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The Curious Case of the Fake Fishing Village That Became a Tourist Attraction

News Jun 24, 2024

The private housing development of Poblado de Pescadores in Binibeca Vell, in the southwest of Menorca, glints under the sizzling sun like an exotic, heavily iced wedding cake. It is noon, and yet the sea-facing cluster of brilliant-white bijoux properties, many vacation homes, has the atmosphere of a Carthusian monastery. The hushed, labyrinthine alleyways that run throughout the pristine complex of 165 properties are somewhat marred by ominous, tethered chains and stern signs requesting silence at all times, largely ignored by visiting raucous seabirds.

Strangely, this quaint enclave, which supposedly attracts 800,000 tourists annually, recently became the unwelcome subject of heated debate about overtourism in the Balearics. Even more puzzling was that it should be located in Menorca, the second largest isle in the archipelago and a protected Unesco Biosphere Reserve that fiercely resists overdevelopment.

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Unlike sister islands Majorca and Ibiza, which respectively attracted more than 17 million and 3.5 million visitors last year, Menorca recorded a more modest 1.5 million, mostly during the summer months.

The first phase of Binibeca Vell, the brainchild of a group of entrepreneurs, was realized in 1964 by Antonio Sintes Mercadel, a local surveyor, and Francisco Juan Barba Corsini, an architect. The duo wanted to emulate a typical Greek island fishing village, such as those found on Santorini or Mykonos, with authentic-looking whitewashed houses huddled together in a romantic fashion, overlooking the sea.

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Poblado de Pescadores, the fisherman’s retreat, lies at the heart of Binibeca Vell (ironically, vell means old), now a sprawling urbanization of white, mostly gated and shuttered holiday houses and rental properties. Of course, there’s nothing old, authentic, or remotely fishy about the squeaky-clean zone, which offers little more than serene seascapes, a gift shop, a supermarket, and a few restaurants and cafés.

All the same, like unwitting sirens, Binibeca Vell – and most pertinently, Poblado de Pescadores – have lured ever-increasing numbers of visitors to their doors, much to the chagrin of wearied residents. In the last few years, the management committee, representing the owners of the development, has bitterly complained to the local authorities about the appalling manners and intrusive behavior of visitors, the relentless arrival of tourist coaches, and the increase in noise and refuse.

To defuse the situation, the island council and the development’s own town council in the municipality of Sant Lluís offered approximately €25,000 (£21,154) towards refuse collection and maintenance, an offer which this year, was apparently partially withdrawn.

The termination of this additional funding created tension, with proprietors arguing that although the residence was privately owned, it had rapidly become an island tourist hotspot.

Óscar Monge, President of the committee of owners, said: “Binibeca is promoted by the administration and tourist companies but what do we gain from it?” In response to the snub, Poblado de Pescadores is now closed to visitors between 8 pm and 11 am each day, with its 22 entrances chained off. It also announced that in August, residents of the complex would vote to decide whether to remain open to visitors or to prohibit access to the entire development.

This could potentially prove the death knell for the small shops and restaurants at its entrance. The Council of Menorca has subsequently extended an olive branch, offering to reduce coach spaces, although there are only four currently allocated, and to train tour guides to instruct their clients to be respectful during visits.

Why the area has become such a beehive of tourism in recent times seemingly lies in its growing star status on social media sites such as Instagram and TikTok. Within four years, posts under the hashtag for Binibeca on Instagram have almost doubled to 61,600. With its dramatic backdrops of the Azure seas, coves, and cliffs, contrasted against the condensed white sugar-cube mock village, it’s easy to see the attraction for selfie-obsessed Millennial and Gen-Z audiences seeking “likes”.

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Source: Balearic Island

Sara, a 30-year-old visitor from Hamburg, gave a shrug. “Our hotel told us to come here but it’s a bit disappointing. You can walk around the complex in about five minutes and there’s nothing to do.” Her opinion was echoed by a couple in their 20s from Newcastle. Jack said: “At the end of the day, it’s pretty boring. It’s fine for a few Instagram snaps but that’s it.”

Taxi driver Pepe, a native of the capital of Mahón, offered a wry smile. “Businesses here want customers and the complex gets fees for the taking of commercial photos so you can’t have it both ways,” he said. “There’s nothing much to do here anyway. I tell clients, ‘I’ll keep the engine running’.” Another local driver agreed: “There’s next to no parking and only room for a few coaches, which mostly bring cruise passengers here on island day trips. In the winter, it’s completely dead.”

For discerning visitors wishing to see an authentic Menorcan fishing village rich in history, it’s only a 45-minute drive to quaint Fornells on the north coast. There is culture galore in the nearby city of Mahón, and colorful Ciutadella, a one-hour drive away. Inland towns such as Es Mercadal at the foot of Monte Toro, the island’s highest mountain, are a must, as are visits to Talayotic sites, hidden coves, local cheese and mushroom farms, vineyards and gin distilleries.

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So do the woes of Binibeca Vell amount to little more than a storm in a teacup? At the entrance to Poblado de Pescadores, two of three cafés are closed, and the shop has few visitors. A gull soars over the peaceful, empty courtyard and there’s not a coach in sight. Pepe stands by his lone taxi, engine running, awaiting a client. Perhaps word has already gotten out on TikTok and Instagram and the devotees of social media have moved on.

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Oliver Hughes

Oliver has over 15 years of experience in travel journalism. He focuses on European travel, providing expert reviews of vacation rentals and cultural experiences across Europe.