Rediscovering Benidorm

When you get to Benidorm, the aforementioned clichés are alive and well, keeping this sun-drenched Costa Blanca resort ticking along beneath its soaring skyline. But there is more to the city than the Benidorm of British legend. After all, this place is a favourite weekend escape for Madrid residents seeking the beach and sunshine – and, let’s be honest, madrileños aren’t here to tuck into fish and chips or play for a full house. They’re drawn by Benidorm’s charming old town, wide, sandy beaches, fine cuisine and stunning scenery that are all too often overlooked outside Spain.

For almost any visitor, Benidorm’s standout attraction is its two vast city beaches, Levante and Poniente. Levante is always busy, but if you go to Benidorm early or late in season (when the weather is still a knockout) and head as far west as you can be bothered along Poniente, you’ll be rewarded with far fewer crowds. The view is all gold sand and impossibly blue sea with Benidorm Island a shadowy triangle on the horizon; there’s a relaxed vibe, bags of space, and a delicious breeze. The seafront is lined with simple restaurants where you can while lunchtime away over tasty Spanish fare – try Ulia (facebook.com/Restaurante-Ulia) for a sizzling paella in which chicken, chickpeas, cauliflower, pepper and fat wedges of lime all vie for attention.

Old town stroll

The loveliest part of Benidorm is its old town, occupying an enviable spot on a hill between the two beaches. It’s particularly pleasant in the evening – take in the sunset from the Mirador where the castle once stood, while street vendors and musicians get ready for another night’s activity in the squares nearby. The old town’s narrow streets and charming buildings make for a pleasant meander, the flagship sight being the white walls and blue domes of the 18th-century Iglesia de San Jaime.

If you don’t want to stay in a resort or a high-rise hotel, this is the best place in Benidorm to sleep. Treat yourself to a room at five-star boutique hotel Villa Venecia (hotelvillavenecia.com) if you’re feeling flush; otherwise, try one of several welcoming little hotels like Hostal Irati (booking.com/hostal-irati), or investigate the range of decent Airbnb options.

As you’d expect, the old town is also home to some of Benidorm’s best eating and drinking. Calle Santo Domingo and the area around is packed with first-rate tapas joints like La Cava Aragonesa, making for a perfect gastronomic bar crawl. If your budget didn’t stretch to staying at Villa Venecia, then consider dinner there instead: the food’s as good as you’d imagine, with a menu that might include winners like turbot with Romesco sauce or Iberian pork cheek with pumpkin cream.

Natural attractions

Love or loathe Benidorm’s lofty architecture, few could disagree that the city is surrounded by gorgeous scenery on all sides. Benidorm is a compact city that was designed to sprawl upwards rather than outwards, making it quick and easy to escape the high-rises and immerse yourself in the natural beauty that characterises this part of Spain. Walk up to the Sierra Helada Natural Park to the east of the city – the rewards are fabulous views, plus the chance to nip down to the lovely, secluded coves at Cala Almadrada and Cala Tio Ximo for a peaceful dip. A fun alternative is to rent an electric bike from cute little shop Tao Bike (taobike.es) near Playa de Levante and let your wheels do the work for you. Even further up (though still walkable), the Cross of Benidorm stands guard over the city and provides hypnotic views over coast, mountains and skyline. At sunset in particular the vista feels more like Rio than Benidorm.

To the north of the city unfolds the rugged scenery of the Sierra Cortina mountains, and the Spanish money-shot image of towns like Polop, perched dramatically on hilltops. Get bikes or a car and explore at your leisure, or make the journey even more thrilling on a jeep safari with a local operator like Marco Polo Expediciones (marcopolo-exp.es). They’ll drive you right up to the Leon Dormido mountain (so called because it’s said to resemble a sleeping lion) that once captivated Gabriel Miró. If you’re lucky, you might get the view to yourself, affording a sense of solitude just a few kilometres from the Benidorm buzz.

Curacao should be your next Caribbean

Curaçao harbors one of the most multifaceted cultures in the Caribbean, thanks to its long, varied history and its close proximity to South America. Originally settled by the Arawaks nearly 6,000 years ago, the island came under Spanish rule in the early 16th century, but was abandoned due to its perceived lack of riches. The Dutch West India Company picked up where the Spanish left off, and Curaçao became a major hub for the slave trade.

In the mid-1600s, large numbers of Jewish refugees settled in Curaçao to escape the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. The island was later shuffled back and forth between the Dutch and the British Empire before the Netherlands finally claimed ownership in 1815. Today, Curaçao exists as an independent state, but citizens carry Dutch passports.

