Fodor's Spain (2015)
Main Table of Contents
Welcome to Costa del Sol and Costa de Almería
The Costa de Almería
The Costa Tropical
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Top Reasons to Go | Getting Oriented | What’s Where | Planning | Eating and Drinking Well along Spain’s Southern Coast | Best Beaches of the Southern Coast
Updated by Joanna Styles
With roughly 320 days of sunshine a year, the Costa del Sol well deserves the nickname “the Sunshine Coast.” It’s no wonder much of the coast has been built up with resorts and high-rises. Don’t despair, though; you can still find some classic Spanish experiences, whether in the old city of Marbella or one of the smaller villages like Casares. And despite the hubbub of high season, visitors can always unwind here, basking or strolling on mile after mile of sandy beach.
Technically, the stretch of Andalusian shore known as the Costa del Sol runs west from the Costa Tropical, near Granada, to the tip of Tarifa, the southernmost point in Europe, just beyond Gibraltar. For most of the Europeans who have flocked here over the past 40 years, though, the Sunshine Coast has been largely restricted to the 70-km (43-mile) sprawl of hotels, vacation villas, golf courses, marinas, and nightclubs between Torremolinos, just west of Málaga, and Estepona, down toward Gibraltar. Since the late 1950s this area has mushroomed from a group of impoverished fishing villages into an overdeveloped seaside playground and retirement haven. The city of Almería and its coastline, the Costa de Almería, is southwest of Granada’s Alpujarras region, and due east of the Costa Tropical (around 147 km [93 miles] from Almuñécar).
Bird-Watching in Andalusia
Andalusia attracts ornithologists throughout the year, but the variety of birds increases in spring, when you can see many wintering species along with those arriving for the summer months.
The Straits of Gibraltar are a key point of passage for birds migrating between Africa and Europe. Soaring birds, such as raptors and storks, cross here because they rely on thermals and updrafts, which occur only over narrower expanses of water. One of the most impressive sights over the straits is a crossing of flocks of storks, from August to October; numbers sometimes reach up to 3,000.
Overall, northern migrations take place between mid-February and June, while birds heading south will set off between late July and early November, when there’s a westerly wind. Gibraltar itself is generally good for bird-watchers, although when there isn’t much wind, the Tarifa region on the Atlantic coast can be better.
There are also some 13 resident raptor species in Andalusia, and several that migrate here annually from Africa. The hillier inland parts of the Costa del Sol are the best places to see them circling high in the sky.
For more information about bird-watching in Andalusia, visit Centro Ornitológico del Estrecho de Gibraltar (Parque Natural Los Alcornocales, Carretera Nacional | www.alcornocales.org) or www.grupoornitologicodelestrecho.org.
TOP REASONS TO GO
Enjoy the sun and sand: Relax at any of the beaches; they’re all free, though in summer there isn’t much towel space.
Soak up the atmosphere: Spend a day in Málaga, Picasso’s birthplace, visiting the museums, exploring the old town, and strolling along the Palm Walkway in the port.
Check out Puerto Banús: Wine, dine, and celebrity-watch at the Costa’s most luxurious and sophisticated port.
Visit Cabo de Gata: This protected natural reserve is one of the wildest and most beautiful stretches of coast in Spain.
Shop for souvenirs: Check out the weekly market in one of the Costa resorts to pick up bargain-price souvenirs, including ceramics.
The towns and resorts along the southeastern Spanish coastline vary considerably according to whether they lie to the east or to the west of Málaga. To the east are the Costa de Almería and Costa Tropical, less developed stretches of coastline. Towns like Nerja act as a gateway to the dramatic mountainous region of La Axarquía. West from Málaga along the Costa del Sol proper, the strip between Torremolinos and Marbella is the most densely populated. Seamless though it may appear, as one resort merges into the next, each town has a distinctive character, with its own sights, charms, and activities.
The Costa de Almería. This Costa region is hot and sunny virtually year-round and is notable for its spectacular beaches, unspoiled countryside, and (less appealingly) plastic greenhouse agriculture. Right on the coast is Almería, a handsome, underrated city with a fascinating historic center with narrow pedestrian streets flanked by sunbaked ocher buildings and tapas bars.
The Costa Tropical. Less developed than the Costa del Sol, this stretch of coastline is distinctive for its attractive seaside towns, rocky coves, excellent water sports, and mountainous interior.
Málaga Province. Don’t miss the capital of the province: this up-and-coming cruise port retains a traditional Andalusian feel; better known are the coastal resorts due west with their sweeping beaches and excellent tourist facilities.
Gibraltar. The “Rock” is an extraordinary combination of Spain and Britain, with a fascinating history. There are also some fine restaurants here, as well as traditional Olde English pubs.
WHEN TO GO
May, June, and September are the best times to visit this coastal area, when there’s plenty of sunshine but fewer tourists than in the hottest season of July and August. Winter can have bright sunny days, but you may feel the chill: many hotels in the lower price bracket have heat for only a few hours a day; you can also expect several days of rain. Holy Week, the week before Easter Sunday, is a fun time to visit.
PLANNING YOUR TIME
Travelers with their own wheels who want a real taste of the area in just a few days could start by exploring the relatively unspoiled villages of the Costa Tropical: wander around quaint Salobreńa, then hit the larger coastal resort of Nerja and head inland for a look around pretty Frigiliana.
