Costa del Sol Holidays
It’s not just beaches
As if the beautiful coast and enormous choice of beach holidays wasn’t enough, depending where you are on the Costa del Sol, it’s just a hop by ferry to Morocco and the exotic world of ancient souks and higgledy-piggledy alleyways of the hidden world of the Medina, the heart of traditional Moroccan life.
If your pleasure lies in rustic landscapes you are only a short ride from the traditional white villages of Andalucia, perhaps a visit to the sherry bodegas of Jerez de la Frontera, or maybe a day out to the ciudad de la alegria, Seville, the city of happiness.
There’s nowhere on God’s green acre that has as many golf courses in as close a proximity as there is on the Costa del Sol – at least not in Europe there isn’t anyway. From the elite Valderrama, ‘the yardstick by which all other golf courses in Europe are measured’, according to one knowledgeable enthusiast, to excellent standards at local council run courses, there is a course for everyone no-matter how handicapped their handicap or slim their wallet. More than fifty, and growing.
You want a beach with buzz and a melange of ages and nationalities? Take yourself to La Fontanella in Marbella. A beach favoured by locals with plenty of chiringuitos (beach bars) serving freshly cooked seafood to drool over? Malága’s La Malagueta is just the place for you.
Whether it’s ‘Diva Devine’ on the sands or bucket, spade and sandcastles with the nippers, you’ll find your beach spot to soak up the sun. And there really is a ‘horses for courses’, because for two weekends in August the beach at Sanlucar de Barrameda becomes a racetrack with the full panoply of spectator stands, bookies pitches, paddocks and winners enclosure taking over the sands.
This may seem a bit of a contradiction in terms as far as the Costa del Sol is concerned, but that doesn’t stop it from being true. When most people mention the resorts on the south coast they think of Torremolinos and its tempestuous bars or Porto Banus and the roar of Lamborghinis driven by blondes with wavy tresses and Fort Knox levels of gold dangling from chains, (and that’s just the men), but there are many delightful villages close to the coast where life is so tranquil that you are happy to turn the lights out at ten at night because you’ve had such a wonderfully lethargic day of doing absolutely nothing at all.
So if it’s so lovely, what’s the best time to go? Now that depends on what you are looking for, doesn’t it?
If you enjoy hot days on the beach or lounging by a pool, then the summer months between June and September will be the best time to visit, although the beaches will be busy.
During July and August the days are hot and dry, with daytime temperatures often scrambling well over 30C, and evening temperatures a lethargy-making 21C (and the height of summer is definitely not the time to be trekking in the mountains).
Spring and autumn are ideal if you like stretching your legs along mountain footpaths, as the days are still warm, an average 22C, with very little rain. Resorts are quieter at this time, although temperatures can reach 25C during April, about the same as the height of summer in the UK – if you are lucky.
If you like blue skies and tucking up in front of an open fire at night, the almost rain-free winter months are perfect; no crowds, no queues, but still with plenty going on. Expect daytime temperatures of 17C during December if you decide to go for Christmas.
But remember, high summer temperatures bring big summer crowds, and the Costa del Sol is just as popular with the Spanish, Germans and French as it is with the British, so if you can possibly take your holidays outside of high season it will definitely be to your advantage.
Many people are now choosing to visit the Costa del Sol during the low seasons to take advantage of the reduced prices. Avoiding the busy summer months will bring good discounts on flights and accommodation, and the stable climate means plenty of warm weather.
One way to get excellent discounts is to avoid the school holiday periods such as Easter, October, Christmas and the peak summer months, and you can often find a bargain if you book in advance. And don’t forget the ‘all-inclusive’ options, which can be the perfect way to have an economical holiday, especially if you are travelling as a family.
There are direct flights from the UK to Costa del Sol year round from most city airports with a flight time of approximately three hours. Malaga Airport (AGP) is an international airport that includes a variety of bars, restaurants and cafeterias as well as duty free shopping, car hire and airport hotels. There is a taxi rank at Terminal 3, but you should get a quote for the fare because Malaga taxis aren’t metered.
