I was chatting with a group of Mallorcan neighbours this week about the sad demise of the Soller valley. All agreed that Soller itself had been taken over completely by tourism to the extent that local people could no longer easily park, walk, or get a table in a café or restaurant. The local waste collectors I often chat with told me the same story. They wondered how far things would spiral out of control before the local ajuntament and regional government took action.

The beautiful old owner-occupied shops in our famed Carrer de Sa Lluna have all but gone, replaced by tourist shops selling ubiquitous, if fairly tasteful, gifts to take home. We lost our bookshop, famed deli, two shoe shops, grocery store and on and on it goes. If it’s not tourist gift shops sprouting around the town, it’s estate agents or ice cream parlours. Café Paris, one of the most iconic cafés in our town, is to become yet another ice-cream den. I think that will be the sixth in our small town. This smack of serious lactose addiction among the visiting population.

The result is a growing despair and anger among locals. At my pilates class the other day I wondered where most of my Mallorcan female companions were. At the next session they told me that they’d had to give up getting to the class because the traffic was impossible. A simple ten-minute journey from the port to the sports building became one hour. A trip from Biniaraix, to the centre of town, forty minutes. They accused tourists of dumping hire cars in front of their gates and blocking home access in their desperation to find somewhere to park. We’ve reached saturation point on that front.

The problem is that locals cannot go about their daily business and all the while, tourists are blissfully unaware of the fierce polemic raging in the town. I feel for them because ultimately it is not the fault of our visitors. Greed, lack of planning and infrastructure and a total disregard for the needs of locals lie at the heart of this issue. So what is the answer? It’s not easy but maybe we need to learn from other islands and countries. Take Formentera that now limits tourist vehicles from June to September.

In Soller, we need to restrict hire cars and instead offer a hop-on hop-off bus from beyond the town. A scheme of this sort has been proposed in our local council and hopefully will become a reality. We need to restrict the number of coaches that disgorge day trippers who spend little to aid the economy but clog up the town and port. There needs to be more thought given to the rental of properties during the summer and the number of properties bought and left vacant for much of the year by second homeowners. In Burnham Market in Norfolk, the situation has reached boiling point. One in four homes is now given over to tourism or second homeowners. Locals have had enough of their town becoming another touristy ‘Chelsea-on-Sea’ to the extent that 80 per cent have voted to curb purchases of all new developments unless for principal residency. It will be interesting to see how that evolves.

Of course, the problems in the Soller valley are being replicated island wide and worldwide as once beautiful and peaceful towns and villages become a rugger scrum during the summer months. The character and authenticity of these towns slowly diminish until they become a veritable Disney world, an ersatz and hollow tourist destination without heart and soul. In Soller, we all quivered to see how Deya became a pastiche, its artists and writers leaving in droves when the wealthy tourist folk moved into town and engulfed the property stock. We never thought the madness would trickle down into our hard-working, practical little town but it’s happening – and fast.

I was speaking with two real estate agents in Galicia and Asturias last week. They both said many of their property enquiries were now coming from Mallorca as locals and even expats began to jump ship, feeling that the once peaceful and authentic enclave would not hold its magic for much longer. They said that the cost of living and house and rental prices were much higher than on the mainland and were now really only affordable by the super-rich incoming foreigner. Let’s hope those in power take a long hard look at the current tourism model before it’s too late.

A walk on the wildside

The other day I came across a jolly group of female walkers on the Fornalutx road. They were all in their thirties with hiking sticks and good trainers but dear oh dear, how unfit they were. I had run up to Fornalutx from my home in Soller and passed the girls halfway up. On my way down they’d hardly progressed at all and were sitting on a wall, mopping their brows. I stopped to have a glug of water and we got talking. They said that they found the road very challenging and couldn’t believe I had run it especially as I was a good bit older than them. It turned out that all lived in towns in the UK and due to sedentary work and lifestyle, rarely did hikes or proper exercise. I applauded them for walking while in Soller and getting to see the countryside but urged them to keep up the good work when they got home. I sincerely hope they do!