TRAVEL REVIEW: Did you really mean Benidorm???

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That’s what I said to Lucy Coleman, our Editor when she left a post-it note in my office. As I called her office line to ask why she otherwise ruined my coffee break with such a ghastly suggestion. She sought to explain to me how important it was to stay open minded about the unknown. Now, anyone who has met Coleman knows how much of a charmer this lady is… so after a little lecture. I obliged and with a smile on my face I trolled the internet for every piece of video about Benidorm. I mean, there has got to be something great about this place online. One thing that came up was the TV series self-titled, Benidorm produced by Tiger Aspect for ITV.  It all made sense because I remember watching this crazy series and actually uttering the words “Never, Never, Ever”. Now, I was about to eat my own words as I was on a Monarch Airline plane on my way to Alicante to visit Benidorm. As I checked in early to avoid massive queues, I boarded the plane and was introduced to my companions for the trip.

With an all-woman team this time.. It suddenly dawned on me that I’ll be the only man on the trip. Fantastic!  So as I took a power nap pondering how I’ll cope with conversations about make-up, fashion, you know typical girly stuff… I was awakened at Alicante to the fact that I was in fact in the midst of the right group of women… I mean, with our first conversation starting with ‘I didn’t really like the sausage on the plane”… oh no, not that kind of sausage”…. coupled with candid advice from a fellow passenger… telling us not to board back to London unless we were ‘Benidoomed’…. (apparently, a euphemism for getting cream crackered) and with a generous response received from my new all girls team. I suddenly knew, that things will be just fine or as the brilliant comedian Mickey Flanagan will put it…. We will definitely enjoy, going out, out… Why?  Come on, you know that a team that thinks on the same page (i.e. having a sense of humour) …. Stays together. So, it was great to be around confident, self-assured, intelligent and independent ladies who don’t take themselves too seriously… My kind of people!

Anyway, back to Benidorm. We were picked up from the airport by the lovely Yolanda Picket-Fernandez from the tourist board and after a short drive to the Hotel Costablanca. We saw a picturesque site, typical of the TV series Benidorm and lots of old aged pensioners driving senseless on  their respective mobility scooters or just walking around with bright t-shirts and the customary group of  lads doing what they do best….  bar crawling… I thought, wow…. This is going to be interesting! So, as I checked into my standard two bedroom hotel suite wondering whether I should have just assigned this trip to one of the other travel journalists in the office.  I decided to get ready as we were about to go for dinner. A quick pop downstairs to the reception and we were introduced to Carola  Valls who I later re-named the #QueenofBenidorm for her ability to get into everywhere and anywhere. Carola  Valls is an Argentinian /Spanish PR Executive from the Tourist board who came to Benidorm a few years ago for personal reasons but fell in love with the beautiful place. Her mission is to make everyone around the world find out how much of a beautiful place Benidorm is… Call it Mission impossible, but Carola was about to show us another side to Benidorm that often gets ignored. To be honest, she was to become the game changer!

She began to explain the history of Benidorm.  Benidorm is located in Alicante which is at the heart of Costa Blanca with five beaches, crystal clear water a beautiful temperature all year round. There is no wonder tourist in the ‘know’ have flocked to the island in the past. Poniente Beach is clean, quiet and has a full range of leisure facilities. Levante Beach, has 2km of golden sand and a wide variety of services are available from walkways, sunbeds, playgrounds and safety equipment guaranteeing you maximum comfort and fun.  Benidorm attraction parks also include; Europe’s largest wooden roller coaster ‘Ave Fenix’ with a 60 metre free fall.

That night we were escorted to a gastro pub restaurant. The food was a mixture of fresh vegetables, prawns, fish and homemade desserts.  A great start to a quiet evening as we all dispersed back to the Hotel to get some shut eye. Funny enough for a young team walking back to our hotel… I could see the oldies looking at us in laughter…. There was a mixture of shock and laughter…It was the funniest thing to take notice of…. The oldies were dancing off to old 60’s songs whilst the young ones were yawning back to bed… Unbelievable!  Anyway, day 2 was an early start and after breakfast we go for a short walk to Marco Polo. Marco Polo I am told was launched by a guy whose name was Mark but preferred the coolness of Marco Polo… They deal with hiring out bicycle, all-terrain vehicles, cars, quads, 50cc & 125 scooters, sailing & speed boats and off course mobility scooters. The company also puts on a list of activities including; Jeep Safaris, Bicycle trios, Paintball, Nordic Walking, Jet Ski tours, scuba diving and more. We were booked for a jeep safari including a deep sea dive at a beautiful waterfall.

