Contrary to popular belief, Benidorm is not all booze, buzz and beer bellies, as Tom Churchill discovers
Benidorm has long been a city plagued with the lager lout stereotype. From the 1960s onwards, it is a city that has attracted European holidaymakers based on the predisposition of drinking and cheap and cheerful waterparks. Once described by the author Giles Tremlett as the birthplace of the package holiday, Benidorm has gained a reputation that purely refers to its nightlife and beach culture. Little is known or commented on about Benidorm’s hidden charms or what other culture lies in the southern Spanish city. A life away from the New Town, away from the Levante beaches and a holiday on the other side of the sun bed sun tans.
Since its founding in 2008, The Low Cost Benidorm Festival (LOW Festival) has been an exceptional addition to the tourism market generated in Benidorm. Taking place at the Polideportivo Municipal de Foietes, a location that is exceptionally central and allows festival-goers to make use of the nearby hotels for accommodation. This can provide the luxurious experience of air conditioning and running water, hence givng Spanish equivalents such as Benicassim a run for their money, which depend on camping in the scorching heat. The festival is fantastic at supporting both local acts and also attracting international stars such as Massive Attack, The Libertines and Kasabian. LOW Festival is becoming a real staple point of the summer festival market, growing as it gets older and developing competitive line-ups with more established acts. Running for three nights on the final weekend of July, LOW Festival falls in the summer season adding a music-based culture to Benidorm’s tourist market.
As well as a burgeoning festival scene, Benidorm is also home to some beautiful natural parks. Two of which are Peacock Island and Parque Natural de la Serra Gelada. Peacock Island is situated approximately 3.5km off the coast of Benidorm, it can easily be reached through boat excursions that leave frequently throughout the day. When you have arrived at the island, the pointed landscape allows viewers to behold spectacular views of Benidorm’s skyline from the higher points, making for quite the photo opportunity. Parque Natural de la Serra Gelada is located on the doorstep of Albir with a picturesque lighthouse located at the tip of the Northern side. The natural park can be reached from Benidorm and can make for quite the walking experience giving views of the Benidorm cityscape as well as the neighbouring countryside and marina. You are recommended to take water as it is a four hour trek and temperatures can get hot.
The question often asked is “where do I stay in Benidorm?” In a similar fashion to the activities and culture on offer in the city, the accommodation is stereotyped to cheap package holidays offering nothing but a lousy swimming pool and middle aged men in excessively low-cut vests. If you look further afield, away from the beaches towards the Benidorm Old Town, an influx of coffee culture and tapas bars is at your doorstep. Hotel Jaime I, located on Av. Rei Jaume I offers an exquisite location, slightly offset from the seafront with approximately a ten minute walking distance. It’s location allows you to be away from the tourist infused New Town, but instead in closer proximity to the ‘real Benidorm’. The Old Town is abundant with traditional Spanish bars, eateries, shops and cafes. Hotel Jaime I offers a bar, luxury garden and Mediterranean buffet.
Restaurants in the Old Town are traditionally centred around tapas bars, one that is highly recommended is the reasonably priced El Meson. Offering exquisite meats and wine with a closed off location allows for a lovely ambience. There is no necessity to book in advance with El Meson as the hidden location allows it to be more popular with the locals than holiday makers. The locals generally tend to eat later than their Northern European counterparts. In addition, The Vagabond is another supreme cuisine. A small, intimate restaurant that offers exceptional service and friendly staff that can provide you with delicious food. The head owner and chef: Fred, is regarded highly for his attentive service and brilliant skill in the kitchen. Unlike El Meson, The Vagabond requires pre-booking due to it’s fantastic reputation and intimate size.
Benidorm is a place renowned for its summer time tourism. It can get exceptionally hot between May and September so please bear this in mind when booking holidays - click here for a 14 day weather forecast. The off-season begins in October and enjoys cooler temperatures, generally around the low 20s. It will also see a decline in tourism, so if the quieter experience is for you, this may be a better time to visit. Whenever you decide to go, do go, as Benidorm is a city worthy of rediscovery.