It’s not uncommon to hear Curaçaoans ping pong between languages, as most people speak multiple: Dutch, Spanish, Papiamentu, the local creole, and English. These diverse cultural influences also manifest in the country’s music – radios blast bachata, reggaetón, American pop, tumba and ritmo kombina, the island’s own genre of tunes – as well as in its food scene. Iguana stew with a side of bitterballen, anyone?

Historic downtown Willemstad

First established in 1634 with the construction of Fort Amsterdam, Willemstad is the feather in Curaçao’s historical cap. Its downtown, an Unesco World Heritage site filled with candy-colored Dutch colonial buildings, simultaneously exudes European and tropical vibes, and is a port favorite for cruise goers. Just as fascinating as the well-preserved buildings are the not-so-preserved ones, perfect in their crumbling grandeur.

While the town’s Handelskade (Merchant’s Wharf) is an iconic spot to hang out, take the time to wander the winding streets of the city, where you’ll find inviting bars, authentic dining spots such as Plaza Bieu, and the technicolor floating market, where fruit vendors from Venezuela dock to sell their wares. Disclaimer: the market itself doesn’t actually float, but the sellers’ boats bob behind their brightly hued stalls full of mangoes, plantains and papayas.

Willemstad’s floating market, located off of St Anna Bay © Bailey Johnson / Lonely Planet

Downtown Willemstad is also home to Museum Kura Hulanda; housed in 19th century slave quarters, the museum’s exhibits extensively cover the history of slavery in the Caribbean, a story in which Curaçao played a central role.

Interesting fact: Curaçao’s colorful buildings weren’t always that way. In 1918, Governor Albert Kickert complained of constant headaches that he attributed to the then-whitewashed city. He ordered all the buildings to be repainted in different colors to combat the reflective nature of the white walls and end his suffering. It turns out, though, that Gov. Kickert actually owned a paint company that profited immensely off the new law, thus prompting Curaçao to prohibit their politicians from having private economic interests.

The island’s artsy side

When you think of street art, Curaçao is probably not on your radar, but that’s where you would be mistaken. Colorful murals sprawl across Willemstad’s buildings, particularly in the Otrobanda and Pietermaai neighborhoods, the latter of which is the city’s coolest new avenue for food and night life. Designs range from geometric shapes to realistic portraits to political commentary.

Curaçao’s art scene also thrives in a number of museums and galleries. Learn about the Chichi figurine at Serena’s Art Factory (chichi-curacao.com) or pick up a colorful print at Nena Sanchez’s downtown gallery (nenasanchez.com). Bonus: Nena has painted murals of her famous blue women across the city – see if you can spot them. To see Willemstad’s largest collection of works by Curaçaoan artists, head over to Gallery Alma Blou (galleryalmablou.com).

This mural in Otrobanda is a collaboration by local artistsGarrick MarchenaandValerie Parisius© Bailey Johnson / Lonely Planet

Curaçao’s 35 beaches

While it only takes about an hour and forty-five minutes to drive Curaçao from tip to tip, it’s home to over 35 beaches, each with their own individual personalities. Playa Knip, the island’s most famous beach, offers up crystal-clear waters and good amenities, while Playa Lagun is a more intimate and quirky spot, with weathered rowboats strewn across its golden sand. If you’re looking for a little more space to move around, head over to Porto Mari, a wide expanse of beach with breathtaking waters – sit on the pier for a jealousy-inducing photo opp, or grab a cold Amstel Bright at the conveniently located beach bar. Porto Mari is also a great stop for divers looks to explore the undersea treasures of Curaçao’s coast.

Want a beach experience with a dose of of luxury? Head down to the man-made coast at Jan Thiel Bay and Papagayo Beach (papagayo.com), or, if you have a little cash to burn, buy yourself a day pass to Baoase Luxury Resort – $50 will snag you a towel, cabana, snorkeling gear, kayaks, snacks and floaties, as well as access to one of the most beautiful resort coves on the island (baoase.com).

The pier at Playa Porto Mari © Oliver Hoffman / Getty Images

Shete Boka and Christoffel National Parks

Looking for something to get the heart pumping? The island’s largest national park, Christoffelpark, is a perfect place to burn off some energy – hike its namesake mountain and get a taste of the Curaçaoan outdoors. Eight trails varying in difficulty are available for exploration, and all can be completed without a guide. Should you want a little guidance, the park office can book a number of different informational tours – take a pickup safari, or catch a bird watching excursion or history tour.