 

By this time everyone started to admit that Benidorm was actually one of the coolest places in Spain, they just suffered from lack of the correct kind of publicity so we all agreed to change it with an echo of appreciation for my chosen word throughout the trip ‘Fantastic’….   We are picked up by Dennis Raus …. A Dutch ex-banker who left the Netherlands in search of adventure and ended up at Marco Polo.  “This is the job of my life and as you can see it is a really hard job” he said with a big smile whilst driving crazily into the forest and landscapes of Benidorm like an F1 driver en-route to qualify for a champagne bath. We arrive at the Algar Waterfalls which was 15km from Benidorm in Callosa d’en Sarria.  The walk through the river bank boasted amazing views and its natural pools as well as indigenous flora and fauna added to the ambience.  I decided to take up the duties of official photographer whilst the girls bravely did their excellent dive into the waterfall. I mean, I would have gone in… (Cough, cough)… but someone had to take pictures eh???  Dennis drives us out back to town not long before I told him about my appreciation for the Dutch culture after ending up in a restaurant in Amsterdam at one time eating cakes which apparently turned out to be special cakes. The first time I went to Amsterdam, I coined the phrase… ‘Don’t beat around the bush, be more Dutch’ and any beer company wishing to buyout the licence to use it… Speak to my agent. It could be arranged!!!  We say our goodbye to Dennis and ‘gracias’ to the Marco Polo team before making our way to Poniente beach for some tapas at La Taperia de Aurrera in Santo Domingo. The self-styled man behind the brand of Tapas restaurants even popped in to introduce himself to the team.  Tapas is an informal, traditional Spanish way of eating. ‘Tapear’ is defined as a great way to meet up with friends for lunch or dinner. Benidorm has a great range of bars, pubs and local tapas to compliment fine Spanish wine.

After lunch we get picked up by the driver and after a quick ‘Ola’ to the driver, we were off to the second phase of our Benidorm adventure. We arrived for the Segway tour courtesy of Costablanca tour. The Segway is easy and apt for practically all age groups from the age of 14 and after a quick lesson, we were armed with confidence and proceeded to explore the town of Benidorm from the Town Hall, the Bull Ring, The Castle and the Ricon de Loix. All of this was with minimum effort until I decided to have a beer in one of our designated stops. Big mistake….!!!  Back on the Segway, fully charged up with a pint of beer in my system, I decided it would be a great idea to play paparazzi and take a picture of the team whilst continuing to ride with my back turned… I mean, common sense is not common after a pint of beer but the outcome was inevitable as I fell down like a kungfu student at a boxing convention. Luckily, my Bruce lee mind set kicked into action 5 seconds before I hit the ground and i managed to avoid what could have been a serious incident. I bounced back, brushed the dirt of my shoulder told everyone to calm down with the words “Let’s not make a big song and dance about it” and I was back on the Segway like Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in bed after an argument. Brave face and humbled by the fall, we finished our two hours of what was a sensational ride. Did I love it? Off course… I did. The opportunity to get to know Benidorm via the Segway was an unforgettable experience. The tour guide spoke in perfect English and through his wireless radio equipment which we had access to via our headpieces we got to learn more about the town in a much more exciting way than your usual tour guides. I think other tourist boards can take some notes here….! Very creative.  Next up, a visit to Mundomar, a complete marine and exotic animal park. Flamingos, parrots, dolphins combined with spectacular performances, restaurants, picnic areas and fabulous viewing point for unforgettable experiences. We were welcomed by the beautiful Naomi from MundoMar Benidorm.  Naomi is a slim build beautiful and intelligent blonde whose family hail originally from Southampton in the UK but she has never lived in the UK. She comes for short breaks to see her family but she was born in Benidorm. “I love it here, I was born here. The reason why I speak English is because every time I tried to speak Spanish with my mum, she will be like… leave it out…. Speak to me in English, so I guess that helped strengthen my English” and yes she was fully bilingual in every sense.  She then escorted us through one of the best marine and exotic animal parks I had personally ever been too. The staff are highly trained, friendly and it felt like being in a different world all together.  Naomi, gets us all our swimming gear making us look like the Olympics Aquatic team gearing up to represent Great Britain. We wait a few seconds with all the excitement in the world and then we are led to the private swimming pool to see some of the smartest creatures of the sea. Dolphins are often regarded as one of earth’s most intelligent animals, though it is hard to say just how intelligent. Comparing species’ relative intelligence is complicated by differences in sensory apparatus, response modes, and nature of cognition but this dolphins were experienced and you could feel the empathy and connection they had with humans.