There is a train station at the airport as well as the airport shuttle bus service to Marbella, with a transfer time of 45 minutes. Independently booking a private shuttle can save time and expense - fares for a private transfer are 17 euros (£13) per person to Marbella. Car hire is another economical option and can be booked independently online up to 24 hours prior to arriving.
The Costa del Sol is famed for its beautiful beaches, and with over 150km of coastline there is no shortage of space on the soft golden sands. The diversity of the beaches is why this region of Andalusia is so popular; you can choose between quieter family friendly beaches or the livelier resort beaches. Costa del Sol beaches are clean and safe and many have been awarded the coveted European Blue Flag.
Torremolinos is without doubt one of the liveliest resorts much loved by families, couples and groups, especially during the buzzing summer months. Large beaches such as Playamar and Los Alamos are hugely popular during the summer but with six beaches to choose from there should be no problem finding a stretch of sand. Watersports are an option here including water skiing, scuba diving and jet skiing. The aqua park will keep the children entertained and golf is also popular here.
Marbella is known as a glitzy resort favoured by the rich and famous but available to everyone. With 26km of golden sand along the Marbella coastline this is the place to relax on sun loungers and enjoy the scenery at beaches such as Puerto Banus and Buddha Beach. The warm crystal clear waters are perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving or why not charter a private boat from the marina and enjoy a few hours of dolphin spotting.
If you are looking for one of the best beaches to escape the crowds then consider El Canuelo; a long string of hidden coves located near the town of Nerja. El Canuelo is sheltered by cliffs and has managed to avoid commercialisation. The soft sands lapped by the warm waters are the perfect place to simply relax before dipping into the sea waters to swim or snorkel.
As tempting as it is to flop out on the beach for your holiday, hardly moving for anything more energetic than lifting a glass of wine or eating at one of the thousands of excellent restaurants, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t at least spend part of your time sightseeing – and there’s plenty of excellent sights to see.
Museum of Glass and Crystal, Malaga
Opened in 2009, this is the only museum of its kind in the Costa del Sol. A guided tour takes you through the more than seven hundred pieces on show of the three thousand the museum has in its collection.
Glorious objet d’art and everyday items dating back to Egyptian and Roman times are brought to life in the beautifully restored 18th-century palace, with glass and crystal objects displayed in room settings featuring furniture and decoration of the period.
Marbella Old Town
It comes as a surprise to many to discover that, far from just being a bejewelled outpost of the über riche, Marbella has a terribly, terribly charming old town. Little of the layout of the walled city has changed since it originated around the 16th century. The centre of ‘Old Town’ life is the Plaza de los Naranjos, referred to as ‘Orange Square’ by the Brits, where you will find the three most historic buildings - the Renaissance style Town Hall, the Mayor’s house, a combination of Gothic and Renaissance; and the Chapel of Santiago, the city’s first church.
Architecture and history aside, the delightful, higgledy-piggledy streets are bursting with gift shops, galleries, and clothes shops, with most of the restaurants being on or around the Plaza de Los Naranjos. Remember though, you are in Marbella, and a couple of glasses of wine on Orange Square could cost as much as a full meat-and-two-veg a couple of streets back.
If you are taking a stroll around Málaga – and you definitely should – make a stop at the 11th-century Alcazaba, a palatial fortification and the best preserved of its kind in Spain. (‘Alcazaba’ means citadel.) Built on the slopes of a hill in the centre of the city, the Alcazaba glares down on the port, keeping a weather eye out for invaders, although there haven’t been many of them since Ferdinand and Isabella captured Málaga from the Moors after a three month siege at the tail-end of the 15th century.
If your legs are up to it, take the path up to the Castillo de Gibralfaro, the Muslim castle perched on a rocky outcrop and surrounded by pines and eucalyptus trees. (You can always catch the city tour bus from Plaza de la Merced if they aren’t.) Marvellous views. While you are on your stroll you could also visit the Picasso Museum dedicated to the city’s most famous son. The artist always said that he wanted his paintings to be seen in his home town, and after his death his family donated his collection, which is housed in a beautifully restored16th-century mansion in the heart of the historic centre.
