September 16, 2011

Costa Blanca: The British Invasion

A couple of weeks ago I spent the weekend at a friend's beach apartment near Torreviejas, in Alicante. Or to put this in British speak, I was "on holiday" in "Costa Blanca." (See entry on the "costas" of Spain.) It is a surreal experience visiting this part of Spain. The costal regions of Alicante have basically become British and/or German colonies. My friends and I call it "Guirilandia" (see entry on "los guiris"), because you are more likely to hear English or German spoken here than Spanish.

Hemingway would have been scandalized by it. These beachfront areas have an odd seasonal cycle, alive and vibrant during the summer, and nearly ghost towns during the winter. They fill up with low-cost tourism from Britain and Germany during the summers, mostly beach tourism for families, but also the kind of drunken, crazed youth tourism which generates periodic discussions here about whether this kind of public drinking should be more strictly controlled, or whether beach clubs should close earlier. (Indeed, not shown in pictures here are the vomit stains one finds all over the sidewalks in this area.) One could say they are England's Acapulco or Cozumel; instead of "Girls Gone Wild," think "Brits Behaving Badly."

The urbanicación of La Zenia, apartment complexes and commercial centers crammed
along the coasts of Alicante, a.k.a. "Costa Blanca."

A typical "neighborhood" in these tourist trap beach zones.
While locals, the few there are that live here, are understandably frustrated by it, the reality is that many of these towns have been literally rebuilt and reborn by this kind of tourism. These beachfront zones, many of which aren't even actual pueblos, but only "urbanizaciones," all have a cookie-cutter organization, with tons of two-story residence townhouses or apartments within walking distance to the beach, organized around commercial shopping centers with at least one Irish pub, a supermarket, tourism shops, and at least one "bazaar chino" (Chinese bazaar), the Spanish equivalent to a dollar-store. (The explosion of construction of these beach apartments over the last decade is partly to blame for Spain's current housing crisis.)

But what is so striking about Costa Blanca is the number of retired people from Britain and Germany who've turned these enclaves into home. In fact, it is not uncommon for some urban zones to have become largely German or British beach towns, while others cater more specifically to the domestic beach tourism industry (which means madrileños from Madrid). These retirement immigrants form a significant, but frequently overlooked part of foreign immigration to Spain.

A British & Irish Convenience Store where expats can find supplies from home
For those American expats who have had more than enough Spanish culture and therefore might enjoy a break from it, visiting here (for a short time) can even be kind of fun. Surely, the best German food, or Indian restaurants and Kebab shops in Spain can be found here. On my visit, I had some amazingly good German food at Bassus in one such urbanización, La Zenia, south of Torreviejas. One can also find nearly every kind of supply a Brit might be missing from home in specialty shops catering to these expat communities.

And let's face it, the reason all these guiris are here is because the beaches are really quite lovely. A nice discovery on this visit was the walkway along the beachfront, passing between the different calas and hugging the cliffs and rocky coasts, between the cala of the Hotel La Zenia and the Cala Capitán. A very romantic nighttime stroll!

The beach next to the Hotel La Zenia in Alicante, with clear waters and excellent for sunbathing.


jose said...

Estoy de acuerdo con lo que dices, pero pasas por alto la actitud de estos expatriados (invasores).
No cuentas que los habitantes de estas urbanizaciones muy pocas veces por no decir nunca se mezclan con los habitantes del lugar, se limitan a vivir en sus guetos, no compran en tiendas españolas, no se preocupan en aprender siquiera los rudimentos básicos del castellano y en líneas generales se comportan como si España fuera una colonia, con todos los componentes negativos que ello conlleva.

An Expat in Spain said...

Sí es verdad que los expatriados en estas zonas como decimos en inglés, viven en una burbuja ("live in a bubble"). Siempre me sorprenda su capacidad de no asimilar ni el mínimo nivel de la cultura del país dónde están. Hay un libro por Burns Marañon habla de "Hispanomanía", de como los británicos llegan a España con una visión del país, y salen con la misma visión sin haber podido ver la España de verdad. Como me dice un compañero valenciano, Burns Marañon sólo habla del eje vertical (Andalucía-Madrid-Pamplona, al que llamo "el paradigma de Hemingway"), y no el eje Mediterráneo (Málaga-Alicante-Barcelona). En la Costa Blanca hay muchos turistas (de corta o larga estancia) que no viven realmente en España, sino en una tierra arenosa, su propia utopía. Por lo general yo opino que no hacen mucho daño a nadie, pero entiendo tu frustración con cómo chupan recursos (y rompen la tranquilidad) sin integrar ni expresar interés (y respeto) por la comunidad local.

jose said...

Siento a ver parecido frustrado, pero la verdad es que la situación es triste, porque cualquier región tiene mucho que ofrecer y ellos no lo disfrutan solo por falta de interés.
Gracias por tu blog es muy educativo (sobre todo porque aprendo ingles jeje) sigue así.

An Expat in Spain said...

Me alegre mucho saber que tengo lectores hispanohablantes. ¡Gracias por leer el blog!

En el futuro, tengo la idea de añadir al blog una serie llamada "Crosstalk," dónde escribiré (en castellano) sobre la cultura estadounidense con una perspectiva dirigida a españoles y así fomentar un intercambio de verdad. Espero que sea de tu interés. Pero de momento tengo deberes suficientes con educar a los expats angloparlantes de la riqueza de cultura que tiene España.

jose said...

Gracias es bueno saberlo, estaré atento a tu blog.

Anonymous said...

Hola "an Expat in Spain".
I enjoyed your post.
I am trying to make a Geography paper about British and northetn Europeans in the sunny Costa Blanca. Do you live there? Are you American?
Joan, València

Anonymous said...

Vous avez terminé quelques bons points sur le J'ai fait une recherche sur le thème et constaté que la majorité des personnes auront le même avis avec votre blog.

Sylvia Jordan said...

That's right. I recently returned from Costa Blanca holidays and I noticed that there were a lot of expats. I think it's a good thing for the place; it means that foreigners love the place. And with foreigners living there, it becomes a melting pot of ideas.

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