MADRID (AP) – In Madrid, the real party starts at 11 p.m. after the bars close – and curfew kicks in.
That’s when young, polyglot groups of revelers from Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, and, most noticeably, France, join their Spanish contemporaries in Old Madrid‘s narrow streets to seek illicit fun. Most are in their early 20s, eager to party in the Spanish capital like they haven’t been able to do for months at home under strict lockdowns. With its policy of open bars and restaurants – indoors and outdoors – and by keeping museums and theaters running even when outbreaks have strained hospitals, Madrid has built a reputation as an oasis of fun in Europe’s desert of restrictions.
Other Spanish regions have a stricter approach to entertainment. Even sunny coastal resorts offer a limited range of options for the few visitors that started to arrive, coinciding with Easter week, amid a set of contradictory European travel rules. “It’s a real privilege for me to go into bars because in France you can’t. Here I can go to restaurants, share time with friends outside of the home, discover the city,” Romy Karel said. Last Thursday, the 20-year-old Berliner flew to Madrid from Bordeaux, the southern French city studying social sciences.
“I can’t remember when was the last time I did this,” she said.
The visitors bring some important business to locals and give politicians much to debate before a polarized regional election. Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the regional president of Madrid running for reelection, is trying to attract votes beyond her conservative supporters by campaigning under the slogan of “freedom.”
Outside the capital, efforts to jumpstart tourism are drawing mixed results. In part, that’s due to a patchwork of rules at regional, national, and even European levels that curb nonessential domestic travel in many countries while leaving a loophole for those seeking a Spanish holiday.
Although Germany has banned all domestic tourism and discouraged travel abroad, the government allows trips to Spain’s Balearic Islands with a low infection rate. Bookings of flights and hotels followed even though many were disappointed to find on arrival that bars and restaurants were shut at night.
“In Germany, we have so many rules that coming here feels like freedom,” said Marius Hoffman, 18, shortly after he landed in the archipelago’s capital, Palma de Mallorca, this past weekend.
Another German traveler who visited Granada’s famed Alhambra complex this week, David Stock, acknowledged the paradox of his government’s rules combined with Spain’s embracing of tourists.