If you don’t mind a slow ride suspended from cables, the Telecabina (cable car) beside the Tivoli Park in Arroyo de la Miel takes you 771 meters above sea level up the Calamorro Mountain. Your reward for this minor act of bravery are spectacular views from the top – as far as Morocco on a clear day – and the slightly nervous pleasure of seeing the wold slip away from your feet and expand as you take the ten-minute ride.
Plaza de Toros, Mijas
Even if you aren’t overly keen on bullfighting, this lovely little bullring, the smallest in Spain, is still worth a visit – the bonus of which is that you also get to see Mijas. You won’t find the names of any famous matadors on the plaques around the walls (in fact a full grown, four-year-old toro bravo would probably cross the ring in about six strides) but it is still used as a training ground for novilleros, young toreros who have yet to win the right to wear the traje de luces, the suit of lights.
Even if you are only holidaying on the Costa del Sol for a long weekend you should still stroll the streets of one of the region’s famous pueblos blancos, the startlingly white-painted villages. Frigiliana is a delight of cobbled streets and ancient buildings dating as far back as the times of the Moorish invasion that conquered and occupied Spain for almost seven hundred years.
The Moors left their mark with their Mudéjar architectural, a blend of Moorish, Jewish and Christian styles that can be seen in the steep alleyways that wind through flower-bedecked houses. The village is beautifully kept, and has won awards for being Andalucia’s best preserved.
It probably sounds like a joke when someone tells you that you can hire a Lamborghini by the hour, which is parked in Puerto Banus so that you can play the role of a decadent millionaire and try to pull a svelte young thing in a Bulgari bikini.
Even if it’s not true, Puerto Banus would be the place to do it. This is Europe’s playground for looking cool, but you have to have a serious limit on your credit card if you want to join in the game. Act haughty as you stroll among the yachts with price tags that look like long-distance telephone numbers and pretend that you are just window shopping, or be normal and just drool.
The same applies with the boutiques and chi-chi little gift shops. A visit to Puerto Banus is an experience you must try once, though, even if it’s just to remind you that ‘rich’ doesn’t necessarily equate with ‘style’.
If you like boats but not brashness, Sotogrande Marina is more upmarket and elegant that Puerto Banus. ‘Little Venice’ is the place to take a drink and watch the ‘other half’ at play, but dining and drinking are pretty pricey, so it’s probably best to simply soak up the smart atmosphere for free and browse the Sunday flea market.
For a full day away from the beach and a complete contrast to the coastal plain, El Torcal de Antequera is a nature reserve known for its unusual landforms, with one of the most impressive landscapes in Europe. Created around 150 million years ago from the lifting of the seabed of a marine corridor that extended between the Gulf of Cádiz to Alicante, resulting in a low mountain range. Millennia of erosion, freezing and thawing, and dissolution by water, have shaped the karst into the weirdly wonderful shapes you see today, which have been given such names as the Sphinx, the Jug, the Camel, and the Screw, although stare long enough and, like looking at clouds, you will probably come up with your own images and names. There is proof that the caves in the rock provided homes for early man, when Neolithic artefacts were found in the Cueva del Toro (Cave of the Bull).
There’s no telling how old the stalactite is in Nerja Caves, but the thirty-two metre high column in the Chamber of the Cataclysm, which measures thirteen metres at its widest is the largest in the world. They can give an approximate date to the prehistoric paintings of snakes, turtles and shellfish, though – around 15,000 years – and it’s said that this is where Neolithic man began his transition to his ‘modern’ form.
This is the second most visited attraction in Andalucia, after the Alhambra, and every August concerts, operas and ballets are performed as part of the Festival of Music and Dance in the 600-seater Room of the Cascade, as there has been for over fifty years.
You can guarantee that you won’t be stuck for something to keep you busy on your Costa del Sol holiday. It’s fair to say, though, that keeping a family occupied can be tiring and a bit hard on the holiday spends. Here are a few suggestions that can be enjoyed by everyone, whether your ‘flexible friend’ isn’t as friendly as he used to be or you’ve just got all the numbers in line on the Euro Lottery.
For over forty years Tivoli World has been keeping kids and parents entertained at the Costa del Sol’s largest theme park. With over three hundred fairground rides and assorted attractions there’s no shortage of fun.
