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Costa for concern

Tourism figure falling as sun-seekers go elsewhere

One of the many atmospheric streets in the old town in Marbella

Andalucia’s foreign tourist figures have fallen for the first time in 33 months and alarm bells are ringing.

Tourism bosses have been stung since the latest figures released by the National Statistics Institute.

Why? Because they are used to seeing month after month of upward graphs and record breaking statistics.

Other Mediterranean destinations like Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt are understood to be claiming the visitors lost to the Costa del Sol.

However, adding to the mix, is that tourism to other parts of Spain is still increasing.

The region is, however, remains the third most popular in Spain after the Canary Islands and Catalonia.

Andalucia is highly-dependent on the British market which is said to account for 20 per cent of all tourists to Spain and over 30 per cent to Andalucia.

And it’s the drop in sun-seeking Brits which is causing the most concern.

The weather doesn’t help. We arrived in Fuengirola in cloud and a chill wind.

We quickly pulled on all available sweaters and windcheaters and then the rain came.

The wind whipped up and tourists ran for cover. The day before it had been shorts and t-shirts while walking in marvellous Marbella, but this was different.

Restaurants remained closed and the normally bustling resort was like a ghost town.

You could see the concern as owners surveyed empty streets and their seaside BBQ’s remained lit but with nothing cooking on them.

Thankfully, by luck, we found a haven from the wind and rain in La Taberna Gaonera on Calle El Troncon.

Fuengirola may have largely lost most of is Spanish character but it is, thankfully, retained in this cosy establishment. That includes the décor and menu. Welcoming staff talked us through as they delivered tasty garlic-dipped olives and crusty, warm bread.

My Andaluces callos – chick peas, pork, chorizo in a rich tomato sauce – was a triumph and Pam’s pollo plancha with wonderfully salty potatoes was beautifully cooked and presented.

Outside, the weather still howled and even the shops, a normally a fall-back for tourists forced off beaches, were empty, the public driven inside by driving rain and plunging temperatures.

Not the best day to see Fuengirola, hugely popular with British holidaymakers.

Here bacon and eggs, fish and chips, drafts and English beer dominate.

Attractions include The Plaza de la Constitucion which boasts cafes, the bull ring is nearby and so is the Bioparc.

Across the river at the western end of the town sits the Castillo de Sohail, a 10th-century fortress. Today it is used for cultural events.

Other attractions include the marina, fishing harbour and waterslides at Mijas Aqua Park and the El Cartujano horse show.

Nearby is Mijas which clings to the hillside. Here, most of the whitewashed houses have been converted into upmarket shops, restaurants and bars.

Traffic is banned from the centre – you can take a mule taxi from one of the car parks – but walking allows you to see the magnificent views along the coast.

And, if you care to see a bit of the countryside go to the train or bus station.

Fares are cheap and services frequent but locals don’t understand the word queue so be prepared to push.

You can buy your tickets on the bus if you join in the country but you must buy your tickets from the bus station if you are travelling from Fuengirola.

Our bus was, incidentally, packed with shivering tourists heading back to their resorts as the thermometer dropped to 9C – in early April, weather locals and tourism bosses don’t want as they bid to fight back in the battle for holidaymakers.

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