A ghost hotel haunts the Spanish coast

The hotel’s history is convoluted, but understanding the timeline can help explain just how badly a tourism project can go when political, financial, and environmental interests are not aligned.

Cabo de Gata was declared a natural park in 1987. Covering nearly 150 square miles of volcanic land, the park includes open plains, shrub hills, and coves. It also includes some existing fishing villages and former mining establishments. When the park was created, the local municipality of Carboneras reclassified part of the protected area as building land. It was eventually bought by Azata, a Spanish real estate developer, who later received a local permit to build his beachfront hotel in 2003. The only other buildings nearby are private houses built before the park was established.

Arguing that the hotel violated the park’s protection statute, environmental activists went to court and got a judge to freeze the project in 2006, just as the hotel was reaching the final stages of its construction. A decade-long legal battle followed until, after several appeals, Spain’s Supreme Court ruled that the hotel had violated the park’s protection laws.

Then a new legal battle began over who should be responsible for the hotel’s demolition, as well as who should pay for the rehabilitation of the surrounding landscape.

As the case dragged on by more than 20 separate decisions, the hotel itself deteriorated. Its white facade is marred by graffiti, and one of the bay windows has the word “demolition” in Spanish painted in big blue letters.

Unlike Aqaba’s film set – which was quickly dismantled, with the help of local villagers who rushed to reuse its plywood boards – there is no clear end in sight for the disastrous hotel. In the last twist, the highest regional court in Andalusia ruled in July that the hotel didn’t need to be destroyed after all, as Azata, the real estate developer, had a valid building permit. Azata did not respond to a request for comment.

In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Spain was the second most popular destination in the world – after France and ahead of the United States – with nearly 84 million international visitors. A significant number have traveled to the sandy beaches of eastern and southern Spain, often staying at heavily built beach resorts that also cater for package tourists, such as the skyscraper city of Benidorm. In the middle of this sea of ​​concrete, Cabo de Gata offered a striking contrast.

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