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GOLDEN DAYS; Fed up with the credit crunch and the gloomy weather? KEN BENNETT joins the over 50s in their search for sun, fun and cheap deals. Fun in the sun for over fifties.

Byline: KEN BENNETT

AS bargains go, this has to be one of the best breakfasts anywhere on the Spanish Costas - or back in Britain, for that matter.

Two fresh eggs, two rashers of bacon, two plump tomatoes and two slices of toast: all for an eye-wateringly single Euro!

That's 80 pence. Yep, 80p.

It's 10 am and the temperature is warm enough for the gaggle of hungry grey heads to linger on a boulevard cafe overlooking Benidorm's pristine Levante Beach.

"I come here for a month every winter," Eileen, a seventy something former Blackpool landlady conedes.

"Wouldn't miss it for the world. It's just like a home from home."

Her companions nod agreement.

"We all meet up here every year," says Betty from South Wales. "Better than shivering at home, worrying about fuel bills."

Alan, a retired shipyard worker from the North East, adds: "If you play your cards right, you can bank your pension to pay the bills in the UK."

Despite the fact that the high value Euro has pushed up prices, life in Benidorm's slow lane is still where the smart holiday money is heading this winter.

Locally, the over-50s are known affectionately as 'The Orange Express'.

That's because from November until April oranges in the Alicante province on the Costa Blanca start to swell and droves of money conscious Brits - and Spanish, too - migrate here.

Prices for a 28-day full board holiday are from less than pounds 250 a week in a comfortable downtown hotel, leaving plenty of room in the wallet to ignore the hotel's substantial buffet and spend a euro on a belt-stretching English-style breakfast at the Beach Rock Cafe.

Chris Hackney, General Manager for travel TUI UK, tells me: "We have a very loyal customer base to Benidorm with many guests returning to the same hotel year. Some go back to the hotel three or four times a year.

"At one hotel alone, a number of guests have returned on more than 50 occasions."

He points to the resort's two blue dag beaches - Levante and Poniente - as a magnet, the great year-round climate, fabulous entertainment and a huge selection of bars and restaurants.

"Benidorm is arguably the most affordable destination in Spain," he adds. "It is not uncommon to be able to end bars offering a large beer for one Euro and good, cheap eats."

Alexander 'Fingers' Neal, a gravel-voiced pianist who spends the winter entertaining the early morning diners, agrees.

To emphasise the point, he shows off his neat, new deece, open-necked check shirt, jeans and new trainers.

"All this cost me less than pounds 40," he smiles.

"I can afford to throw it all away at the end of the Winter season."

Thirty years ago, Benidorm truly was the resort that the Brits knocked around a bit.

However, much like the maturing tourists themselves, the resort has grown up and long buried its wild association with lager louts. Sure, there are hotels - acres of them, pushing towards the Mediterranean like a shimmering steel and concrete army.

And yes, there are still lines of market stalls on the sunny avenidas, over dowing with cheap, sometimes tacky, dresses, shoes, coats and hats.

But Benidorm, boasting more beds than the whole of Portugal, is unique: mixing the very cheap with the truly glitzy rolling out along two beautiful sandy beaches.

And if sweet soul music is your bag, Alexander, a 56 year-old Scot, is on hand to play. If you prefer good, old-fashioned ball-room dancing (and thousands do) there are legions of welcoming hotels and bars ready to waft you in with affable smiles.

Mature hard rock fans - I saw score - play their air guitars to their heart content at specially themed bars on the boulevards.

And I promise you'll even see shock of grey heads in black leathers riding expensive chrome-decked motorcycle or admiring the truly awesome cars lolling along the seafront.

Take a gentle stroll down scrupulously clean tiled pavements to an impressive headland rising above the Playa de Malpas, separating the two beaches. Then relax and absorb the resort's glorious sweeping views under waving palms and listen to a real, live harpist playing tunes from Bach to The Beatles.

And make sure you take time out for a canter round the magnetic old town: all narrow, shaded streets with tall, shuttered windows. You'll find cool tapas bars, dinky delis, upmarket fashion houses and a cosy British pub selling home-cooked nosh.

A mid-morning or mid-afternoon coffee, a large brandy and slice of Ruffy cake costs around pounds 3.50 at downtown bars with a bewildering choice of lunch or dinner venues offering mixed seafood or home-made steak pie with mash for just over a fiver a head.

But if you really want celebrate in style, I'd recommend a visit to the fantastic Benidorm Palace and its stunningly costumed dance show. Here, a candlelit dinner, show and dancing costs from just pounds 27 a head.

Now that's what I call a bargain.

travel file

Ken Bennett visited Benidorm as a guest of Thomson who are offering 28 nights full board accommodation at the 4T Benidorm Plaza in Costa Blanca for pounds 925 per person based on a full board basis.

Departing November 14 from London Gatwick, the price includes return flights, accommodation, fuel supplements and resort transfers. To book visit Thomson.co.uk or call 08712 315596.

Thomson also have packages from Birmingham, East Midlands and other regional airports, although plements may apply.

For information on the Benidorm Palace, which opens Tuesday Thursday, Friday and Saturday during the winter, check out www.info@.benidormpalace.es
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Sep 14, 2008
Words:932
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