Add to that themed restaurants, free shows and a 3,000 seat auditorium that offers a marvellously assorted menu of shows, and you have somewhere that you can return to time and again. 7.95€ will get you into the park, and 21.95€ gets you entrance plus a ‘Supertivolino’ ticket, which includes over thirty rides. Visit on Sunday morning and there’s a free market to mooch around.
Nerja Donkey Sanctuary
‘Ooh’ and ‘aah’ time, and not just for the nippers either, because adults also love this volunteer-run home for donkeys and ponies, with a collection of ducks, sheep et al who delight visitors, especially the pot-bellied pigs who snuggle up to you affectionately, but are really just trying to get their snout into the bucket of food you are carrying.
You can even adopt a donkey, although that doesn’t mean you can take it home with you. Entrance is free, but you would be a sad old soul if you didn’t leave a few euros to support the good work. A giggle-worthy comment by one visitor sums it all up, ‘Second visit on the way to the airport for flight home. Travelled home with pig snot on our jeans, but it washed off so that was ok!’ Now who can say fairer that that?
Parque La Bateria (Battery Park), Torremolinos
An ex-military fortress whose peacetime role is as a beautifully restored botanical garden. Conservatories, a lake for boating, viewing tower to peruse the glorious views off to the Med, a bike path for sedate wandering, Baroque marble fountains, and Civil War bunkers to be explored. Fortunately, the canons no longer disturb the tranquillity of the park.
Kids love it because it has a large play area with trampolines, climbing frames, a carousel, and all the paraphernalia of good times. Adults can ease their joints at the outdoor gym, which isn’t half as strenuous as it sounds. And best of all, it’s all free, or at least so cheap that it costs less than a cup of coffee.
Making friends with a crab or starfish may not be quite in David Attenborough’s league, but at least you get the chance to handle them at Sea Life in Benelmadena. Put on a brave face and take the chance to feed the stingrays, although you may feel more comfortable just watching the sharks being fed instead of getting your hand too close to their teeth.
Seahorses, eels, turtles, octopi and around two thousand of the deep’s denizens from the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans are there to enthral in the nine halls with thirty ‘natural habitat’ tanks. An underwater tunnel takes you below the seas without the necessity of oxygen tank and face mask. Sea Life is more than just a brill day out, as its worldwide organisation is involved in the protection, breeding and rescue of a wide array of sea life.
Climb into a four-wheel drive or open-sided truck and set off on a safari. It may not be the Serengeti Plains, but this splendid park on the hills above Estepona gets you as close up – but fortunately not particularly personal – with over two thousand animals from each of the five continents.
Camels, bears, elephants, bison, cheetahs, lynx – you’ll see them all, although it’s probably best not to get too close to the crocodiles and rhinoceros (and despite their bulk and apparent lethargy, those big chaps can move at a pretty fair lick when they want to). But you can get to feed a giraffe if you feel so inclined.
Bird Canyon is one of the largest natural aviaries in Europe and is home to species such as toucans, storks and crane, and each day there are different exhibitions featuring birds of prey and snakes. It’s not all animals, though; hanging bridges to cross, zip wires to wiz down, all the fun of the fair, including the chance to ride a dromedary. Dress appropriately and wear sensible shoes, especially during the heat of the summer, as there isn’t much shelter.
La Carihuela, Torremolinos
Not so much a nice place to ‘do’ as a nice place to ‘be’. They say that Torremolinos wouldn’t be Torremolinos without La Carihuela, the historic barrio that used to be the fisherman's district. It’s popular for the pedestrianized prom, its clean beach, and it’s pretty little craft shops, but most of all it is a draw for its splendid fish restaurants, and the tantalising aroma of seafood being cooked perfumes the air during their opening hours.
Get there as the fleet comes in and you can watch the day’s catch being unloaded. Particularly popular with the Dutch, so in the unlikelihood that your taste buds have become a little blasé with Spanish cuisine, you can sample Dutch gastronomy in a number of restaurants.