Mr. Dolphin (a name the girls seem to have given him) was the headmaster of all the dolphins and an energetic member of the team who seemed to have mastered the art of communicating with dolphins. He commanded the dolphins to do some unbelievable tricks… and the pierce de resistance was getting the dolphin to lock in for a passionate kiss.  Amazing!!   Naomi added “It’s all about the experience, customers come in and we are not just interested in turning over their money but more importantly what they feel when they leave and sometimes you have to use common sense in certain scenarios to help your customers” and this was proven in full effect when Naomi had to help a Russian tourist and his two daughters who had missed their session with the Dolphin. She accommodated the nervous family in style and I am sure they had a Happy Ending by way of the precious kiss with the dolphin.

We left the dolphin enclosure and as we waited for the driver… Carola turns up with pictures of us with our Dolphin. It turns out that, whilst we were with the Dolphins enjoying our experience. There was a dedicated photographer on hand to capture the key moments. The pictures are printed on the spot and offered to you on departure. Now, if that doesn’t spell ‘first class service’… I don’t know what will.

Later that evening, we were all dressed up and we left the hotel on our way to the Benidorm Palace for some dinner and ‘the show’.  The Benidorm Palace is a great venue which is reminiscent of a Vegas type space with chandeliers, and a table service to match. Unfortunately, as the performance started and after a few polite claps… I started to feel like this would be a very long night. I mean there was a man singing with a band and a blonde girl holding a mic swinging from left to right without singing. She finally sang, and yes she had a voice of an angel but as soon as I had given up hope of ever being entertained at the Benidorm Palace. Carola whispered “This is not the show, the show is about to begin” and the show definitely kicked off… As the curtains opened you knew this was no amateur movement. This was a Vegas style show capable of working in Vegas or in the heart of any London theatre. From the dancers, actors, actresses, pyrotechnics, visuals, showmanship. The last time I saw a show this great was in Vegas…..I had to pinch myself… Benidorm finally got to the #NextLevelShhh… Those who read my travel pieces often know that I coined the phrase #NextLevelShhh over 14 years ago and although I was having the time of my life (excuse the pun…) but there are levels to  #NLS and it takes a lot to achieve the status of NLS. I digress, a visit to the Benidorm Palace should be a must for anyone planning to go to Benidorm especially if you are looking for a good quality night out featuring an array of music, colour and international artists. The show has won awards throughout Europe and I can certainly see why!

It’s Friday, and Day 3 in Benidorm. We are picked up by an excited Carola and walk through the beach to get to the local Jet Ski Company. After a quick James Bond style demonstration by our instructor, we were ready to go. My partner in our Jet Ski/ James Bond movie, was Becky King who funnily gave me motivational words of wisdom. “Jordan, I have first aid knowledge… Don’t worry, you are in good hands”. Not, that I was worried at all… as I am a qualified first class swimmer… Off course I am.  Obviously not, but I must say I was impressed and as I throttled right into the ocean going through waves that will make any full grown man reach out for a bottle of  whisky. It gave me pleasure to complete the ride fully in charge and passing on the steering to Becky who certainly did the King family proud by powering that Jet Ski like Angelina Jolie in Mr & Mrs Smith. After the heavy excitement, I decided to do what any grown man will do, calm it all down with a glass of whisky whilst the girls decided to go for some more excitement in the form of a ski ride through the sea. When you get to the ripe young age of 33, you have to balance your levels of excitement sometimes… you know?  One risk per day and all that!!  Anyway, a mistake in the time on my Zuricom phone meant that I was late to meet the girls and the driver. Oh, you could cut the tension in the air… The Queen of Benidorm wasn’t very happy at all. Well, I learnt my lesson, never to keep girls waiting, you will pay for it in an atmosphere of tension. I apologised as any gentleman would do.  Anyway, the tension didn’t last very long as we got to the Crème de la Crème of the whole Benidorm trip; the five star Asia Gardens Hotel and Thai Spa owned by the Barcelo group.  This space is a slice of heaven in the heart of Benidorm located at the Rotonda del Fuego. The Asia Hotel offers ensuite first class rooms with several swimming pools, restaurants and a Thai Spa created specifically to bring together the ancient traditions of Thai philosophy of calm, harmony and peace. As you walk into the hotel, the soothing music that plays instantly relaxes you.  I am told all the massage therapists are fully trained from Wat Po Temple in Bangkok, where the first traditional Thai massage techniques were originally taught. In addition, the spa has a pool with outdoor swimming area and a Turkish steam bath and the lush garden has views across the mountains and the sea. The place is pure luxury and one of Benidorm’s best kept secrets and as we had lunch with representatives from Asia Gardens Hotel.  I could clearly confirm the food here was the best fine dining I had experienced in Benidorm so far! It was absolutely fantastic…. We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the swimming pool  and by 6pm our driver was ready to get us back to the Hotel Costablanca for what was to be our last night in Benidorm.  Later that evening, as we got ready  for the last night in town. I get a knock on my door from Sarah Darling…. “Darling I have invited everyone to my balcony for some champagne before we all head out. Do you want to join us”?  Off course, I said… What a star? We drank and reminisced about what was a truly fantastic trip and as we met Carola downstairs to head to our last night out, out. We ended up with cocktail and drinks at the VIP KU lounge in Levante beach and danced the night away. As we emerged the next day, our last day. It was clear that no one wanted to leave Benidorm. Contrary to popular belief, the town had proven to be a successful secret   escape capable of satisfying the needs of a diverse target audience. Young, Old, Luxury or middle of the road, if you are looking for a secret escape… This is one town definitely worth a visit!!!

