The Holiday Class Divide


The unspoken rules were always thus; the UK middle classes loved summering in Italy, from Capri to ‘Chiantishire’, and bought their holiday homes in France, seeking out picturesque towns in Bordeaux and Provence, while the working classes headed for Portugal, Turkey and Spain. But are things changing? Talking to friends in Spain this weekend, the anecdotal evidence certainly points that way.

After the cheap-flights boom that began in the 1970s, Spain’s Costa Del Sol became a byword for crime as Essex gangsters headed out to buy property and open pubs, and trash TV shows still revel in the gutter antics of drunk teens. But Franco’s death had started to create a more level, modern-thinking society. This become visible in the country’s changing attitudes to modern Spanish art, film, design and food. Modernism flourished while France became more entrenched in the past.

Francophones craved the Mediterranean lifestyle, the cuisine, the resorts and villages, but turned a blind eye to rising crime and unemployment, and for every picture-perfect town there’s a no-go ghetto. France has been slow to embrace cultural pluralism. (For example, the French home entertainment industry refused to allow other language options for its product, and was beaten to international profitability by Spain, who now reach large world audiences.)

But a problem remained with Spain – the British holidaymaker, sunburned and vested, tattooed and drunk, would not go away. Why should they when a Spanish home was cheaper than a UK flat? Lately, the Mayors of many Spanish towns have been raising their game by restoring rundown beach promenades and improving facilities.

Yesterday I went into Benidorm, once a laughing-stock catchphrase, the epitome of the Essex invasion, and found that it was well on the way to switching places with Nice. The Riviera epitomised elegance, but the last time I visited its buildings were smothered in graffiti, streets were dirty and run-down, restaurants were serving terrible food at insane prices aimed at the massive influx of unsophisticated Russian tourists.

By contrast, Benidorm’s stunning beachfront was being radically transformed, with a reduction in scruffy nightlife and pollution, and a zero tolerance to litter and graffiti. There’s clearly a long way to go yet – one part of the town is still the home of the British lager-lout and hen-night brigade, but it now seems constrained to one specific area.

The real difference is in the cost of living. As France chases Russian and Chinese cash, Spain and rising star Turkey offer genuine value for money. For me, though, the real shock is Europe is now the almost total absence of our American cousins, who I guess are redefining their own travel habits.

2 comments on “The Holiday Class Divide”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    It’s our sluggish economy,the lack of jobs for many here, the often murderous Euro exchange rate, and perhaps, even the fact few Americans carry credit cards containing a digital chip for speed reading in European shops and restaurants. We Americans have even reduced our travel within the States. Right now, my wife and I are putting money back and applying for a digital card)to fund a business/vacation trip to Germany next summer. I need to finish up fact checking a book, attend a Bachfest in Leipzig and see friends. Gone are the great exchange rates we enjoyed in the ’60s – 70s. Shaaa…

  2. Vicki says:

    I recently got back from Venice, and it was wall to wall Americans! Either the older retired set, keen to chat with their Brit cousins or young, loud, brash prepi type youngsters, horribly misinformed but great fun to listen too! The urge to join conversations and add to their misinformation by totally rewriting European history was very hard to resist…….

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