‘Alcohol tourism’: Footage of drunk foreign tourists in Spain riles locked-down locals

Images of drunk foreign tourists shouting in the streets and police raiding illegal parties in Madrid at a time when locals are not allowed to travel between Spain's regions have left many Spaniards up in arms.

'Alcohol tourism': Footage of drunk foreign tourists in Spain riles locked-down locals
Video Screenshot: Madrid Municipal Police

Spanish TV on Monday aired a video of officers smashing the windows of an apartment over the weekend to dislodge occupants holding a party that violated virus restrictions.

The fact that several of the partygoers were reportedly foreigners fuelled resentment over the seemingly haphazard nature of travel restrictions in Europe during the pandemic, with many Spaniards taking to social media to vent their anger.

While Spaniards are not allowed to leave their own regions until April 9 to avoid a resurgence of coronavirus infections over Holy Week, similar restrictions do not apply to international tourists, who can still fly into Spain on presentation of a negative Covid test.

And with its 11:00 pm curfew and bars and restaurants open, Madrid has drawn scores of visitors from countries under tighter lockdowns.

According to online travel company Kayak, searches for flights to Madrid from neighbouring France are up 142 percent in March over the same time last year, at a time when flight searches overall are sharply down.

“These images worry me,” Health Minister Carolina Darias told reporters Monday when asked about the pictures of revellers in Madrid.

“The image of our country is that of responsible people who respect the rules,” she said.

With Madrid in the middle of a crucial campaign ahead of regional elections on May 4, the laissez-faire attitude of the authorities, who for months have insisted on minimising Covid restrictions, has drawn sharp criticism.

 ‘Alcohol tourism’ 

But Madrid’s conservative regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso said it was up to Spain’s leftist central government to tighten entry rules.

“We cannot spread the idea that in Madrid there exists ‘alcohol tourism’,” she said in an interview with private television La Sexta.

Madrid has been the only major European capital to maintain social life practically unrestricted since a nationwide lockdown was fully lifted in June 2020, with cinemas and theatres also open.

While the policy has been applauded by the hospitality sector, it is seen as one of the reasons why Madrid has consistently had one of Spain’s highest incidences of coronavirus.

Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

Madrid municipal police said they broke up 353 illegal parties over the weekend, down slightly from 384 in the previous week.

In many cases, the raids are sparked by complaints of noise from neighbours of Airbnb rental flats where the parties are held.

“We need citizen cooperation now more than ever,” the central government’s chief representative to the Madrid region, Jose Manuel Franco, said Monday.

He urged people to keep reporting the illegal parties to the authorities.

Amid the furore over the lack of travel restrictions for foreign tourists, Spain on Saturday announced anyone crossing the land border into the country would have to present a negative PCR test, as had already been the case for those arriving by air.

Member comments

  1. The gulf between Europe’s Catholic South and North has been widened by Covid 19. There is a cultural impasse that will never be bridged. It is time that the two sides separated permanently.

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The architect trying to finish the Sagrada Familia after 138 years

Jordi Faulí is the seventh chief architect of Barcelona's iconic Sagrada Familia since Antoni Gaudi began work on the basilica in 1883, and he had been expected to oversee its long-awaited completion.

The architect trying to finish the Sagrada Familia after 138 years
Jordi Faulí is the seventh architect director of the Sagrada Familia following Antoni Gaudi and, for many, the one destined to finish it. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

But the pandemic has delayed efforts to finish this towering architectural masterpiece, which has been under construction for nearly 140 years, and it is no longer clear whether Faulí will still be in charge when it is finally done.

“I would like to be here for many more years, of course, but that’s in God’s hands,” says Faulí, 62, a wry smile on his lips.

He was just 31 when he joined the architectural team as a local in 1990 — the same age as Gaudi when the innovative Catalan architect began building his greatest work in the late 19th century, a project that would take up four decades of his life.

“When I arrived, only three of these columns were built and they were only 10 metres (33 feet) high,” he explains from a mezzanine in the main nave.

“I was lucky enough to design and see the construction of the entire interior, then the sacristy and now the main towers.”

When finished, the ornate cathedral which was designed by Gaudi will have 18 towers, the tallest of which will reach 172 metres into the air.

READ ALSO: Pandemic to delay completion fate for Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia

The second-highest tower, which is 138 metres tall and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, will be officially inaugurated on Wednesday with the illumination of the gigantic 5.5-tonne star crowning its highest point.

It is the tallest of the nine completed towers and the first to be inaugurated since 1976.

The long-awaited completion of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia will no longer happen in 2026 because the coronavirus epidemic has curtailed its construction and frustrated funding, basilica officials admitted. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP
Construction halted by Civil War

In 2019, the Sagrada Familia welcomed 4.7 million visitors, making it Barcelona’s most visited monument.

But it was forced to close in March 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, with its doors staying shut for almost a year.

This year, there have been barely 764,000 visitors, municipal figures show.

And as entry tickets are the main source of funding for the ongoing building works, the goal of finishing the basilica by 2026 to mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death — he was run over by a tram — has been abandoned.

“We can’t give any estimate as to when it will be finished because we don’t know how visitor numbers will recover in the coming years,” Faulí says.

It is far from the first time Gaudi’s masterpiece has faced such challenges.

During the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, construction work stopped and many of Gaudi’s design plans and models were destroyed.

For critics, this major loss means they do not view what was built later as Gaudi’s work, despite the research carried out by his successors.

READ ALSO: Central spire will make the Sagrada Familia tallest church in the world

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has only granted World Heritage status to the Sagrada Familia’s crypt and one of its facades, both of which were built during Gaudi’s lifetime.

But Faulí insists the project remains faithful to what Gaudi had planned as it is based on the meticulous study of photographs, drawings and testimony from the late Modernist architect.

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has only granted World Heritage status to the Sagrada Familia’s crypt and one of its facades, both of which were built during Gaudi’s lifetime. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

Some local opposition

Nominated chief architect of the project in 2012, Faulí took over at the head of a team of 27 architects and more than 100 builders.

Today, there are five architects and some 16 builders working to finish the Sagrada Familia.

“It is a lot of responsibility because it’s an iconic project, which many people have an opinion about,” says Faulí.

Building such a vast monument which draws huge numbers of visitors is not welcomed by everyone, with some arguing that the hoards of visiting tourists are destroying the area.

Many also oppose plans to build an enormous staircase leading up to the main entrance, the construction of which will involve the demolition of several buildings, forcing hundreds to relocate.

“My life is here and they want to throw me out,” says one sign on a balcony near the Sagrada Familia.

Faulí said he understands their concerns and wants to find “fair solutions” through dialogue.

And if he could ask Gaudi one question? Faulí pauses to reflect for a few moments.

“I would ask him about his underlying intentions and what feelings he wanted to communicate through his architecture,” he says.