If the salt sea and sand between your toes becomes a bit too much, there are two main water parks on the Costa del Sol. At 70,000m2 Aqualand Torremolinos is the largest of the two and one of Europe’s biggest. Hurly-burly ride, bubbling Jacuzzis, a spread of slides and a grand variety of pools ensures that everyone from tots, through usually temper-tantrumed-teenagers to mums, dads and grans will have a great time. Parque Acuatico Mijas (in Fuengirola, despite the name), is more compact and is more likely to appeal to pre-teens.
Valderrama Golf Course
With green fees at 300€, going up to 320€ at weekends, and 60€ a day to hire a golf buggy (although to be fair it does have GPS, but how lost can you get on a golf course?) Valderrama is mainly for those who have either a pretty well-lined wallet or are making it a once-in-a-life-time whack around the green.
As rewarding for it glorious views, backdrop of venerable oak trees and languid lakes, as its greens, Valderrama has hosted the Volvo Masters, the World Championships and the Volvo Masters so it’s hardly surprising that almost anyone who can hold a golf club the right way around wants to play there. And golfing widows or companions who don’t see the draw of spiked shoes and plaid trousers can cheer themselves up in the knowledge that the Club has a superb restaurant.
Santa Maria Polo Club
When you pay for a round of drinks with your credit card at the Santa Maria Polo Club, close your eyes and think of England and hope for the best when your monthly account arrives. If you are oh so jolly-well lucky you may come within breathing space of some of Europe’s haut monde, (but don’t hold your breath). But…despite all the panoply of richness, actually watching the high speed action on the pitch is free. A time to delight in civilised society, made even more-so if you can squeeze out the price of a couple of glasses of bubbly to get the full ‘Champagne Charlie’ effect.
The food, weather, culture and entertainment on the Costa del Sol and pretty spiffing, but to be honest, you’re mainly here for the beach, aren’t you? Here’s a few to choose from.
Burriana Beach, Nerja
You’ll want for nothing on thing on Nerja’s best loved beach, other than, perhaps, that it wasn’t such a steep climb back up to the road after an exhausting day sunbathing. Bags of restaurants, bars and cafés, and while the paella you munch at Ayo’s restaurant may not match the real McCoy from Valencia, it’s the best you will get on the beach and not bad at all.
If you decide to have lunch anywhere during high days and holidays, make sure you do it before 3pm, or you might end up with only a sandwich. Try out the local seafood and the speciality of sardines cooked over a wood fire. A sunbed and palm umbrella will cost you five euros if you want to be close enough to the water to dabble your toes in the Med. Great for everyone.
La Fontinilla Beach, Marbella
The beach that locals head for. Only a short walk from Marbella’s main shopping area and leisure port, La Fontinilla is perfectly situated. As it’s so popular you’ll need to get there early to bag a good spot during high season and at weekends, but you’ll be sharing the sands with a lively multinational mix of visitors of all ages. Life guards and beach stations are there to keep you safe, and a dozen beach bars to keep your thirst quenched. Sunbeds and parasols for hire.
El Cristo Beach, Estepona
You won’t get overly excited with things to do on El Cristo, which is probably a darn good thing. Sand castles and snorkelling are the order of the day, and beautifully clear, shallow water means it’s great for the nippers to paddle in. The beach is no stranger to foreigners, but you’ll hear local accents more than anything else. It’s worth staying until evening to watch the glorious sunsets over Gibraltar.
La Carihuela Beach, Torremolinos
Joined to both Torremolinos and Benalmadena by the Paseo Maritimo, La Carihela is the perfect beach for families as there are children’s play areas, plenty of toilet and shower facilities, red cross and surveillance posts, and loads of bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants – everything from chiringuitos serving fresh fish to swish cocktail bars – to keep adults and young things on holiday happily socialising. Locals love it as much as visitors, and it’s popular with the young crowd looking for late-night partying. Jet skis, windsurf boards and pedalos for hire if you lust for a bit of watersports.
La Malagueta Beach, Malaga
Ask a Malagueño which is their favourite beach and they send you to La Malagueta – or the again they might send you somewhere else to keep it to themselves. It’s Malaga’s longest beach, which is just as well because there are more chiringuitos (beach bars) than you can shake a knife and fork at, mainly serving superb, fresh local fish and seafood.
