Tag Archives: Benidorm Skyscrapers

Travels in Spain, Benidorm and How Things Change

This is a picture of me taken on the Balcón del Mediterráneo in 1977.  It is a picture that when investigated has stories to tell.

First of all the terracing itself and the balcony columns, dirty and neglected, crumbling and falling apart but now restored and pristine with a regular fresh coat of paint.

These are the same balustrade columns thirty years later in 2007 but this time overlooking the Levante rather than the Poniente Beach…

Next is that cannon, it isn’t there any more, except that it is but instead of being carelessly left on the edge of the balcony it is now part of a sculpture that has been created nearby…

And what about the surfacing?  In 1977 it was sand and gravel but now it is dazzling blue and white tiling and the scruffy Mediterranean shrubs and cactus has been cleared away to leave a more open but sterile view of the beaches…

Look at the background, the hotel developments stop way short of the headland – not any more and there is nowhere for Benidorm to go now except around the corner towards Villajoyosa (post coming up about Villajoyosa).

Amongst those high rise buildings is Intempo, at six hundred and thirty feet high Europe’s tallest residential skyscraper.  My forty year old picture shows nothing like that and neither does this old postcard…

I have to confess that I am getting old and nostalgic and just like Norman  Lewis  I long for the past and some times lament progress …

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Travels in Spain, Guadalest and Benidorm (A Blast from the Past)

After simple breakfast at Pensión El Pirineo I persuaded the others now to join me on a voyage of personal nostalgia and rediscovery.  I visited this part of Spain forty years ago when I went on a two week holiday to Benidorm and I thought it might be fun to revisit the places that I had seen in 1977.

First we went to Guadalest (picture above, 1977) a small mountain village with a castle which is a short bus trip drive out of Benidorm and a day trip that I took all those years ago.  It hadn’t really changed a great deal, except it had had a few coats of fresh paint and the local ladies selling genuine lace products had been replaced by tourist shops selling junk.

We stopped for lunch and a walk around the narrow streets but it was much smaller than I remembered and it didn’t take long to refresh my memories and soon we were on the road into Benidorm.

Mick wasn’t looking forward to this at all, I think it is quite low down on his list of places to visit in Spain but I was really happy to be revisiting the place that I had hated in 1977 and Mick hates in 2017.

Back then we could have gone practically anywhere we liked, so long as it was within our restricted budget of course, but we choose to go to Benidorm on the Costa Blanca for two whole weeks and we selected the Don Juan hotel on Calle Gerona, just behind the Levante beach because my girlfriend, Linda (later my wife) had been there some time before with her parents and had liked it.

Iglesia de San Jaime y Santa Ana near the Balcón del Mediterráneo in 1977..

And again in 2017…

Benidorm is one of the most popular tourist locations in Europe, today six million people go there each year on holiday but in 1977 it was even more popular and that year attracted the most holidaymakers ever and over twelve million people poured into the city.  That peak in numbers has never been matched since and it is unlikely that it ever will be.

Arriving in Benidorm we left the motorway and found an underground car park with surprising ease (underground car parks are always empty in Spain because the Spanish refuse to pay parking fees) and with the anticipation of severe culture shock rising to near boiling point we made straight for the old town.

Almost immediately it was a huge let down.  We had been expecting tat shops and British pubs, the distinctive smell of Hawaiian tropic, fat bellied lager louts with tattoos and peroxide Essex blondes with fake designer sunglasses and massive boob-jobs but there was none of that sort of thing at all.  No rampaging bands of tourist hooligans just a pensioner choir singing on the beach.

It was a very a very civilised affair with predominantly elderly Spanish people sedately enjoying the sun and a few British left-over’s from the winter Saga tours where the length of stay could be measured directly in degrees of orange tan.  Not even any ‘looky-looky’ men to pester us!

I have to say that Benidorm in 2017 was nothing like what I was anticipating at all but was really rather pleasant and the beaches were immense and spectacular with beautiful clean sand and blue flags flapping proudly in the breeze.  It is an interesting fact that Spain has more blue flag beaches than any other participating country with five hundred and eleven in five thousand kilometres of coastline, the United Kingdom by comparison, has only one hundred and twenty-five in nearly eighteen thousand kilometres.

Balcón del Mediterráneo in 1977…

And again in 2017, now with a tiled pavement and terrace…

In the old town itself there were more Spanish tapas bars than British pubs and there was a notable absence of those awful places with tacky pictures of the food on the menu.   There was not a bit of it and after wandering around the old town searching unsuccessfully for cheap souvenir shops we had to finally admit defeat and sit in a bar on the seafront and have the first beer of the day.

If Benidorm was a surprisingly nice place then the old town was an especially nice place with a blue domed church, reminiscent of those in the Greek islands, and a pedestrianised area that was positively delightful.  I remembered this from my visit forty years ago but not much else I have to say and with refreshment time over we walked a short way along the Levante in search of what we were sure was the real Benidorm from the television series but without success we called a halt to the expedition and retraced our steps back to the car.

Although we were disappointed not to see what we had come for it was a pleasant surprise and we left with the confirmation that despite the tourists that flock in every summer that Benidorm is a very real Spanish town, with Spanish culture and a Spanish history of tuna fishermen and merchant sailors that was actually quite plain to see.

I wished that I had grasped that in 1977 because if I had then I am sure that I would have enjoyed it more then.

