The weather in the UK was appalling and, as Easter was coming up soon, I thought it might be a good idea to go away. So I had a look on lastminute.com to see if they had anything interesting. They had a 4 day trip to Valencia for £309 based on 2 people sharing. The flight times looked good. The plane was to leave Heathrow at 19.15 on the Thursday before Easter arriving in Valencia at 22.15 local time. Then the return flight left at 22.55 on the Monday and arrived in London at 23.55. This meant that I could get four full days in the sun, without taking any time off work and not get home too late before going back to work on the Tuesday. So I decided to look into it.
Eventually their useless system accepted everything and I received confirmation by email and an email from Flight Options, the company that the holiday was actually booked with. They were offering travel insurance, which reasonably priced, though I didn't take it because I have an annual policy. They were able to tell me that the car included insurance.
When the tickets arrived, we found we were going with Britannia. The return time had also changed to about an hour later, which was inconvenient, but not too bad. The flight left Gatwick about an hour late. There was no drinks service on the plane. They informed us that the almost two hour long flight was too short to serve drinks. All that was available was fizzy water or peach flavoured water, which you had to pay for. Otherwise there was water in the fountains on board if you wanted to get it yourself. There was a meal and there was some in-flight entertainment, though this consisted of old TV programmes that I didn't want to watch the first time around. Most people didn't even bother to get their headphones out of the plastic bag. I know that you can't expect too much with a charter flight, but I think they had gone too far with the penny-pinching.
On arrival at Valencia, we were met by the receptionist of the Bella Vista Aparthotel, where we were staying. Room keys were handed out on the bus and we were told to check in properly and pick the car up the next morning. The apartment was quite spacious, with two bedrooms, a living room, balcony, bathroom and a kitchen, which was fully equipped with a cooker, washing machine and fridge. They'd also supplied juice, milk, tea and coffee, which we thought was a nice touch.
The next day, I went to pick up the car, which was a Ford Ka. I had to pay 6000 pts for the petrol and was told to bring it back empty. This would have been fine if we'd been there for a week, but I couldn't see that I'd be using a full tank in just four days. Still, at least petrol in Spain is pretty cheap.
The complex has a large outdoors pool, though it's too cold in April. There's also a health club with an indoor swimming pool, which was free, and jacuzzis, which weren't. There was also a bar and a restaurant. The restaurant was a bit pricey by Spanish standards, with most main courses over 2000 pts, but the food was nice. The bar also did cheaper food. The most striking thing about the resort was the location. Perched on the side of Mount Pego, the views are pretty spectacular.
The first day was a bit cool. The sun wasn't out, and so the 19°C temperature wasn't that warm. The following three days were sunny, and though it was only a couple of degrees warmer in the shade, it was quite hot in the sun. Apart from lazing in the sun, I'd also booked a day's diving with Scubamar, who are located in Moraira, which is just down the coast.
I was told to be there for 10am and found the place pretty easily. I took all my equipment, including my drysuit, except for tanks and weights. The weights I hired were soft ones and the rest of their rental equipment looked OK, which is not something you can take for granted in Spain. The dive centre does PADI courses and is run by an English woman and her Italian husband. They have a RIB which goes out of the marina. So we drove down there, found somewhere to park and headed off on our first dive.
We went to a site called Peñon De Ilfach, which is a headland near Calpe. The plan was to dive along the wall and then come back to the boat. I was diving with a Spanish guy called Jorge, who was OK and had a torch, so we had a good look under all the ledges. The viz was reasonable at around 10m, and I was glad had my drysuit as the temperature was 15°C. There was some sea grass in patches on the bottom, but the general composition was rocky. We saw quite a few fish, including some peacock wrasse, sea bream, a scorpion fish, salpe and a couple of octopus under some ledges. Our maximum depth was about 17m and we almost did an hour. Somehow the pair of us contrived to lose the rest and we overshot the boat on the way back. So in the end I got Jorge to help me put up my delayed SMB and the boat came and picked us up.
On the way back, the wind had picked up, so it was a bit choppy. This is quite a common occurrence in that part of the Med. Then it was back to the shop and I got some lunch at the restaurant nearby. There were only 2 of us on the second dive, so the time was more or less left up to me. The second site was much closer and was also a headland, called Cap D'Or. It was much the same sort of dive as the morning's with some scorpion fish and several other varieties that I couldn't recognise, including several brightly coloured fish with blue and yellow stripes. This dive was also about 17m and I was getting a bit chilly after 53 minutes, when we came up.
The day's diving cost me 9,800 pts including the two boat trips, hire of weights and two cylinders. I thought it was reasonable and enjoyed the two dives I'd done, especially when I compared them to the previous two the weekend before in England.
The next couple of days were mostly spent lazing in the sun, with a trip into nearby Denia for a meal. On the last day I decided to use up some of the petrol I'd paid for and take a drive into the mountains. The scenery was very reminiscent of the spaghetti westerns, with lots of small villages. As it was Easter Monday, most of them were deserted and there were quite a few Spanish families out having picnics.
So as we headed off to the airport, we thought that it had been a relaxing four days in the sun. And the weather had been appalling in England whilst we were away. At the airport, things started to go wrong. Our flight was delayed by three hours. When we finally got on the plane, the captain explained that Flight Options had made him hold the plane to waited for 8 people who were being transported by car from Malaga, having missed a plane there. He repeatedly said that it was at the request of the charter company, i.e. Flight Options. When we eventually got to Gatwick it was 4am, rather than the 12am I had originally been told, which made me somewhat late for work the next day. They did manage to lay on a drinks service on that flight and I reflected how bad things had got when I thought that being able to buy a small can of Pepsi for 50p was a small triumph.
As you can imagine, I vowed never to go with Flight Options again. However, about two weeks later, I got a letter from Britannia. We had in fact been told a pack of lies on the plane. The reason the people were stranded in Malaga was that Britannia had replaced a previous flight with a smaller plane and stranded them there. It was entirely Britannia's responsibility that we were so late and nothing to do with Flight Options.
So I will think long and hard before taking another flight with Britannia. I would probably go on another break organised by Flight Options. I might even brave using the lastminute.com website again, when I'm feeling up to it. I'd definitely consider going to the Bella Vista resort again. Their organisation was great and the location was convenient. It's more or less the same distance to both Valencia and Alicante airports, so I think I may well fly scheduled to Alicante next time with either BA or Iberia.