Don’t leave without sampling pescaíto frito, the local speciality of fried small fish. Only a short stroll from the city’s businesses, it’s an ‘after-work’ spot a quick bronzie by shop and office-workers, although if you get as far away from the port as you can you will find it a bit quieter.
Playa El Cañuelo, Nerja
If you have had enough of the more bustling beaches of the Costa del Sol, Playa el Cañuelo, is a cove tucked away at the foot of the Maro cliffs, around eight kilometres from Nerja and about as far east as you can go on the Costa del Sol. You will forgo the sandy beaches further west, but the crystal clear water is ideal for snorkelling and scuba-diving as you explore the coves of this nature park teeming with marine life.
If you fancy discarding the swimwear, the beach is popular with nudists. There are a couple of beach bars, but make sure you take supplies with you as it’s a hefty climb back up the hill.
La Rada Beach, Estepona
A big favourite, and said to be one of the best beaches in the western Costa del Sol. Smack in the centre of town, the almost three kilometre prom is busting with places to eat, drink and be merry. Various forms of water-borne transport to skitter the waves on, and its clear waters make swimming and snorkelling a joy.
A nice up-market touch when you hire a sunbed and parasol is that you get a drinks table as well, so you don’t have to grind your glass into the sand to make sure it doesn’t fall over. As ever, make sure you sample the local seafood.
Puerto Banús, Marbella
Chi-chi up in your stringiest bikini and get yourself to Puerto Banús – even if you will probably only do it once. Beach activity centres around gawking at the nouveau-crasse in their designer this, that and the other, and wondering if that chap with the skin as tanned and leathered as a Louis Vuitton shoulder bag really does think he looks good in a gold tanga, which, quite frankly, has cost more at one of the beach-side boutiques than your two weeks in the sun has. But hey – it gives you something to laugh about later.
Quit the bathing kit
Curiously enough, there is no law in Spain against appearing in public starkers, although fortunately most people refrain from baring the ‘body beautiful’ (or more often, the ‘body best not seen outside the privacy of the bathroom’) to the beaches.
The Costa del Sol has more nudist beaches than anywhere else in Spain, a few being the Costa Natura, Estepona, Spain’s first naturist resort and a riot of floribunda and sporty things to do, the Playa de las Dunas, west of Cabopino, Marbella, is an even mix of nudies and ‘textiles’ – those who prefer to cover up their bits – at weekends, Gaudalmar, Málaga, the city’s only official nudist beach, but a great mix of families nonetheless.
You might feel the temptation to duck occasionally, as the beach is on the flight path to Málaga airport; Almayate beach, Torre del Mar, also has a naturist campsite with some mobile homes to rent, lovely mountain backdrop and a couple of good beach bars where you don’t need to dress for dinner – but make sure you have a strategically placed napkin in case you drop anything hot.
Mainly known as a port, (and a great day out is a jaunt to Gibraltar or exotic Morocco), Algeciras has its own pockets of pleasantness and quiet charm. As a result of the strong Arab influence there are a number of tea shops in the backstreets, where you can try traditional Moroccan mint tea. Perhaps not the most beautiful of cities on the Costa del Sol, but this is made up for by its genuine Spanish atmosphere, something not always found elsewhere.
The name Alhaurin was given to the town by the Moors, whose translation as the ‘Garden of Allah’ seems apt these days, with its position on the edge of the Sierra de Mijas. Enjoy the rural pleasures of horse-riding, cycling and meandering through the sierras, and only twenty minutes away you can sun yourself on the beaches of Marbella and Torremolinos.
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, and you can’t judge Arriate by its apparent sleepy little rural village exterior. Chic and sophisticated shops housed in charming historic buildings cater for up-market clients in this delightful town that goes back to eight hundred years BC, a time when the residents lived in caves and didn’t buy their lace-trimmed Egyptian-cotton pillow cases at Zara Home, as they do now.
But you don’t need a shopping compulsion to have a good time in Arriate - paragliding, swimming, tennis, golf, horse riding and wine tasting are all nearby, with skiing in the Sierra Nevada. Take time to make the 6km trip to Ronda, a genuinely lovely Andalucian city with plenty to see for a full day out.
On a roadside sign outside the town, Benahavis describes itself as ‘The Gastronomic Corner of Andalucía’, and as many people visit to sample its gastronomic delights as do to experience its narrow, winding-street Moorish charm.
