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Summer holidays

Tourists put faith in 'Monkey Christ'

Travellers are jetting out of south-east airports on faith tourism holidays in increasing numbers. But no religious relic can ape the accidental attraction that is now wowing Spanish church-goers in their tens of thousands - the “Monkey Christ”. This disfigured church fresco, now a top tourist destination in Zaragoza is actually the result of a botched restoration job.

Tourists flying out from the likes of London Gatwick and London Stansted can now marvel - or snigger - at something that looks like a scene out of a Mr Bean film. Over 40,000 people have flocked to view amateur artist Cecilia Gimenez's bungled bid to restore a 1930 painting showing Jesus crowned with thorns, since it won global attention last August. This was originally painted by Elias Garcia Martinez at the Sanctuary of Mercy Church in Borja, Zaragoza. Visitors have so far raised 50,000 euros (£43,000) for charity in entrance fees.

The artist and the local authority are now set to sign a merchandising contract to put the hilarious image on plates, postcards, cigarette lighters and other souvenirs. Zaragoza rests on the Ebro river in a valley with landscapes ranging from desert to thick forest, meadows and mountains. The city is renowned for its folklore, sumptuous local dishes and landmarks such as the Basílica del Pilar, La Seo Cathedral and the Aljafería Palace. The latter two and many other buildings form part of the Mudéjar Architecture of Aragon, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Copyright © Press Association 2013

Airport-goers are warming to Iceland

Airport travellers are helping to make Iceland and Slovakia among the quickest-growing European destinations for foreign tourists this year, according to new figures. Iceland enjoyed a 30% jump in overseas arrivals from April to June compared to the same quarter last year, while Slovakia experienced a 20% rise.

Expansion was generally strongest in smaller European regions such as the Balkans and Eastern Europe, a report by the European Travel Commission also reported. Montenegro, Latvia, and Croatia, for example, each recorded 9.5% growth, and visitor growth in Hungary and Poland also rose about 7.5%. Of the major European nations, Germany and Spain reported a “healthy” 4% rise.

Editors at Lonely Planet travel experts earlier this summer named Iceland - more specifically northern Iceland - as one of their top European destination picks for 2013. They cited the northern European country's rich natural landscape including dramatic geysers, magnificent mountains, lava fields and towering waterfalls. The Godafoss waterfall, or “Waterfall of the Gods”, is one of the most spectacular in the Mývatn district. Andy Murdock, US digital editor of Lonely Planet magazine, said: “With a small window of affordability and a seeming worldwide need for a long soak in a hot spring, Iceland seems to be on every traveller's mind this year.” Hungary and Croatia were also included among Lonely Planet's top 10 list.

Copyright © Press Association 2013

Dance music fans head for Ibiza event

Dance fans will transfer their attentions to the fun-loving Spanish island of Ibiza next week.

They will be jetting out from south-east English airports in their droves for the 18th edition of the Radio 1 in Ibiza weekend (August 2-4). Pete Tong heads the music icons bringing the station's listeners its legendary dance-fuelled weekend. It starts on Friday (August 2) as Radio 1 stages a huge free party for more than 7,000 people at Playa De'n Bossa’s amazing Ushuaia Ibiza Beach Hotel.

The event, one of the hottest dates in the Ibiza calendar, will be hosted by and feature DJ sets from Radio 1’s dance music gurus B.Traits, Pete Tong, Benga and Danny Howard. There will also be amazing sets from some stunning guests from the dance music world. Radio 1 is at Cream @ Privilege on Saturday (August 3) for an exclusive bash. A four-hour live, specially extended, Essential Mix will include sets from Eric Prydz, Chase & Status (DJ Set), Pete Tong and Hardwell. Ibiza is an island in the Mediterranean Sea 79 kilometres (49 miles) off the coast of Valencia and is the third largest Balearic island. Ibiza Airport, 7 kilometres (4.3 miles) south-west of Ibiza Town, is the airport serving the Balearic Islands of Ibiza and Formentera, used by 95% of all travellers who arrive at or depart from these islands.

Copyright © Press Association 2013

Count on Dracula‏ to make your holiday

Dracula is coming back from the dead … as a tourism attraction.

For decades, Romanian tourism chiefs have asked holidaymakers to avert their gaze from the Gothic castles and ruins linked to the notorious vampire. But this is mainly due to hesitancy over promoting negative associations with the country, and Vlad the Impaler of the House of Draculesti, rather than fearing holidaymakers would be hypnotised. Romania hopes its decision to re-think and market Transylvania as a top tourist destination will hypnotise horror fans flying out from south-east England airports in a positive way. Bram Stoker penned his famous novel more than a century ago, but only now does the Romanian Federation of Tourism and Service Employers (FPTS) feel that the public are ready to embrace Dracula tourism.

Romania is home to the most important historical places linked to Vlad, such as the 14th century town of Sighisoara where visitors can see the house in which he was born. Other Dracula sites include: Bucharest's Old Princely Court (Palatul Curtea Veche), Snagov Monastery, where Vlad’s body is allegedly buried; the Poenari Fortress ruins (thought by many to be the authentic Dracula's Castle); Arefu village, where Dracula legends are still told, Brasov city, where Vlad led raids against the Saxons merchants, and Bran Castle, otherwise known as “Dracula's Castle”.

Copyright © Press Association 2013

Britons lead airport exodus to Spain

British airport travellers are leading an increase in foreign visits to Spain.

The country greeted 5,800,000 international tourists in May, marking a 7.4% year-on-year rise. More than a quarter (27.1%) of them arrived from the UK, mainly from southern airports such as Heathrow. May also witnessed a 9.3% rise in UK visitors to Spain, compared to the same month last year.

Their favourite destination was the Balearic Islands, which welcomed nearly a third of all Spain-bound UK tourists, whose numbers rose 10.8% overall compared to 2012. Britain retains its standing as Spain’s biggest in-bound market, enjoying a cumulative year-on-year increase of 4.4% and accounting for more than a fifth (22%) of all overseas visitors. In the first five months of 2013, Spain has welcomed over 19.8 million international visitors - that's up 3.9% on the same period in 2012. Catalonia registered 1.5 million tourists (up 6.3%) in May for its sixteenth successive month of growth.

The Balearics followed narrowly behind, welcoming 1.4 million tourists (up 13.2%) in the same month, while Andalucía welcomed 781,000 tourists (up 5.7%) . From January to May, Spain benefited from more than 18 million euros (£15,592,680) in tourism income, accounting for a cumulative rise of 7.9% compared to the same five months in 2012. UK visitors make up the largest share of tourism expenditure with nearly a fifth (18.4%).

Copyright © Press Association 2013