In Benidorm, between the castle and the island, the sea is as blue as the sky, and the sky as deep as the sea. Lapping at the city like an infinite mirror of sun and sky, the Mediterranean blends in with the horizon that acts as a backdrop to the island that rises up out of the blue. Few places have it all, but Benidorm is certainly one of them. Cosmopolitan and open, it is a city whose modern coastline and natural beauty provide the perfect backdrop to the flowering patios of the traditional whitewashed houses that climb the hillside up to the castle.
Benidorm, home to sea-faring adventurers and merchants, has always been a tantalising blend of past, present and future. The verses of Rafael Alberti’s poem Hombres de mar seem to be written for the town and its people, because beyond the worldly hustle and bustle, behind the busy beaches and the dazzling neon lights, lies a different Benidorm, a serene and unblemished world that stretches out to sea through its castle.
Benidorm has risen at a cultural crossroads, a melting pot in which history, thought and experience blend into an amalgam of striking contrasts. A stroll through the city reveals constant comings and goings, from the past to the present and even into to the future, on the shores of the Mediterranean, itself in constant movement. Through narrow streets, past charming houses with patios bedecked with geraniums and jasmine, whose heady scent vies with the delicious aroma of one home-cooked seafood dish after another, recalling a Benidorm of years gone by, a route leads up to the castle. Typical of this Benidorm is the steeply rising Calle Mayor main street, or the narrow, cobblestoned passage of Carrer dels Gats, both of which lead to the Church of Sant Jaume. However, these are not the only delightfully traditional streets – there are many others that are less well known, and less crowded, but equally as charming.
The view from the castle, the promontory that separates Levante beach from Mal Pas and Poniente beaches, is tremendous. This is where the Mediterranean has carved a rock into the shape of a turtle with amazing views of the nearby island. Benidorm’s unique setting means that the Serra Gelada, Sierra Cortina, the Puig Campana and the Tossal de la Cala, the mountains that surround the town, shield it from the wind and keep the temperature mild throughout the year. Indeed, most of Benidorm’s initial success was due to its location on the Mediterranean coast, on a beautiful south-facing bay divided into two by the rocky headland crowned by the ancient castle. Stroll round the castle as it eternally watches over the town, and follow the white balustrade of the fortress to understand its past importance, when Benidorm was only a tiny fishing village.
A good way of getting to know Benidorm’s old town, as well as to get your strength back, is to try a few “pinchos”, one of the town’s most popular traditions and one that consists of tasting the delicious miniature dishes that fill the bars and taverns on Rosario, Sant Miguel, Santo Domingo and Santa Faç streets.
The tradition started when the first Basque came to live in the town, soon to be followed by others. Seeing dishes loaded with these tiny gastronomic delights, tasting them and being part of the friendly, lively atmosphere shows you a different side of Benidorm. Going round the “pinchos” bars has been popular in the Region of Valencia for several years, but the custom is almost a religion in Benidorm, thanks to the Basque bars that have gradually taken up much of the old town. It’s something you really shouldn’t miss because, apart from being a lot of fun, it’s not too hard on your pocket, there’s a lot to choose from and the careful way they are presented on the bar makes these gastronomic delicacies a real treat for the eyes. When a barman sees someone trying to make up their mind they’ll say, “Try any one you fancy and don’t worry about what’s in it, you’re sure to get a pleasant surprise”.
After recharging your batteries, take a stroll through the steep narrow streets or head towards Poniente beach. This long sandy beach, as well as Levante beach, is the beating heart of the town during the day, with people singing, dancing, exercising and even reading. Every morning, people meet on the beach to sing in choirs, do exercises or visit the beach libraries to read the paper or the latest books.
The Parque de Elche park faces the maritime cultural centre with its exhibition of model ships, photos and marine fossils, marking the route to the port where the boat leaves for the island every hour. The boats moor at the end of the breakwater and go to and fro from ten in the morning to four in the afternoon. There are also boat trips to some of the most interesting spots on the Costa Blanca on the fleet of five semisubmersibles, catamarans and pleasure boats.
The sea is mirror-calm when the Acuario 2 casts off from the port and heads towards the island. To starboard you have the port as the boat leaves the yachts anchored near the breakwater behind. The calm start of the journey is only broken by the sound of the gentle waves slapping the bow and the cries of the seagulls. The almost two and a half mile trip to the island is smooth, thanks to the expert hands of the skipper. The island comes ever nearer and invites you to stroll along its paths, green and dark in winter and multicoloured in the spring.
The simple natural surroundings and the silence enhance the beauty of the island and turn it into an exceptional natural setting shrouded in mystery and legend. Like the legend that tells us that when Roland the Giant’s lover fell sick and died, he took out his sword Durandarte and furiously cleaved the Puig Campana, the mountain to the south of Benidorm, in half. He picked up his loved one with one hand and some earth with the other, burying her on Benidorm Island surrounded by the deep blue Mediterranean Sea. Leaving legendary heroes to one side, Benidorm Island, so mysterious from afar, is a lively, interesting place to visit. It’s a rocky outcrop of the Serra Gelada mountains, with a surface area of over six hectares, it’s 35 metres long and lies halfway between Levante and Poniente beaches. The waters around Benidorm Island are a protected zone where numerous species once in danger of extinction now reproduce in freedom. These include groupers, blacktip groupers, mottled groupers and black morays. The seabed around the island is the ideal place to enjoy nature and observe the creatures that inhabit the depths, with thousands of eyes watching the intruders, as if they were the very eyes of the sea itself. Acuario 2 gets ready to leave the island’s tiny port at dusk. It leaves the island behind and Benidorm gets closer and closer. The route that has taken you from the calm, quiet old town to the church of Sant Jaume, the castle and the ever-present island has come to an end. Night falls, leaving behind your visit to places steeped in history and rocky natural sites that are still unknown to many who visit Benidorm.