Pronounce it ‘Benelmadna’ or you will be looked down on as a linguistic twit. The town has become enormously popular with British holidaymakers, but you still get the feel of Andalucia in the Pueblo, the old town above the resort. It has an award-winning marina based on a Moorish design, the centre for good-life living and dancing till dawn.
This pretty village is based on a typical Moorish layout, with enough narrow alleyways and shady streets to keep the most historically-minded happy. But those of a more basic state of mind will be pleased to hear that Benajoán is famous for its chorizos, sausages made from free-range pigs that are reared in the oak forests that cover the hills, and the Verbena del Tren, an open-air fiesta at the railway station at the end of July to celebrate the coming of the railway. Around eighty kilos of Benaojan sausage are washed down by tidal waves of sangria.
Bubion is a village to relax in as you plan your treks or horse-riding through the Sierra Nevada and glorious countryside of the Alpujarras. You can try the wine tasting tours at Pampaneira, and team your newly discovered palette with excellent local gastronomy in small village restaurants.
Less than an hour will get you to the shores of the Med, or you could explore the Moorish heart of Granada, one of Andalucia’s famous ‘Golden Triangle’, with Seville and Cordoba making up the other two points.
Calahonda is the place to go if you aren’t up to struggling with the Spanish lingo but want everything to hand. Three commercial centres have all you need in the way of restaurants (forty-five of them), shops, supermarkets, pubs, cafes and banks.
A large resident ex-pat community ensures that all household necessities are close by, should you feel need to do a bit of painting and decorating while on your hols. Ten golf courses within a ten-kilometre radius for those minded that way, and a port if you prefer water sports.
High up in the Alpujarras, Capileira was so remote in Moorish times that it held out longer than most when the Christian King and Queen, Fernando and Isabela, chased their countrymen from Spain in the 15th century. Fortunately, these days the delightful village is easily accessible, and perfect as a base for country holidays with close contact with the coast, although the superb views of the Poqueira gorge and the Sierra Nevada may tempt you into forgoing the sands.
Known as the ‘Balcony of the White Villages’ because the two nearby mountains El Algarín and Las Grajas give regal views over the other pueblos blancos in the area, El Gastor is just the place to stay if you like a bit of history blended in with holiday relaxation.
Megalithic burial grounds such as El Charcón, known as the ‘Tumba del Gigante’ locally, which dates from the, Bronze Age, the Cuevas de Fariña and del Susto, the former once used by bandits and the latter with a large underground lake, or a museum devoted to the gruesome acts of El Tempranillo, one of Andalucia’s most famous 19th-century bandits. Make sure you try guisote, a stew of breadcrumbs, wild asparagus and garlic before you leave.
Everything you could wish for - a mini-safari at Selwo Adventure, wonderful fish restaurants supplied from the fleet that unloads their catch almost at your doorstep – and you can watch them doing it, a popular local golf course that doesn’t cost the earth and is so unlike the biggies and poshies in the area that you don’t feel a fool if you accidentally hit a clod of grass instead of the ball, the splendid La Rada beach with its bustling prom and boisterous chiringuitos. Need anything else?
Even if you are only holidaying on the Costa del Sol for a long weekend you should still stroll the streets of one of the region’s famous pueblos blancos, the startlingly white-painted villages. Frigiliana is a delight of cobbled streets and ancient buildings dating as far back as the times of the Moorish invasion that conquered and occupied Spain for almost seven hundred years.
The Moors left their mark with their Mudéjar architecture, a blend of Moorish, Jewish and Christian styles that can be seen in the steep alleyways that wind through flower-bedecked houses. The village is beautifully kept, and has won awards for being Andalucia’s best preserved.
Fuengirola has been very popular for both holiday-making and residential Brits for decades, and is just the place if you like everything that Spain can provide in the way of sun, sand and sangría, but appreciate a bit more home-from-home than casa-from-home.
Seven kilometres of sandy beaches, plenty of best bitter bars and proper pie restaurants with enough tapas bars if you should feel adventurous, with countryside and a dry river bed to stroll in. Each to his own as far as a holiday is concerned, and Fuengirola hits the holiday spot for an awful lot of people.
