Tributes have been paid to a former York hotelier who has died in an accident in Spain.

Chris Watkins, 35, was walking home to his apartment in Ojén, a mountain village near Marbella, when he fell and broke his neck.

Mr Watkins, who was married and had a young daughter, ran Marmadukes Hotel in St Peters Grove, the Guy Fawkes Inn and Lamb & Lion Inn, both in High Petergate, and the former Harvilles Restaurant in Fossgate, until March 2010.

The accident happened at about 9pm last Saturday and Mr Watkins’ body was found the next day.

Spanish police are investigating reports that safety fencing around a building site on the hillside gave way, leading to the fall.

Mr Watkins is survived by hiswidow, Emma, and five-year-old daughter Aggie, his parents Tina and Bruce and three brothers. His funeral took place on Wednesday.

Bruce led the tributes. He said: “Chris was a greatly loved son, brother, father and good mate who will be in our thoughts forever.”

Mr Watkins was born and brought up on a farm in North Island, New Zealand. He studied psychology at Waikato University in Hamilton before setting out to see the world.

He met Emma when they were both teaching English in Taiwan and they travelled extensively for four years before coming to England and marrying in Cockermouth, Cumbria in 2004.

They moved to York the same year to work in the de Bretton hospitality business run by Mr Watkins’s father-in-law, David Hattersley. Chris and Emma helped convert Marmadukes, in St Peters Grove, from a backpackers’ hostel into a four-star hotel.

Mr Watkins was particularly instrumental in the extensive renovation that created the Lamb & Lion Inn, and the transformation of the Guy Fawkes Inn, increasing both businesses’s turnover. He was a real ale enthusiast and took great interest in the beers specially brewed for both venues.

In 2009, Mr Watkins was granted British citizenship, of which he was very proud, and that summer he and Emma took over both Marmadukes Hotel and Harvilles Restaurant when de Bretton went into administration.

They had to relinquish ownership after being unable to meet bank demands in March 2010. Afterwards Mr Watkins went to work for Mr Hattersley’s new business in Gibraltar.

Mr Hattersley said: “Chris was one of kindest and most gentle of men you could ever meet. He never had a bad word to say about anyone.

“Chris helped me come through a nervous breakdown and to get back on my feet. Without him I would not have recovered. He was my right-hand man, my left-hand man, my sparring partner and my best friend.”