Beaches; Summer madness

This weekend, seemingly all of Spain will descend upon the little town of Benidorm, to reclaim its finest beach from kiss-me-quick Britons.

Charles Wilson, a schoolteacher in his seventies from Bradford, who retired to Benidorm 10 years ago, is correcting the proofs of his book. It's called Benidorm - the Truth. "I can't think why Benidorm has such a bad name. It doesn't deserve it," he says. Tales of rowdy Brits, unfinished hotels, concentration-camp lodgings - all a myth, he swears.

Benidorm. The very name evokes cheap package tours and lobster-hued lager louts puking in the street. And, indeed, along a clutch of streets set back from the beach are the British pubs - the Old Vic, the Shamrock, the Star and Garter, the Scotsman, and the rest, lined up side by side. They are ill-lit, with blueish fluorescent strips, and poorly air-conditioned, but they're doing a roaring trade as young Glaswegians, Geordies and East Enders down plastic tumblers of Double Diamond at less than 50p a pint.

This little town, wedged along seven kilometres of the finest beach in Spain, is the most popular of Spanish resorts. Only two hours from Manchester or Gatwick, it pioneered the cheap British package in 1967, when the airport opened at nearby Alicante. But its compactness - which means that most visitors walk no more than a couple of hundred yards from hotel to beach - has been achieved by an exercise in vertical living that makes critics recoil with horror but now gets the nod of approval from architects like Oriol Bohigas, the builder of Barcelona.

Skyscrapers crowd the waterfront, presenting a dense and intimidating skyline more reminiscent of Hong Kong than a beach resort. Frightening though this wall of concrete is as you approach from the motorway, once in town and strolling the maple-lined boulevards, the miles of Teutonically clean promenade and pedicured beach, you just don't notice the tower blocks; you notice the wide spaces between them, and the ubiquitous wash of intense Mediterranean sun.

Benidorm is a predominantly working-class resort, and has little of the glamour or iridescent kitsch of fancier playgrounds like Marbella, further down the Costa del Sol. It has an endearing kitsch of its own: elaborate shell ornaments and carved wooden trinket boxes, to which it devotes entire supermarkets.

Brits, nearly a million of them, form more than half of Benidorm's foreign visitors every year, but Benidorm has become a favourite with Spaniards, too - particularly those from the cloudy, northern Basque country - a reflection of the modest prosperity enjoyed by Spanish workers and pensioners. This weekend marks the peak of Spain's annual holiday exodus. As millions of vehicles hurtle to the coast, there are scores of spectacular pile-ups. For many Benidorm habitues who don't fancy the daily dawn rush for the last fragment of beach, this is the time to retreat until the high-summer madness is over.

Few can match the Spaniards for the obsessive passion with which they embrace their month-long vacation. Vast floors of department stores in any Spanish town are given over to swimsuits, beach towels, parasols, plastic sandals, sophisticated picnic gear, sun-loungers and racks of suntan lotion. The brochures, of course, portray glossy twentysomethings, but those thronging the cafes and terraces are mostly over 60, or else families with young children. Snatches of conversation are in Dutch, German, Portuguese and English, interspersed with Spanish. You can spot the northern Europeans because they walk faster than the leisurely art of the paseo strictly requires.

Couples dance their lunch-times away in beachside tea-rooms to hot rhythms played on the Hammond organ or electric guitar. This is a generation of men that knows how to steer a partner around a tiny floor without crossing the line of dance, and of women who have cast off their traditional black, escaped their village or suburban hutch to parade, coiffed and resplendent in draped polyester and flowered bikinis. Having shed the pinched anxiety caused by work and poverty, they smile and laugh with the sunny enthusiasm of young girls. You don't find that in Marbella.

The weather is best in June or September, when the marcha, or scene, is hectic without being overpowering. I bumped into Doris and Sidney, a retired couple from Sunderland, in the hotel lift. They were heading for the salsa party in the aqua-blue lounge. I suggested that Benidorm was not so bad. "Not so bad? We think it's Benidorm the Brilliant!" retorted an outraged Doris. "Put that in your paper"

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

    £70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all