Tours Travel

A culture of Benidorm

Mention Benidorm and with it, by implication, the concepts of package tours, hotel buffets, Euro-a-pint British bars, the Working Men’s Club of the north of England become imitative of something neither themselves nor their audience have ever been. , lobsters posing as steakhouses. bathers and fried English breakfasts with the bacon already doused in ketchup, and I’d bet very few punters would automatically associate the phrase ‘cultural experience’. More likely, perhaps, is the image of too-reveler revelers pouring out of the scruffy, scruffy, industrial-sized nightclubs along the strip at nine in the morning, sitting hesitantly by the side of the road amid the split, cracked and squashed plastic waste that these no doubt environmentally conscious people seem to generate by pitch.

Benidorm is certainly not Spain. Like many other popular centers of mass tourism around the world, it has an identity that is quite different from its host country or hinterland. Benidorm is not Spain in the same way, perhaps, that Kuta is not Bali, nor Nice nor France, nor Acapulco Mexico. On the same scale, Blackpool is Great Britain! In effect, these places are melting pots of imported identity, often with a strong flavor from the larger group of visitors. In the case of Benidorm, of course, it is the British. A fortnight in Benidorm can offer as much exposure to Spanish culture as the experience of the September lights in Blackpool informed the visitor to the Lancashire cotton industry. (The past tense is very relevant here.) Similarly, Benidorm juxtaposed with the word “culture” could vie for a definition of “oxymoron,” alongside German for humor, Ireland for culinary, and the British for honesty. . (I may borrow here and there from our Men’s Club humor tradition, but perhaps employing a constantly different skin color!)

Benidorm is known for its seven kilometers of clean and perfectly cared for beaches, its tourism throughout the year, its millions of visitors. It has good places to eat in and around its old town. It has nightlife, theme parks and five-star golf resorts. It is surrounded by mountains, it has a nature reserve island. And in a European sense, the area as a whole is truly cosmopolitan and increasingly sophisticated.

So when my wife and I came here about five years ago to claim a base in November as we examined the possibility of a life-change from the pressures of daily work, our primary goal was to investigate whether, near this tourist megalith, there could be being space for a small rental business, aimed at those who crave proximity to the wicked den while still wanting to maintain a suburban distance from the rough bikes, bachelor and bachelorette parties, beachfront Harley Davidson pubs, plastic glass discos and even line dancing. Well, we found our place and we launched. What we had not expected was “the culture”.

In that first month, as tourists with late-booking packages, we were making our first visit to mainland Spain in 24 years and were pleased to encounter an odd festivity or two. Having lived here for a few years now we know of course that they are actually quite hard to avoid! The Benidorm Municipal Band -symphonic bands are a Valencian tradition, we already know- offered a free concert at the salubre Benidorm Palace, a place whose regular show imitates the Folies Bergeres. The local choral society made Tannhauser’s Venusburg music along with original compositions for the band and some populist proposals. We searched and found a subset of the band doing a jazz and Latin evening in the Banco CAM auditorium where, another night, there was a chamber music recital. Right down the street from the Alfaz del Pi Cultural Center there was an American pianist who had studied in Barcelona playing Montsalvatge.

Similarly, we find a soprano performing opera arias in Calpe.

So we bought the place and owned a house with two apartments, a beautiful Mediterranean garden, proximity to the tourist center, but still a great part of its own city, a place with great local services. Our objective was limited, pragmatic and clear. After some fifty-six years of uninterrupted professional employment with each other, we decided that a change was potentially better than a break. We had already lived and worked in five countries and had extensive experience in several others, but we had also come to the conclusion that pounds of meat weigh the same all over the world. Although we had earned a few of these over the years, ordering and extracting them occasionally risked them being ripped from critical areas. Over the years the pay had been good, the pressure significant, and the rewards generally well worth it. But times change, lives change, priorities change, and people turn fifty.

It was time to do something different, to exchange income for quality. We bought a house in La Nucia, just five kilometers from the beaches of Benidorm, the city’s high-rise hotels visible from our front balcony. Our goal was to establish our own business niche by renting out the two-bedroom garden apartment while living a modest, if sometimes indulgent, life on the first floor. We’ve been doing this for over four years now, we have an established clientele, and we’ve basically achieved what we wanted to achieve. We will not get rich from trade. That was never our goal. From the beginning, we wanted to offer simple, clean and affordable accommodation at a reasonable price, modeling our launch on the kind of place that middle-class backpackers like us would find satisfying and a bit surprising for the price. And it has worked well. What we had not expected was the “culture”.

For some sixteen of our thirty plus years after graduation we had lived in London. We were vultures of the cultural type whenever the energy levels caught up with him. We were friends with the English National Opera during their ‘powerhouse’ years. I was a teacher and during school holidays I used to walk from Balham to central London for lunchtime concerts, St James’s in Piccadilly being my favorite place. Then we moved to Brunei and then to the United Arab Emirates. In Brunei we were members of the Music Society and helped organize concerts. In Abu Dhabi, cultural events were largely within the purview of diplomacy and the private sector, and there was and continues to be a vibrant cultural life in the city, which is, after all, the nation’s capital. Thus we were able to attend good quality cultural events, mainly music, theater and visual arts, in both places. And then we came to Spain.

Our initial visit had suggested that there was more going on in this sphere than a glance at package tour brochures might suggest. But if I were to say that in the last eight months we’ve been to four operas, four full orchestra concerts, ten chamber music recitals, five local festivals, an international film festival, countless art shows, and God knows what else, and more. Yes I would qualify it by saying that at no time did we have to travel more than ten kilometers from home, would you associate this with Benidorm and the Costa Blanca? And, if you’re a bit surprised by what I just said, you’ll probably be even more surprised to learn that in addition to this, Benidorm itself is building a new cultural center, that ten kilometers down the road is the new Villajoyosa Cultural Center. to open and that this year La Nucia, our hometown, inaugurated itself a 600-seat concert hall and a 3,000-seat outdoor auditorium.

Maybe I need to restate how local my claim is. About thirty kilometers down the road from Benidorm is Alicante, a regional center with a 19th century theater presenting a full program of ballet, theater and opera. About a hundred miles to the north is Valencia, where the programming of the spectacular new Reina SofĂ­a Opera House is coordinated with that of the Met in New York and Covent Garden in London. What I have described excludes those places and only includes what can be found ten kilometers from where we live, ten kilometers from Benidorm, a cultural paradise.

You will have guessed that we are very fond of music, my wife and I. But we are also fans of theater, dance, painting and the arts in general. We don’t usually go to pop music festivals, but if we did, we have those venues too.

Why not take a look at the listings for La Nucia, Altea, Benidorm, Alfaz del Pi, Villajoyosa and Finestrat? Pick your time of year and you’ll catch a great musical event every night of your stay and I guarantee the standard performance will be as good as anywhere else. And if you can also see Joachim Palomares and his ensemble playing his tango arrangements by Piazzolla, or the April opera week in Altea or the Les Nits festival in La Nucia, you’re in for a real treat. And when Benidorm’s new cultural center is open, imagine glossy tour package brochures offering deals including stall seats for Puccini or a performance of Steve Reich’s Drumming! Followed, of course, by a euro pint of beer, bacon and eggs and a northern comic, perhaps.

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