizzical eyebrows.
Benidorm is eager to polish its image – but, in difficult economic times, they are not about to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
There is a lot to be said for simply having a rollicking good time on your hols and the range of facilities for families who want just that is impressive.
To start with, there are four theme parks – Terra Natura, Terra Mitica, Aqualandia and Mundo Mar – which have everything from white-knuckle rides to dolphin shows to rare animals bred in
There is the much-garlanded Benidorm Palace night-club which puts on spectacular variety shows of the kind which used to be the speciality of the London Palladium.
There is the beach, cleaned meticulously every night by special machines and where the sea temperature never drops below 20C even in winter.
And of course there are all those bars, with names like the Gallowgate and the Union Jack, in the Rincon de Loix area where you never need miss a moment of British life abroad.
We spent our last night in the Tropical Fun Bar in the heart of the English strip, dancing badly and singing at full volume along with the act.
Sometimes, let’s face it, you just need to party.
•Alf Bennett stayed at the four-star Melia Benidorm Hotel on Avenida Severo Ochoa (www.melia-benidorm.com ).
For details on the theme parks visit:
Terra Mitica www.terramiticabenidorm.com
Terra Natura www.terranatura.com
Some parks offer combined tickets (Mundomar & Aqualandia; Terra Natura and Aqua Natura)
Visit www.en.visitbenidorm.es and www.facebook.com/visitbenidorm for more information on the resort.
Monarch operates year-round flights to Alicante from Birmingham, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester airports with fares, including taxes, starting from £38.99 one way (£69.50 return).
For further information visit www.monarch.co.uk