Benidorm, Plan General de Ordenación

Benidorm

“By the end…it was clear that Spain’s spiritual and cultural isolation was at an end, overwhelmed by the great alien invasion from the North of money and freedoms.  Spain became the most visited tourist country in the World, and slowly, as the foreigners poured in, its identity was submerged, its life-style altered more in a single decade than in the previous century.”                      Norman Lewis – ‘Voices of the Old Sea’.

Sixty years ago Benidorm, although not a fishing village as such, was still a modest beach side community, a place of sailors, fishermen and farmers who patiently tended almond, olive, carob and citrus trees.  Early visitors would have looked out over a double crescent of virgin golden sand and rolling dunes that stretched out in both directions from a rocky outcrop that divided the two beaches where Benidorm castle is believed to have once stood.

Small fishing boats, the tarrafes, each with four large lanterns to attract fish at night bobbed in the water or lay drawn up resting on the sand.  In 1950, Benidorm didn’t attract many visitors and life was difficult, it had no water supply or sewage disposal system and waste was tipped in the sea or simply buried in the earth.

Old Benidorm

The watershed year was 1954 when the Franco loyalist, Pedro Zaragoza Orts was nominated as town Alcalde, or Mayor and he threw himself into his work and set himself an objective of improving the quality of life in the small town.

In terms of economic potential there wasn’t a lot to work with so he decided to concentrate on the first whiffs of global tourism drifting in from Northern Europe and spreading south along the Costa Brava and he imagined a dream of creating a bourgeois pan-European holiday utopia.  Benidorm had sun, it had beaches, it had sea but what it didn’t have was visitors.  Few people in Spain enjoyed the sort of standard of living to be able to take holidays in the 1950s, so he needed to attract overseas visitors.

Spain Beach 1940

The town had always been popular with veraneos, people who took a few days break to be by the sea, but by the 1950’s, visitors from Scandanavia and Germany were beginning to arrive in greater numbers and staying for a full week at a time, sometimes two!  Zaragoza recognised the potential of increased numbers of visitors and quickly created the Plan General de Ordenación, or city building plan, that would exploit that potential.

The plan ensured that 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 and it is the only city in the country that still adheres to this rigid rule.  This vision for the future took six years to come to reality, while he waited he piped in domestic water from Polop, fifteen kilometres to the north in the mountains on the road to Guadalest and he ignited the building boom that followed and the flying start that Benidorm achieved in the package tour boom of the 1960s and 70s.

The vision for Benidorm was simultaneously brilliant and exciting and it gave the modern city its modern unique landscape because Zaragoza encouraged vertical construction of dozens of sky scrapers in a deliberate plan to make efficient use of land and to keep the city at ground level spacious and airy with green parks and open spaces and all of the accommodation relatively close to the beaches.

He explained his plan like this; ‘If you build low, you occupy all the space and have a long walk to the beach. If you build high, you can face the sea, and leave room for gardens, pools and tennis courts’.  This was in contrast to nearby Torrevieja and on the Costa Del Sol in the south, Marbella where excessive horizontal development led to great sprawling ugly urbanisations that have practically destroyed the coast by burying it under concrete and tarmac.  Zaragoza called this urban concentration instead of urban sprawl.

benidorm-holiday-poster

The first developments started at the centre at the rocky outcrop in the twisting narrow streets hemmed in by claustrophobic whitewashed houses, the San Jaime church with its distinctive blue tiled hat roofs, the old town promontory with the Balcon Del Mediterraneo, and pretty Mal Pas beach below and quickly spread east and west along the splendid beaches.  Today Benidorm has some of the tallest buildings not only in Spain but all of Europe but the first were fairly unassuming by comparison, the tallest reaching only a modest ten floors or so.

My grandparents were used to living higher up than most people because they lived in a first floor flat but I imagine that they found a high rise hotel in Benidorm really exciting.  In the early hotels there was a lot of utilitarian concrete and steel and I am certain that we would consider them quite basic affairs now but they had something that Nan and Grandad were not accustomed to – an en-suite bathroom, because they didn’t have the luxury of any sort of bathroom in their Catford flat.

The first hotels have mostly been demolished and replaced now but I imagine they enjoyed sitting on the balcony of their room and looking out over the inviting Mediterranean Sea because this was a thousand miles and a hundred thousand years away from reality.  They were certainly very relaxed because feet on the table like this would never have been permitted at home.  We were only allowed into the best front room once a year at Christmas and we weren’t allowed to touch anything so I am surprised by this.

Not everyone approved of the changes however and Norman Lewis may have had Zaragoza Orts in mind when he wrote in ‘Voices of the Old Sea’:

“The ancient handsome litter of the sea front had possessed its own significance, its vivacity and its charm.  A spirited collection of abandoned windlasses, the ribs of forgotten boats, the salt wasted, almost translucent gallows on which the fish had once been dried, the sand polished sculpture of half buried driftwood … was now abolished at a stroke”

Benidorm c1960

Benidorm, Plan General de Ordinacion

Benidorm, The War of the Bikini

Benidorm 1977 – First impressions and the Hotel Don Juan

Benidorm 1977- Beaches, the Old Town and Peacock Island

Benidorm 1977 – Food Poisoning and Guadalest

Benidorm – The Anticipation

Benidorm – The Surprise

World Heritage Sites