by Richard Jones

IT’S been dubbed the ‘Miami of Europe’, ‘Little Manhattan’ and also ‘Blackpool with the sun’. But whatever your opinion of Benidorm, it’s a place that everyone should visit at least once.

I spent a long weekend on the Costa Blanca a year ago, so why was I keen to return this summer?

I had three reasons – my friend John’s 50th birthday, a younger pal Tom’s stag do and my own ‘non-landmark’ passing of age. For me, like most people, the continuous pull of ‘Benners’ has nothing to do with unearthing an undiscovered or alternative side to the Spanish city. As with the popular ITV sitcom bearing its name, Benidorm the resort is all about familiarity – the same setting, same people and same jokes, year in, year out.

The British love affair with the Costa Blanca – the ‘white coast’ halfway down Spain’s eastern shoreline – began with ‘sun, sand and sangria’ holiday packages in the 1950s. Now Europe’s largest holiday resort, Benidorm’s success was, is, and always will be built around its two main attractions; long stretches of blindingly white sand and a microclimate guaranteeing 3,000 hours of sunshine a year.

During the 1950s, the city’s mayor, Pedro Zaragoza, decided he wanted hoteliers to build upwards so each visitor could get a beautiful sea view and everything was in close proximity. As a result, the infamous tower blocks sprang up, and Benidorm’s hotels now accommodate up to a half a million tourists at any time.

For most Brits, the energetic Levante area and its beach lined with over 5,000 sunbeds and parasols, is where to head.

But if you walk a couple of blocks back from the bustling seafront you will find the quietly reserved Hotel Servigroup Nereo – one of the best in the Levante area. The rooms are large, comfortable and modern, most with a balcony looking out towards Benidorm Island.

I stayed at Nereo on a full-board basis and found the food in the buffet restaurant to be mouthwateringly good. There’s a massive variety of hot and cold options, including themed dishes and vegetarian choices. The Nereo’s breakfast is second to none in the city. The choice of streaky or back bacon, along with types of sausages, scrambled, poached and fried eggs, and a variety of omelettes, are a Godsend after too many sangrias the night before.

The hotel houses a main lounge bar, and during the day its raised pool area has plenty of sunbeds and parasols, meaning there’s no need for territorial towels.

If you book a stay at a Servigroup hotel, there’s a free express transfer with Beniconnect.

Although ‘levante’ means ‘sunrise’ in Spanish, the area bursts into life when the night owls come out to play. The popular English Square or strip submerges visitors into another world. There are regular bars, disco bars, karaoke bars and themed bars, including Stardust, Chaplin’s and Sinatra’s and, where everyone seems to end up at the end of the night, Cafe Benidorm.

People, young and old, also throng to see the resort’s tribute acts, whether it’s Take That, Rod Stewart, Queen or U2, as well as comedy shows. We saw one of the stars of the Benidorm TV show, Crissy Rock, perform an x-rated stand-up routine at Morgan’s Tavern (Neptune’s in the series).

Whereas the Levante side is the ultimate ‘Brits abroad’ destination, Benidorm’s tourist board is keen to attract sophisticated and independent travellers. If you walk as far west as you can be bothered you’ll be rewarded with far fewer crowds at Poniente. There’s gold sand, impossibly blue sea, loads of space, a delicious breeze and a newly built promenade.

But the loveliest part of Benidorm is actually the cobbled streets of the Old Town. If you want to swap soggy fish and chips for tasty tapas and piquant paella, make a beeline for this classier and more Spanish part of the resort.

If you’ve never visited Benidorm, then your perception of the place is likely to be based on the ITV sitcom. High-rise hotels, mobility scooters, fry-ups, bingo halls, happy-hour pints – the Spanish package holiday stereotypes go on and on.

But after speaking to people who visit the place regularly, they’re proud of its brash and bawdy reputation. “It is what it is,” they say.

In 2018, it will be 65 years since the aforementioned Mayor Zaragoza revolutionised a former fishing village by getting General Franco to agree to tourists wearing bikinis.

Benidorm has never looked back, and thankfully there’s no sign of the place planning its retirement just yet.

* Richard Jones was a guest at Hotel Servigroup Nereo, offering rooms from £100 per night based on two adults sharing on a half-board basis.

Monarch, the scheduled leisure airline, operates year-round flights and holidays to Alicante from Leeds Bradford and Manchester, with fares, including taxes, from £41 one way (£69 return). Visit