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a great deal, except it had had a few coats of fresh paint and the local ladies selling genuine lace products had been replaced by tourist shops selling junk.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.