Benidorm - Exploding the Myths

The image of Benidorm usually portrayed in the British press is more often than not of a resort full of boozers out for a good time on the cheap. This image disappeared long ago, but is unfortunately maintained through malicious press who prefer to jibe at a sitting sun-drenched duck than actually look at just how far the city has come since the larger-lout, San Miguel swilling days of the late 70’s and early 80’s when British tour companies flooded the resort with a fortnight’s cheap holiday, all-in for the price of a pint. 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 is 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 on all their streets.

Benidorm is full of fish and chip shops.

Benidorm has very few fish and chip shops, the famous one, Ray, who was in the old town has moved on to a much larger place in Rincon de Loix As someone once said, 'just because somewhere sells chips doesn’t make it a fish and chip shop.’ Try telling Sir Terence Conran that just because he has pommes frites on the menu he runs a chippie! Thanks to the draw the resort has on commercially minded people, it is possible to sample the cuisine of almost every nationality in Benidorm, as well as the regional gastronomy from every corner of Spain.

In Benidorm, with it’s 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 350,000 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 so, far from never hearing a Spanish accent, you can hear virtually every accent, dialect and language of Spain.

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.

It would be a falsehood 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 such a high 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!

By Derek Workman


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