 

Fancy going to Benidorm? Check out are  handy tips below:

-Benidorm offers a wide range of sports & leisure activities, events, fiestas & festivals throughout the year, including a number of summer music festivals and gastronomy events. See visitbenidorm.co.uk (in English) andwww.facebook.com/visitbenidorm for more information, booking suggestions and  brochure downloads.

-Monarch, the scheduled leisure airline, operates year round flights to Alicante from Birmingham, London Gatwick, London Luton, East Midlands and Manchester airports with fares, including taxes, from £34.99 one way (£85.94 return) (lead fares for winter 14).  For further information or to book Monarch flights, Monarch Holidays or Monarch Hotels, please visit www.monarch.co.uk

-We stayed at the 4* Melia Hotel Sol Costablanca on Levante Beachfront.  The 185-room hotel offers doubles  on B&B basis in July from approx £109 per night (min 4 nights stay during high season)

www.melia.com/en/hotels/spain/benidorm/sol-costablanca/index.html

-We visited the 5* Barcelo Asia Gardens Hotel & Thai Spa.  Room rates from  €240 with choice of spa & golf packages  www.asiagardens.es 

Other useful details: 

Benidorm Palace,Avenida Severo Ochoa 13, www.benidorm-palace.com

Escorted jeep safari www.marcopolo-exp.es.

Specialist operator offering a wide range of sport & activities and tours.  Escorted jeep safaris in 8 seater vehicles full day from €59 (Under 12 yrs €48) including entrance to Algar waterfalls, lunch & hotel pickup.  Self-drive jeeps are also available. Cycle hire from 10€ per day

Le Sol –  gastrobar lounge restaurant lesolbenidorm@gmail.com .  Tasting menus around €25.

Barranco Playa restaurant, Calle Vicente Llorca Alos 14, www.barranco playa.com

Other restaurants visited included Ulia, Solotula.  Nightlife: Ku Lounge Beach Club, Fanconi Beach Club, Moon Beach Club

Water sports: Jet ski, cable ski, diving, snorkelling

Jetski – Aquatic Fun, Levante Beach

-Segway in Sierra Gelada National Park from 30 euros for 2 hour. Guided tour @ costablancatour.com

Scuba divingwww.divingstones.com 5* PADI diving centre offering Beginners Diving Course at Benidorm Island from €70, which includes all tuition, equipment, boat transport etc with qualified trainers.  Experienced dives from €30.

-Theme Parks

Some parks offer combined tickets (Mundomar & Aqualandia; Terra Natura and Aqua Natura).  Top tip:  all offer discounted fares for afternoon visits (Mundomar from €10)

Mundomar www.mundomar.es dolphin & sealion shows, animals, conservation & play areas. Swimming with the dolphins experience

Have you been to Benidorm?  Want to write your review. Scroll down and write your review below via the comments form!!

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