More than just the place where one of Spain’s favourite waters come from, the Spanish go there in their thousands to bathe in the waters as well as drink them. The natural waters are considered to be some of the best in the country and have been celebrated for centuries for their curative properties.
You can indulge yourself in a range of spa treatments at the Balneario from March to December. The name supposedly comes from the Moorish ruler, Lanjarón, who threw himself from the castle tower on a rocky outcrop above the town.
Most people only see Málaga in the distance as they whizz off from the airport on the last leg of their holiday journey. If you are one of them, give yourself a treat and go back for the day. It has great fiestas, (bigger and better than anything Seville has to offer and done mainly for the locals and not just to encourage tourism), and if you are arts minded you’ll see some of Picasso’s best-loved works at the museum that bears his name and celebrates his birth-place. An ace botanical garden and bonny castle, with saliva-making tapas bars everywhere you go.
Bling yourself out and sashay with the riche, both nuevo and ancien in the Costa del Sol’s playground of conspicuous excess, or inhale the aroma of orange blossom in the air of the Plaza de Naranjos. If you can’t afford the price tags at the designer shops on the prom – most of which don’t even display price tags – you can still pick up a little elegant number at El Corte Ingles, the John Lewis of Spain for a romantic dinner for two. Just don’t try and dine in the fancier parts of Marbella unless you have a Platinum card. If you like class and not crass, take a drink at the colonial-style Marbella Club Hotel.
A charming small pueblo blanco only a short ride from the coast. Discovered decades ago by artists and writers, it still has an Andalucian village feel about it, even though most of the narrow streets in the centre are door-to-door craft shops and boutiques. It boasts the smallest bullring in Spain, worth a visit for its Wendy-house sized charm.
In the heart of Nerja, on the edge of the cliffs, the Balcón de Europa is a lovely promenade with views off to the mountains and down to the beaches of fine white sand, a stroll not to be missed. The water here is exceptionally clear, so if snorkelling or scuba-diving is your favoured pastime you will be in seventh heaven. There are kayak routes for those who prefer their sports above the water line. Perfect for family and couple holidays geared to a laid-back lifestyle.
Whatever might be said about Puerto Banus' facade of decadent indulgence, let’s be honest, we’d all like to actually own one of those floating gin palaces parked in the marina. Unfortunately, the nearest most of us will get to one is staring at it from the prom, so go on, dream.
Ronda is full to the gunnels with historic and interesting places to see and visit, but the cobbled streets and intriguing old shops themselves are enough of a draw to have you strolling the town in a languidly relaxed sort of way. During your meander you are bound to pause on the 18th-century Puente Nuevo (new) bridge, which straddles the 100m chasm below, and has unparalleled views out over the Serranía de Ronda mountains. Best to just let your feet guide you.
Close enough to the glitzy shenanigans of Marbella and the busy, busy beachy life of Estepona, but far enough away from them both to have its own quieter character, San Pedro still has a more peaceful ambience than you will find in many resorts. Small shops, bars and sidewalk cafés fill the narrow streets, and for a palm-lined stroll to the beach, make your way down the Avenida del Marques del Duero to the prom. There you will find excellent chiringuitos to have a nibble and a drink at. There is a street market on Thursdays.
If it was good enough for Frank Sinatra then it should be good enough for you, although it’s got to be said that the resort has come a long way since Old Blue Eyes wiggled his toes in the sand. Driven down a couple of decades ago by appallingly bad press, Torremolinos has re-invented itself splendidly into an appealing and attractive place to spend your hols, with excellent clean, sandy beaches, and an outstanding selection of entertainment, activities and nightlife. Curiously enough, it has much more Spanish character now than it did in the 70s and 80s.
Torrox is that perfect blend of a hillside village with a lively beach resort almost on its doorstep. Long popular with families who want easy access to the amenities of flashier resorts and the calm of a traditional village, Torrox is also close enough to the Sierra Tejada to enjoy cycling, climbing and horse riding, with plenty of golf nearby. While you are there it’s worth a trip to the caves at Nerja, especially during the summer when they hold concerts in the illuminated chambers.