British tourists who decide to take a late night stroll on Benidorm beach – or perhaps engage in a steamy romantic encounter – might soon be surprised to find their revelry interrupted by a patrolman handing out €750 (£640) fines.
Benidorm, Spain's capital of package tourism and its sex-and-sangria culture, is cracking down on the low-budget debauchery that won it a place in the hearts of thousands of pasty, nose-peeling travellers.
In an uncharacteristic quest for decorum, the city has drafted a strict new beach ordinance that, if passed this week, would regulate everything from sandcastle-building to those past-midnight copulation sessions that have become so popular in recent years thanks to the possibility of instant fame on an internet video.
Under the 73-article code, which would go into effect next year, the miles of flat, skyscraper-lined beach would be off-limits from midnight to 7am – prime time for the outdoor alcohol fests known as "botellones" and sexual encounters, as well as simple starlit strolls for those seeking refugee from the karaoke clubs.
The city is also cracking down on daytime indiscretions. Urinating in Benidorm's bath-like Mediterranean waters, for instance, could cost an unwary visitor €150. If that same incontinent bather were to be caught leaving a broken wine or beer bottle on the sand, he would face a €750 fine.
Beach touts who hand out adverts for, say, a "€1 British breakfast" or "two-for-one" drink special would be slapped with a €300 ticket. A bonfire, such as the traditional "hogueras" popular at summer-solstice parties known as the Noche de San Juan, would incur a €1,100 penalty.
Even over-achieving sun-worshippers are targets. Early birds caught planting their umbrella at the crack of dawn to reserve a spot during peak tanning hours could be charged €150.
Why the barrage of regulations in a place that for decades made its fortune on its relaxed, let-down-your-hair (and beer belly) attitude?
The city's council of the beach cites security and environmental concerns. It is unsafe, they reason, for young people to get sloshed on the sand or paw at each other on a blanket when the new beach-cleaning machines are on the loose. Trash from the festivities is escalating, moreover. Last year five more tonnes were collected than in previous years, the council said.
The crackdown, however, coincides with Benidorm's attempt to make a quantum leap in the respectability scale: last week, the tourist board of the tackiest town in Spain announced that it has applied for designation as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
That means Benidorm – and its tight white T-shirts, shuffling pensioners and legions of sangria-guzzling British tourists – could one day rank alongside the pyramids of Egypt and the Great Wall of China. Amid such company, it would clearly be unfitting to let "physiological evacuations" in the sea go unpunished.
The director of the Benidorm Tourist Board, Jose Montiel Vaquer, argued that the resort deserves the prestigious Unesco badge for its "architectural significance" as the first high-rise resort in Europe. The bid followed much-quoted comments last month by a French professor at the University of Angers who labelled Benidorm "the Dubai of Europe". He gave the maligned town an intellectual sheen, saying it is "a remarkable site for what is understood by mass tourism".
Like Marbella and other built-up holiday havens in Spain, Benidorm was once a quiet fishing village on the Costa Blanca formed by two crescents of fine golden sand. In the 1950s, there were only a few hotels where the occasional traveller, such as Sylvia Plath on her honeymoon, could watch the quaint markets and boats bobbing on the quiet waters. Since then, the citrus groves and fishermen have given way to a maze of concrete hotels that draw 2.6 million tourists a year – many of them British. Beer is cheaper than fresh-squeezed orange juice. And under the new ordinance, fishing in the waters is now punishable with a €750 fine.
Wish you were here? The Benidorm fines
€120 (£102) Playing ball and paddle games outside authorised areas
€150 Urinating or defecating in sea or sand
€150 Early staking-out of a prime spot on the beach for later use
€250 Taking animals on the beach
€250 Bringing glass containers on the beach (€750 if that container breaks)
€300 Drinking alcohol, selling merchandise
€750 Fishing (€1,100 with a harpoon)
€750 Using the beach (for a party, sex, stroll) from midnight to 7am
€1,000 Bathing under "red flag" conditions