To really get a sense of nature’s power, make the drive up to the northernmost point of the island to visit Shete Boka National Park. It’s one of those scenes that you hear before you see – as you walk the path through the sparse volcanic landscape, a roar bounces off the rocks from a source eclipsed by the grey horizon. Walk a bit further and the land gives way to a spectacular coastline where massive azure waves pummel the cliffs with unsettling force.

Aperitif bars in Marseille

When famed architect Le Corbusier dotted the isometrics and crossed the tees on his brutalist masterpiece La Cité Radieuse in 1952, little could he imagine that it would become a Unesco World Heritage Site. Three floors up, suave restaurant Le Ventre de l’Architect (hotellecorbusier.com) is a treat for architecture and interior buffs alike, mixing the elegance of the 1950s with tables designed by Charlotte Perriand. Naturally, a terrace aperitif will lead into a main meal with views across the Mediterranean for company.

Marvel at the panoramic views from the R2 Rooftop

Perched above Marseille’s new shopping mecca Les Terrasses du Port, the R2 Rooftop (airdemarseille.com) offers startling panoramas and a diverse DJ line-up in a single, unique outdoor event space. Open from Wednesday to Sunday, its six shipping containers dole out international street food and feisty cocktails alongside countless Mediterranean jaw-falling opportunities.

Travel back in time at La Caravelle

Located on the first floor of the Hotel Bellevue on Quai du Port, the legendary La Caravelle brims with vintage nautical decor and cosy, lacquered wood seating. If you can beat the crowds, snag one of the coveted tables on the small terrace which has views across Vieux Port. If the organic wine doesn’t take your fancy, get the talented barman to shake you up something special. Small nibbles are free and there’s live jazz from time to time.

Enjoy sweeping views from Restaurant Rowing Club

Hidden at the end of boulevard Charles Livon, the 5th floor of Restaurant Rowing Club (rowing-clubrestaurant.com) serves up Mediterranean and Provençal tapas alongside some great local wines. Once you see the stellar views of the MuCEM museum, the curves of the 17th-century Fort St-Jean and the glimmering sailing boats in the Vieux Port, you’ll be glad you stuck your oar in here. Reservations recommended.

20,000 leagues from the city centre

Located in Les Goudes, known for its quaint fishermen’s cabanons (cabins) and lunar-like landscape, the Jules Verne-inspired pub 20,000 Lieues (20000lieues.fr) is like nothing else you’ll seen in Marseille. The decor is sports-bar-meets-diving kitsch (complete with vintage diving suit), but it’s the spectacular terrace view of the wide open sea at sunset that makes the trek to the city’s southern tip worth it.

Squeeze in at Café de L’Abbaye

Don’t worry if you can’t get a seat on the triangular-shaped terrace at petite Café de L’Abbaye (facebook.com/CafédeL’Abbaye), simply follow the lead of the locals and place your drink on the nearby wall, where the view of Fort Saint-Nicolas is even better. To complete the scene, order a classic aperitif drink pastis (an anise-flavoured spirit mixed with water and ice) and a bag of fried panisse (chickpea chips) – it doesn’t get more Marseillais than that.

Sunset beers at CafŽe de l’Abbaye in Marseille, France © Katie Carayol / Lonely Planet

Wine and dine Corsican-style at Viaghji di Fonfon

Nestled in the quaint port of Vallon des Auffes, Viaghji di Fonfon (viaghjidifonfon.com) is the place to come if you want to gaze out at fishing boats and arched stone bridges. As this tiny enclave radiates at dusk, it’s all picture postcard stuff, enhanced further by simple Corsican, Sardinian and Provençal dishes. Wash the food down with a crisp white wine as the stars begin to twinkle above the sea.

Make a splash at Bistrot Plage

For sublime views of the Mediterranean without the need for inflatable armbands, peel south from the city centre along Corniche J.F. Kennedy until you reach Bistrot Plage (bistrot-plage.fr), a terraced restaurant which clings gallantly to the coastal wall. For nibbles, the tapas and pizza are the mainstays, but you’re really here to soak in the warm glow of a sunset aperitif.

Soak up the city’s history from Bistrot L’Horloge

Not all great views require a body of water. Case in point: lively Bistrot Horloge, a modern industrial bar in historic Cours d’Estienne d’Orves. Mere steps away from the Vieux Port, the scent of the sea’s salt still catches the air from the tables outside as lingering customers take in the pastel-shades of the historic local architecture. The bar even serves the best mojito in town, making this an unexpected delight in an otherwise touristy enclave.