Holidays to the Costa del Sol can be tailor-made to suit you. Sandy beaches, glitzy towns, historical villages and lively theme parks are just a few of the things Spain’s Sunshine Coast has to offer.
A national treasure
Britain’s love affair with the Costa del Sol has just passed the diamond anniversary point. It was slightly more than 60 years ago that holidaymakers from the UK started to head to Spain’s southern coast. Today, the relationship couldn’t be stronger. Not only do thousands of visitors travel over here every year, but 300,000 expats now call this place home.
The Sunshine Coast
The secret to the Costa del Sol’s success is in its name. The sunshine coast experiences approximately 320 days of sun every year. What’s more, the region’s 161-kilometre coastline has everything you need to make the most of the weather. In Marbella alone there are 25 kilometres of silky sand, broken up by 5 star hotels and beach clubs. Torremolinos’ beaches, meanwhile, are backed by tapas bars, shops and ice cream parlours. And in Benalmadena, a whitewashed old town sits shoulder-to-shoulder with a cosmopolitan harbour area.
The Costa del Sol is the gateway to Andalucia. This part of Spain is known for its pueblo blancos – whitewashed villages that spill down the hillside. It’s also the location of guidebook-touted cities like Granada and Seville.
Things to See and Do in Costa del Sol
Thanks to its 161-kilometre coastline, the Costa del Sol is overrun with beaches. And a healthy portion of them have Blue Flag status. When you choose your favourite stretch of sand, you’re making a personal statement. A preference for Puerto Banus’ beach declares a like for the finer things in life, while a soft spot for El Cristo says you’d rather build sandcastles than a social empire.
The big beach
There’s stiff competition for the title of the biggest beach in the Costa de Sol. In this part of the world, long and wide sands come as standard. In terms of reputation, Puerto Banus’ east beach has the largest. Barely a week goes by without a celebrity being paparazzi-ed on the sand. Peter Andre, Calum Best and Simon Cowell are just a few of the faces that appear in the Puerto Banus Hall of Fame.
The secret beach
After more than 6 decades of tourism, the cover has been blown from all the Costa del Sol’s beaches. Having said that, some beaches have less footfall than others. El Canuelo, an hour’s drive east from Malaga, is one such beach. It’s part of the Los Acantilado de Maro-Cerro Gordo National Park and you can only reach it by parking your car and taking a shuttle bus. The snorkelling here is some of the best in southern Spain.
You can blow the budget sky high in the Costa del Sol. Head to Porto Banus marina to browse the rails of Bulgari, Prada and Armani. Marbella is no stranger to designer boutiques, either. You’ll find some couture collection shops around Calle Muelle de Ribera and Plaza de la Victoria.
El Corte Ingles is Spain’s answer to Debenhams. And, like its English counterpart, you can find branches in most of the big cities, including Avenida de Andalucía in Malaga and Calle de Ramón Arecesin Marbell. In Benalmadena, the Puerto Marina Mall is the shopping bulls-eye. There’s everything from clothing stores to DIY shops here.
The Costa del Sol crams its diary full of street markets. Marbella’s stall holders set up shop on Calle Limones on a Monday morning. The market comes to town in Fuengirola’s Boliches area on Tuesdays. And Puerto Banus attracts the traders to Nueva Andalucia on a Saturday. The latter is Dickenson’s real deal territory, so keep an eye out for antiques.
After-dinner entertainment comes in all shapes and sizes in the Costa del Sol. Head to the Golden Mile between Marbella and Puerto Banus to find cinemas and casinos. Or, for some of the best cabaret in this part of Spain, make your way to the plaza near Bonanza Square in Benalmadena.
The Costa del Sol is Spain’s party piece. Most clubs here stay open until the sun rises. In Benalmadena, the best address for a night out is 24-hour Square. The clubs here are multi-level and open all night. In Torremolinos, the hottest tickets are issued in the big brand nightclubs on Aveida Palma de Mallorca. Bespoke nights out, meanwhile, are to be had in the Champagne bars and open-air terrace clubs around Puerto Banus marina.
Arroz a la marinera
This dish is often a victim of mistaken identity – it’s easy to pass it off as paella. However, where the original Valencian paella recipe calls for rabbit and snails to be cooked with rice, this dish is strictly fish. Only clams, squid and shrimp are allowed on the ingredients list.
Queso Valle de los Pedroches
This artisan cheese spends the first 7 months of its life in the Pedroches Valley, a 2-hour drive north of Benalmadena. It’s made from sheep’s milk, it’s got a buttery consistency a little like Edam, and it tastes slightly spicy.
Andalucia is the birthplace of Spain’s hallmark chilled soup. The traditional recipe calls for stale bread, tomatoes, cucumber, onions and garlic to be blended together. But chefs are always looking for ways to reinvent the dish. The really rebellious do away with the tomatoes and use avocadoes instead.
You should really need ID to buy these cakes, because most of the time they’re soaked in alcohol. The recipe comes from Granada and the finished product is made up of two parts – a squidgy pastry cylinder and a toasted cream top.
The Costa del Sol can’t claim copy write for this drink, but they can definitely say they’ve contributed to the PR campaign. This quirky mix of red wine and cola is served as a cocktail in some of the region’s most elite clubs.
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Sandwiched between Torremolinos and Marbella, the former fishing village of Fuengirola is now one of the Costa del Sol’s biggest players. It’s got the high-rise hotels, buzzing bars and tourist-friendly restaurants to prove it, but there are also side streets and squares crammed with upmarket tapas places and chic boutiques. And a Moorish castle adds a bit of history. The real draw, though, is the super-sized sandy beach.
Puerto Banus is Marbella’s world-famous port, right in the heart of Spain’s Costa del Sol. It’s a millionaire’s playground with beach clubs, super-yachts moored in the marina, and a long strip of bars, clubs and designer boutiques along the water. There’s another side to this firecracker of a spot, though – head away from the sea and there are quieter bars and authentic Spanish tapas.
Teetering on the rocks on the southern tip of Andalusia – about 40 minutes from Malàga – is Nerja, AKA the jewel of the Costa del Sol. You’re in classic Costa territory here, with sandy beaches and an all-night bar scene. There’s tumultuous history to explore, too – the centrepiece is the Balcon de Europa, a viewing platform that was once part of a battle-torn castle. No wonder King Alfonso XII made Nerja his holiday home back in the 1880s.
Calahonda sprang up in the Sixties between Costa del Sol big guns Marbella and Fuengirola. This custom-built place is a mix of larger hotels and whitewashed low-rises, and what it lacks in traditional Spanish atmosphere it more than makes up for with its energetic nightlife, provided by the mostly British-style bars and restaurants. Of course with the Costa del Sol you’re looking at nearly year-round sunshine – and here you’ve got a great sandy beach to make the most of it.
Narrow streets, whitewashed houses and bougainvillea spilling from balconies are all part of the picture at Benalmadena Pueblo on Spain’s Costa del Sol. So are the mountain and sea views that frame this peaceful hillside village. And it all comes with the sort of relaxed vibe that has locals chilling out alongside tourists in the bars and restaurants. As for beaches, there’s a whole coastline waiting in the wings.
Frigiliana is perched high on a ridge above Nerja on the Costa del Sol. This whitewashed village is navigated by a maze of steep cobbled streets – at its centre is the Moorish old town, where floor mosaics narrate the story of the Moors’ uprising. Here you’ll find authentic restaurants where tapas and sangria reign. And for nightlife and sandy beaches, Nerja is just down on the coast.