In the fifty or so years since the fishing industry’s decline in the Alicante region, the landscape of Benidorm has changed beyond recognition. Skyscrapers dominate the skyline as an influx of 5 million tourists per year from around Europe, and particularly the UK, flocks to the area in search of sun loungers and poolside bars.
Lost in this sea of inflatables and unseasoned skin lies the essence of Spanish culture and beauty that originally brought visitors to the Benidorm area and made it the original vacation destination of the entire continent.
We came to Benidorm during its fifth pride celebrations to uncover (and rediscover!) everything this area has to offer, from snorkeling in the Mediterranean to jeep safaris, from tapas tours of the old town to Europe’s biggest water park; Benidorm offers tasty slices of Spanish spirit, beauty and wanderlust.
Here are 8 slices that will have you coming back to the real Benidorm, year after year:
1. Be a part of Benidorm’s newest cultural celebration; Pride.
Having closed its fifth pride celebrations this September, Benidorm Pride is quickly cementing its place as the city’s hottest community-led summer calendar event.
Spanning an entire week mid-September, celebrations begin with a sophisticated and chic White Party at the headland plaza of Mirador del Castillo in the Old Town, expect rustic tiled floors and white stone pillars to set the mood while international DJ’s and free-flowing cocktails keep the party going into the small hours.
Heading into the weekend, join the pride parade as it travels along Levante Beach (attracting a lot of positive attention from vacationers) toward the main stage arena of Auditorium Julio Iglesias, a Romanesque coliseum perfect for hosting a bustling and surprisingly lively party.
Tribute acts from around the world, including the official Conchita Wurst tribute act and incredibly on-point ‘Gaga Xpression’, bring this diverse crowd together to celebrate inclusion, acceptance, love and life – whoever you are.
Once the main stage performances have ended, the crowd heads to Benidorm’s Gay Village to continue the party, get their cruise on, make new friends from the isles and flirt with the insanely attractive Spanish bartenders – be good to them, and they’ll be good to you!
To find out more about Benidorm Pride, click here.
2. Explore the mountain region of Benimantell by Jeep Safari
Surrounding the cityscape of Benidorm is the unexpectedly stunning mountain region of Benimantell; the best way to tour this region and visit the small villages and towns high in the hills is by no other means of transport than a thrill-ride 4×4 Jeep Safari.
Clambering up steep, rocky slopes and over long dried-up creeks and riverbeds the open-top Jeep brought us to viewpoints inaccessible by other vehicles; an experience that took us over the edge of adventure and very close to the edge of some of the most spectacular views over Benidorm and the entire Alicante region – and they really are spectacular!
Tour operator Marco Polo Expeditions, who also offer other activities in the air, ground and sea, take passengers on a trail leading to the small monumental town of Castell de Guadelest.
Picturesque in its serenity the town is a must-see for anyone wanting to see the true Spanish heritage of the area and climb to its bell tower, which lies a short distance from the center of Benidorm.
3. Walk the cobbled streets of Benidorm’s Old Town
Easily mistaken as merely a concrete jungle of modern-ish hotels overhung with towel-ridden balconies, the fishing village origins of Benidorm still stand in boastful charm today as a haven away from said concrete jungle.
The cobbled streets lead visitors through small passageways, under bell towers and across side streets to the many authentic Spanish tapas restaurants and wine bars dotted around the area – if you’re looking to escape the British pubs and fast food joints that run along the beach, we suggest you come here!
4. From 5-stars to tapas tours, embrace the food culture in all of its glories.
It is said that quick, greasy fast food is the ruling roost of flavor around Benidorm – but don’t be fooled into thinking this is the way of the land, far from it.
From the 5-star boutique hotel Villa Venecia, which has breathtaking ocean views from the basement restaurant set into the cliff side, to the panoramic skyline view from the Belvedere, the culinary ambitions and varied restaurant styles of Benidorm can easily go unrivalled by top restaurants in the Spanish capital of Madrid.
The tapas here is also one for the books, especially the fresh and locally sourced *seafood dishes – Octopus tentacles as long and meaty as your own arm are a must see and a must try, along with some of the more delicate dishes.
*Don’t leave Benidorm, or even Spain, without trying authentic Seafood Paella. Period. You’ll know it, as whole juicy prawns with eyes will be looking up at you.
5. Power boat around Benidorm Island and snorkel the shoreline coves
Water sports are very popular in Benidorm and one way of really appreciating the crystal waters, as clear as any ocean’s, is by commandeering your own boat out to Benidorm Island and the surrounding coves to go snorkelling.
Remember that tasty fresh fish you had at that tapas restaurant you can’t quite remember the name of? Well, you’re swimming with its siblings – see you at dinner!
The view of the serene mountain range to the sandy coves from the bobbing waves only highlights the natural loveliness of the Spanish coastline, and in contrast with the low expectations of Benidorm’s particular scenery (we were told nothing of this, swearsies!) that are wrongly supplied to the outside world we love it all the more.
We went out to sea with Benidorm Marine & Diving Stones. For more information, click here.
6. Experience the core bliss of Spanish culture; Wine.
Everyone can appreciate the utter satisfaction of wine-tasting; tastes of cured meats and cheeses that rework the flavors and blends of delicately matured fruits as they run over the taste buds on a warm Spanish day is nothing but outstanding.
Mendoza’s winery, a short drive out of the city, brings this little drop of heaven in a bespoke and relaxed manner with tours of the rustic winery fields and cellars from expert guides. Enrique Mendoza and his Grandfather who both work at the winery year-round add that family touch to the family-run business that makes this winery experience unique to the area.
You’ll be buying a bottle or two to ship home after succumbing to Enrique’s charm and passion trust us, we bought a case!
To find out more about Mendoza’s Winery, click here.
7. Get your kicks at Europe’s largest water park
Ok, this may not be a cultural Spanish tradition but how could we ignore a trip to Europe’s biggest water park? If the Spaniards are going to do something insane and over the top, its this.
Aqualandia features death-defying drop slides from 35 meters high, river rapids, mega wave pools, lagoons and cliff diving among many other attractions for any fear factor.
Also, nearby is the global-themed rollercoaster park of Terra Mitica hosting backwards log-flumes and free-fall attractions to blow the mind.
Click to find out more about Aqualandia and Terra Mitica.
8. Replicate these priceless memories…
Benidorm is a big bubble of Spanish culture and beauty dwarfed by a clingy-bubble of British and European tourists. By all means, if you want an all-inclusive resort where you can spend two weeks without leaving the compound then it’s here.
But, if you’re looking for adventure, culinary delights and timeless Spanish traditions its all on your doorstep. Whip that all-inclusive band off and take it all in!
There’s a world beyond photos of precariously placed poolside beers and sunscreen-shaped phallic objects painted onto the backs of unsuspecting Dad’s (someone had a laugh!) – there’s memories to be made like these:
Monarch, the scheduled leisure airline, operates year round flights to Alicante from Birmingham, London Gatwick, London Luton, Leeds Bradford and Manchester airports with fares, including taxes, from £36.99 one way (£77.98 return)
For further information or to book Monarch flights, Monarch Holidays or Monarch Hotels, please visit www.monarch.co.uk