Friday, 31 May 2013

It’s a tongue in cheek television programme and one of the first mass holiday destinations but I am curious to find out what Benidorm is really like.

“Who can see the rhino? ” said Dennis our driver as we climbed up a steep mountain above the town. Things were getting more and more bizarre I thought, until I realised the rhino was actually the animal-shaped mountain to the right of us.  We had decided to take a jeep trip away from the beautiful beaches and towering hotels of Benidorm and thanks to Marco Polo Tours in a surprisingly short time were driving along the Sierra Aitana mountain range. Nearby was the second highest, but most prominent, peak, Puig Campana , popular with mountaineers and serious climbers.  It looks as though a square hole has been sliced out of its summit and legend has it that Roldan, a giant, created the gap because he had been told his wife would die when the sun set behind the summit. By creating a great notch in the mountain he could enable her to live a little bit longer.

View of Benidorm
Even riding in a jeep on a fairly ordinary off-season day, the views are magnificent, and it was good to find out that Mark and Dennis from Marco Polo also arrange bike trips, horse riding and other outdoor adventure sports in the highlands.

Back in Benidorm, with its familiar pubs, English fish and chips restaurants and penchant for fun, it’s easy to forget that a change of pace is possible and an unspoilt countryside is waiting to be discovered.

Despite its annual 6 million visitors, the old town -  the birthplace of Benidorm - is still intact. The 18th century church by the sea with its gleaming blue dome, and the cobblestones of Carrer dels Gats with its small archways, are reminders of the fishing village it once was, before the onslaught of tourism began, way back in 1961.   It was then that the decision was made to build upwards rather than outwards, leaving space for parks and swimming pools in order for the seafront to be accessible to all.

I went up to the 52nd  floor  of the four star Gran Hotel Bali, the tallest hotel in Europe, to get a panoramic view of Benidorm, and its two sparkling beaches Levante and Poniente.    Besides cleanliness  they are also known  for their  beach libraries where  it is possible to leaf through newspapers and books in both English and Spanish and the fact they are easily accessible for  wheelchairs. The roof of the Bali gives a good view of the little triangular off shore island simply referred as L’illa, a twenty minute boat ride away and one of the well known symbols of this tourist community.

Every half-hour boats go from the main port in the centre of town,  to the island.  It’s a journey worth taking.  Once there, a protected walk leads to the summit, an ideal place to witness the many birds who call this island home. It is also possible to step down, inside a bright yellow  “Aquascope” - a cross, between a submarine and a glass sided boat - and glide through the waters, viewing the variety of fish and marine vegetation, which also makes it a good area for scuba diving

Restaurants abound in the town and the food is usually fresh and  varied  although the Spanish do have a tendency to sometimes put pig inside vegetable dishes.

Benidorm is famous for its theme parks.    I visited two that were interesting for adults but undoubtedly the main emphasis is for children.

Terra Natura is a zoo, based upon 3 continents;  Europe, Asia and America, replicating both the animals and eco-systems,  and successfully fills the twins roles of fun and education.   My favourite occupant had to be Shusto, a year old rhino and the first to be born in captivity in Spain.   Mum, Shiwa, looked very pleased with her offspring, and after a 15 months pregnancy, there was every reason for her to feel proud.
Terra Natura  - Baby Shusto

Mondomar Park is famous for its water performances.  I saw the performing dolphins, which were brilliantly choreographed and made a wonderful show.  The empathy with their trainers was evident and it looked natural and well organised.   That is if you are not sitting in the two front rows of the audience, who get soaked.

Mondomar Park  - Performing Dolphins
One evening I visited the Benidorm Palace, not knowing quite what to expect and truthfully fearing the worst.   So many times I realise how bad it is to have preconceptions, and this was one of them.  The show was of the highest quality and it was easy to see why it had been awarded Europe’s best cabaret theatre and nightclub for 2012, beating Paris’ Moulin Rouge. The packed audience of 1500,  mainly sit at tables and are served a good meal during the show.  The dancers, musicians and acrobats were fabulous and the evening excellent.

Coming back home after a busy few days, I began to realise how much more there is to do and explore in Benidorm than its stereotype image leads us to believe.

I flew Monarch Airways.

And stayed at the Flash Hotel

Escorted jeep safari
Specialist sport operator.  Escorted jeep safaris in 8 seater vehicles - full day from €59 (Under 12 yrs €48) including entrance to

Mundomar dolphin & sealion shows, animals, conservation & play areas.

Terra Natura animals in natural settings, attractions, shows & rides, conservation & breeding programme

  Further information (in English) and

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