Escape of the Week: Benidorm by night

It was a year ago, nearly to the day, I was on #blogtripf1 in the Land of Valencia.

The five-day trip was an amazing experience, allowing me to experience yet another beautiful province in Spain, and meet some of the most amazing travel bloggers ever.

Our second night together, we headed to the super British resort town, Benidorm, for a lovely dinner together in the older part of the city.

Before dinner, our group spent some time taking in the views from the outdoor terrace of the large full moon casting light onto the Mediterranean and the city below.

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The best food. Ever.

I have never been a foodie. I am too picky of an eater to really go all out and sample delicacies the world over. If you asked me a year ago where the best restaurant I have ever eaten was, I would tell you simply — in Las Vegas. Because, well, let’s be real, Las Vegas has some of the best food around. Even for picky eaters like myself.

But, after a whirlwind five days on BlogtripF1, I am now convinced the absolute best food is in Spain. Paella. Fresh grilled fish. Iberian Ham. I even wrote about it for Madator Network.

Stef (@adventuregirl) and I had extended our time in the Land of Valencia. She had a change of plans, and I had no plans, so we decided to hang out in the region for a few extra days after the F1 Race. For two more days, we sampled deliciousness, shopped and sunned ourselves on the blue Mediterranean. We went from Valencia back down to Alicante to experience more of the best of Spain.

On our last night, the night Spain played Portugal in the World Cup match, we had been told dinner was arranged at our hotel, the uber-gorgeous and swank five-star Hospes Amerigo’s restaurant, Monastrell.

We dressed for dinner and met in the lobby, where we were greeted by a petite and friendly brunette. We had no idea who she was. She quickly talked about going to watch the game and then joining us for dinner.

It wasn’t until a few minutes into our conversation when we were led inside the restaurant did we put two and two together.

Lining one of the walls were photos, and there, standing in front of a kitchen, was the woman we had been chatting with.

Chef Maria Jose San Ramon. THE Chef Maria Jose San Ramon. Known as the “Saffron Queen,” she had recently returned from a gig at the White House where she had taught the chef how to prepare the ultimate paellea.

And, now there we were, standing with her in her restaurant, engaged in friendly banter and making plans to dine with her following the game (GO SPAIN!).

Stef and I headed to one of the chef’s other establishments for some tapas and tinto de verano, La Taberna Del Gourmet, a gorgeous restaurant a quick walk from Monastrell.

After watching the game, we met Chef Maria Jose back at Monastrell where we cheers-ed Espana and then settled in to our meal.

And what a meal it was.

Oysters. Pulpo. Lobster paella. Sweet, decadent desserts. Wine. Every single moment was stacked with the most amazing flavors, the most interesting taste combinations.

Pure foodie heaven.

Each time a dish was served, our eyes would grow big, light up.

I tried to savor every single bite, but when food is that good, it is hard to prolong such amazingness. Within a few hours, our meal was over. Bellies blissfully full.

My backpacker diet was absolutely ruined, trashed, spoiled rotten. It hurt me the following day to return to bread and cheap street vendors.

It also hurt to say goodbye to Stef. Like saying goodbye to the rest of the BlogTripF1 group, it was hard to utter the “see you soon” I dreaded. Her and I had spent so much time together, talking, laughing, drinking, EATING. We were friends before the trip, but being together for nearly the week we spent was so fulfilling.

But, she had a plane to catch back to America, and I had a train to catch to Barcelona. Yup. Another reunion. This time with Tina from my Monfrague week in April.

Disclosure: Land of Valencia covered all lodging, meals and activities as a part of the #blogtripf1 program.

Blog Reviews Spain Travel

F1 101: Your cheat sheet

Formula One Grand Prix. If you asked me my thoughts on it before I left for Europe, I would have looked at your  blankly and mumbled something about it being loud and like NASCAR.

It took another continent and tickets to the Formula One Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain (thank you Land of Valencia) to catch on and feel the craze that sweeps over people when the engines whirr.

My first experience with F1 was on a road trip from Madrid to Merida. It is about a four-hour drive and we needed to stop for lunch. However, the lunch stop HAD to be timed to coincide with the start of the race in Monaco.

For 90 minutes, my two Spanish friends and I sat at a rest stop restaurant, glued to the television watching the 70 or so laps the cars made through the winding streets of the course.  My friends tried to explain it to me, but really, all I gathered from the chat was “Alonso needs to win.”

He didn’t.

So, when I was given my lanyard to hit the race on 27 June, I immediately felt a tinge of unworthiness. I mean, my friends had stopped at a road-side restaurant to watch the race, and now here I was, an American with no real knowledge of F1, and was sitting about nine rows from the action across from the pit lane.

(See, I learned a new term, “pit lane.”)

I tried to ask questions during the race, but it is nearly impossible over the loud high-pitched hum of the engines and the ears being plugged. Most of the time, I saw mouths moving in explanation, but heard nothing.
I can tell you this — I loved it. I didn’t know what was going on, but the energy … the fans all clad in red and Ferrari logos … the experience was amazing.

BUT, these are the things I wish I would have known before being a fan in the stands for F1.

This, my friends, is your F1 101 in brief (NOTE: this in no way should serve as anyone’s F1 Bible … it’s more of a twisted interpretation of what I have gathered. Apologies to any F1 fans if I have butchered this beyond recognition):

What is it?

