A ten-minute car journey from the Costa Blanca resort is chocolate heaven: the Valor chocolate factory! Valor, arguably Spain’s leading producer of chocolate, was established in 1881 by Mr. Valeriano Lopez Lloret and today Valor’s chocolate factory has a chocolate museum attached, in addition to viewing galleries from which one watches, salivating, as the choccies are produced in the factory, plus a sampling area and shop. As chocolate devotees, Andrew and I were keen to visit. On Mondays to Saturdays there is a free guided tour in English at 11.00am so we took advantage of this.
The car’s air filters were no match for the pungent, delectable aroma of chocolate that filled the air even before we had decanted from the car. Greedily we breathed in deeply, absorbing and savouring the rich, luxurious fragrance of molten chocolate.
We were shown a short film in English about the history of the company, which celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2006, in a ramped projection room, and I watched with amusement as various folk in the film had ‘When Harry Met Sally’ moments as they bit into this brown gold. Our guide then led us to the museum where there was a display of old chocolate making equipment. The downstairs of this building is accessible but the upstairs section is not accessible to people using wheelchairs. However, the guide made every effort to ensure that I was fully included in the tour despite this. This amusingly backfired slightly when she invited me to smell a jar of crushed cocoa pod shells and accidentally tipped these into my lap as she tilted them towards my eager nostrils! I then happily had my own personal supply of cocoa pod aromas for the rest of visit!
As the tour moved on to the factory itself, I had my own personal transportation in a lift up to the viewing galleries. Photographs are not permitted but in the interests of sharing as fully as possible my experiences with you, dear reader, I quickly – and naughtily – took some snaps to show you here. Aside from viewing the happenings on the factory floor, there were enormous displays of carved chocolate, a dress made entirely out of chocolate sweet wrappers, and pictures of the various packaging from yesteryear etc. Then it was time for my own ‘When Harry Met Sally’ moment as I took delight in sampling the chocolate … well, I confess, I had multiple ‘When Harry Met Sally’ moments as the staff had foolishly left huge plates of chocolate (both bars and individual chocolates) for folk to consume freely. Testing to the max, again, I did not disappoint you! We then made our purchases, although there is no obligation to do so. Check out their website for their products and prices: www.valor.es
Looking Down on Benidorm
Pep Fornes, our chauffeur and guide for the day, took us up to a hill overlooking Benidorm and to a point from which many postcard views of Benidorm have been taken. Aside from a good photo opportunity, this gave us an overview of the geography of the area. Having got our bearings regarding the nearly 5km, or 3 miles, of two arc-ing beaches, (Levante in the north and Poniente in the south, with the promontory in-between known as the Balcon del Mediterraneo, which sometimes has a single jet fountain spurting forth from it, and the triangular-shaped Illa de Benidorm which is a nature reserve for marine life and sea birds) we vowed to visit this town for the first time, using public transport to test out how accessible this was for someone with a disability to visit.
However, lunch was calling us and we headed off to the pretty town of Altea. This old fishing village has some delightful cobbled streets full of artists and craft shops, topped by a church at the summit of the hill in the appropriately named Plaça de l’Esglesia. It was here that we ate lunch in the D’els Artistes Restaurante, the food from which I can seriously recommend.
Brash, Brazen Benidorm
Although we had never visited Benidorm before, we had some preconceived notions about the place and we wanted to ascertain if there was any validity to these. Accordingly, the next day we decided to test out public transport accessibility with Benidorm as our destination.
The Number 2 bus stop is not very far from the resort. You will need to follow the ‘maroon’ or ‘burgundy’ line on the timetable. The journey takes 24 minutes and you will need to get off at the corner of Avenida del Mediterraneo by the Swarovski shop if you wish to ‘centre’ yourself in the town. The bus was fully wheelchair accessible: just use the door towards the middle of the bus. Apparently most of the buses in service are accessible for people using wheelchairs.
There is a wide promenade along the seafront and the beaches were pristine, with lovely, clean sand, plus these are accessible with boardwalks. If one is self-conscious, there is no need to be so here as mobility scooters are de rigueur! I lost count of the number of mobility scooters I saw as many people were using them. The town is very accessible with ramps, lowered kerbs, and suchlike. We visited the tourist office and this is completely accessible as well.
As far as our preconceived notions were concerned? Well, the guidebooks tend to refer to Benidorm as being reminiscent of Manhattan. I would dispute this as ‘Manhattan’ conjures up a more stylish image in the mind’s eye than the haphazard reality in Benidorm of apartment blocks, cheap hotels, (one was actually called the ‘Flash Hotel’), nightclubs, ‘English’ pubs, and tacky souvenir shops and stalls. If drinking English beer in an ‘English’ pub, whilst consuming burgers and chips, is your idea of a pleasant way to spend your holiday abroad then you will be spoilt for choice here for such establishments. Clearly this doesn’t push our buttons but it does seem to be a popular place with many other people. Check out the website en.visitbenidorm.es
In contrast to brash Benidorm, we spent some time the following day exploring the nearest beach to the resort, Playa de Finestrat, and its environs. This is a sandy cove-like beach which holds a blue flag and is pristine, the sand being raked and flattened each day. It only takes 3 minutes to stroll, or roll, down the hill to it. There is a car park with plenty of parking reserved for people with disabilities, and the beach itself is accessible. Furthermore, the resort has a beach wheelchair that can be borrowed. Not being a fan of crowds now, we loved the fact that we largely had the beach to ourselves. There were two men in waterproofs metal detecting in the sea, a fisherman, plus two hardy swimmers and some people sitting on the concrete benches that surround it, and us. I dipped my toes in the sea and pronounced it too chilly (although the temperature was a warm 24 degrees on the day) but Andrew, brave soul that he is, enjoyed a brief, invigorating swim.
We also sampled the service at Casa Modesto, the cafe / restaurant on the beach which opens daily at 11.00am with two delicious cappuccinos and a slice of Tiramisu!
There are several other cafes surrounding the beach plus assorted stores from which I believe you can purchase many of the things that you may wish (including postcards), plus a Tabac shop from which to purchase stamps. There is a postbox there with a 1.00pm collection most days. Accessibility is good with wide pavements and lowered kerbs. In addition, if you get caught short there is a public loo which is wheelchair accessible and which can be used for 5 minutes for free.