Formula One (AKA F1) is a series of Grand Prix races held throughout Europe and the world, on “circuits” (local roads and roads built for the race) culminating in two World Championship races — one for the drivers and one for the constructors.

What kind of cars are raced?

F1 cars are single-seat cars with open cockpits racing at ridiculously fast speeds — upwards of 220 miles per hour — and engines that top out at 18,000 rpm. The cars are technological wonders that are designed based on aerodynamics, suspension and tires.

Who races?

Drivers with a death wish. I kid. These drivers have mad skills, most of them have been racing since their early youth with visions of crossing the finish line at championship.

Typically, drivers begin in kart races, then move up through other single seater series in Europe.

Each year, drivers are contracted for a team. Teams have typically more than one driver (to serve as a backup).

Where are the circuits?

Races held each year in Valencia, Spain; Monaco; Singapore; and Melbourne are on specially designed circuits. Other races take place in Europe, Asia, Canada and South America.

How does a car qualify?

In order to qualify for the Grand Prix, drivers must run qualifying laps to set their fastest times. They have three rounds of laps where each driver races against themselves to set their fastest lap pace. The slowest drivers are knocked out and the remaining 1o drivers set their grid position (where they start on the circuit) based on their lap times. Each period, drivers are knocked out based on lap time, resulting in the fastest 10 moving on to the Grand Prix.

How does the race work?

At the beginning of the race, there is a warm-up lap where drivers simply drive the track to ensure the cars are ready for action and to get a feel for the track. They then return to their starting point on the grid and wait for the signal to start the action (five red lights that are lit one-by-one and then shut off at the same time). From there, it is all about strategy.

How does a team win the championship?

It’s all about points. The top 10 teams receive points each race, with the winner bringing in 25. At the end of the season, whoever has the most points is crowned the champ.


Disclosure: Land of Valencia covered all lodging, meals and activities.

Blog Spain Travel Travel Tips

SHA Wellness Clinic & #blogtripf1

I was so happy to leave Morocco. Partly because being there was exhausting as a single female traveler, but mostly because I was headed to the Land of Valencia for #blogtripf1, a gathering of travel bloggers invited by Land of Valencia’s tourism department to see the sites and witness the sheer beauty of the region.

I nearly missed my connecting flight from Madrid (thanks for the shoddy and disorganized mess, Iberia), but once I arrived, seeing the majestic white building where I would spend two nights, perched on the hill from Playa del Abir was a breath of fresh air.

I was exhausted, but as soon as I stepped out of the cab and into SHA Wellness Clinic, all of the tired, aches from travel, etc., melted away.

SHA was created to help people care for themselves through Eastern techniques and advanced Western medical practices. The Metodo Sha (SHA Method) combines macrobiotics and natural therapies with educational programs that are personalized for each person in order to meet their health goals. Every day, there are services for people, walks to the beach, yoga on the terrace, meals catering to each person’s particular needs, treatments to help remedy ailments.

Stuff I would LOVE to do if I had more time in Spain.

The clinic offers conferences, lectures, cooking lessons, a variety of exercise options and therapies, all designed to ensure guests walk out of their program healthier (and happier) than when they checked in.

I had stepped into an oasis of calm, serene beauty tucked into the Spanish hillside.

The meditative music, the all-white furniture, the pools, the fountains, the views, made every memory of the stress of Morocco simply disappear.

I could spend some serious time here.

I was whisked to my room, a delicious suite complete with a plush robe, slippers, toiletries that made my backpacker two-for-one shampoo/conditioner look lame, a terrace as large as my room with views of the blue water below, and music piped in to calm my traveling soul.

From there, I went up to the restaurant, which serves up macrobiotic food. to harmonize with Sha’s philosophy of combining Western medicine with Eastern therapeutic practices.

Before dinner, I joined other members of #blogtripf1, and took in the setting sun while sipping organic beer on the terrace and chatting with Alejandor Bataller, the chief sales and marketing officer for the property.

The group trickled in, one-by-one. I was waiting anxiously for Stefanie (AKA @Adventuregirl) to arrive. I had met Stef back in October via Twitter and she and I had remained in close touch. She had turned into my mentor and, more importantly, a friend, during those months … especially when I was making the life-changing decision to quit my job and go travel. I always had her support, her well-wishes, her insight.

At dinner, she and I caught up on life. We hadn’t been able to really catch-up properly since I had left America.

Once our group had arrived, we were ushered inside to enjoy a multi-course meal and wine.

I can get on this macrobiotic bandwagon.

And, it was goooooood.

The hours flew by, talking to Stef and her husband, Phil, and meeting and bonding with the other amazing people on our trip. Suddenly, it was the wee hours of the morning … time to pass out for the night.

I sunk into my bed, turned down the music (it even played in the bathroom), and passed out.

The next morning, the sun lit up my room early, peaking through the hillside and flooding my room with its sunrise yellow glow.

Did I have to get out of bed?

Breakfast greeted me upstairs, along with my group. Cereal. Breads. Fruit. Miso soup. Vegetables. All fresh. All fabulous. Even the OJ was divine.

From there, it was on to Benidorm to take in the sights of this haven for UK vacationers.

Disclosure: All transportation, lodging, meals and activities were courtesy of Land of Valencia.

Blog Reviews Spain Travel