Move on to Málaga next; it has lots to offer, including museums, excellent restaurants, and some of the best tapas bars in the province. It’s also easy to get to stunning, mountaintop Ronda, which is also on a bus route.
Hit the coast at Marbella, the Costa del Sol’s swankiest resort, and then take a leisurely stroll around Puerto Banús. Next, head west to Gibraltar for a day of shopping and sightseeing before returning to the coast and Torremolinos for a night on the town.
Choose your base carefully, as the various areas here make for very different experiences. Málaga is a vibrant Spanish city, virtually untainted by tourism, while Torremolinos is a budget destination catering mostly to the mass market. Fuengirola is quieter, with a large population of middle-aged expatriates; farther west, the Marbella–San Pedro de Alcántara area is more exclusive and expensive.
It’s worth timing your visit to coincide with one of the Costa del Sol’s many traditional festivals. The annual ferias (more general and usually lengthier celebrations than fiestas) in Málaga (early August) and Fuengirola (early October) are among the best for sheer exuberance.
Feast of San Juan.
Midnight bonfires light up beaches all along the coast on June 23, and the celebrations continue the next day.
This celebration on May 15 is marked by typically Andalusian ferias, with plenty of flamenco and fino (sherry), in Nerja and Estepona.
Holy Week processions are particularly dramatic in Málaga.
Virgen del Carmen.
The patron saint of fishermen is honored in coastal communities, particularly in Los Boliches (Fuengirola) and Velez-Málaga, on her feast day, July 16.
GETTING HERE AND AROUND
Delta Airlines runs direct flights from JFK (New York) to Málaga June through August and via Charles de Gaulle (Paris) for the rest of the year. All other flights from the United States connect in Madrid. British Airways flies once daily from London (City, Gatwick, and Heathrow) to Málaga, and numerous British budget airlines, such as easyJet and Monarch, also link the two cities. There are direct flights to Málaga from most other major European cities on Iberia or other airlines. Iberia has two flights daily from Madrid (flying time is 1 hour 20 minutes), four flights a day from Barcelona (1½ hours), and regular flights from other Spanish cities.
Málaga’s Costa del Sol airport is 10 km (6 miles) west of town and is one of Spain’s most modern. Trains from the airport into town run every 20 minutes (6:44 am–12:24 am, journey time 12 minutes, €1.75) and from the airport to Fuengirola every 20 minutes (6:06 am–11:42 pm, journey time 34 minutes, €2.65), stopping at several resorts en route, including Torremolinos and Benalmádena.
From the airport there’s also bus service to Málaga every half hour from 7 am to midnight (€3). At least 10 daily buses (more from July–September) run between the airport and Marbella (journey time 45 minutes, €8). Taxi fares from the airport to Málaga, Torremolinos, and other resorts are posted inside the terminal: from the airport to Marbella is about €65, to Torremolinos €15, and to Fuengirola €35. Many of the better hotels and all tour companies will arrange for pickup at the airport.
The Costa del Sol is famous for its sun and sand, but many people supplement their beach time with mountain-bike forays into the hilly interior, particularly around Ojén, near Marbella, and along the mountain roads around Ronda. A popular route, which affords sweeping vistas, is via the mountain road from Ojén west to Istán. The Costa del Sol’s temperate climate is ideal for biking, though it’s best not to exert yourself on the trails in July and August, when temperatures soar. There are numerous bike-rental shops in the area, particularly in Marbella, Ronda, and Ojén; many shops also arrange bike excursions. The cost to rent a mountain bike for the day is around €20. Guided bike excursions, which include bikes, support staff, and cars, generally start at about €50 a day.
Marbella Rent a Bike. The roughly 100 bikes available from this company come with locks and third-party liability insurance. They can be delivered to locations throughout the Costa del Sol. | 952/811062 | www.marbellarentabike.com.
Until the high-speed AVE train line opens between Antequera and Granada sometime around 2016, buses are the best way to reach the Costa del Sol from Granada, and, aside from the train service from Málaga to Fuengirola, the best way to get around once you’re here. During holidays it’s wise to reserve your seat in advance for long-distance travel.
On the Costa del Sol, bus services connect Málaga with Cádiz (4 daily), Córdoba (4 daily), Granada (17 daily), and Seville (6 daily). In Fuengirola you can catch buses for Mijas, Marbella, Estepona, and Algeciras. The Portillo-Avanzabus bus company (902/020052 | www.avanzabus.com) serves most of the Costa del Sol and Cádiz. ALSA (902/422242 | www.alsa.es) serves Granada, Córdoba, Seville, and Nerja. Los Amarillos (902/210317 | www.losamarillos.es) serves Jerez and Ronda.
A car allows you to explore Andalusia’s mountain villages. Mountain driving can be hair-raising but is getting better as highways are improved.
Málaga is 536 km (335 miles) from Madrid, taking the A4 to Córdoba, then the A44 to Granada, the A92 to Antequera, and the A45; 162 km (101 miles) from Córdoba via Antequera; 220 km (138 miles) from Seville; and 131 km (82 miles) from Granada by the shortest route of A92 to Loja, then A45 to Málaga.
To take a car into Gibraltar you need, in theory, an insurance certificate and a logbook (a certificate of vehicle ownership). In practice, all you need is your passport. Head for the well-signposted multistory car park, as street parking on the Rock is scarce.
National Car-Rental Agencies
Goldcar. | 902/119726 | www.goldcar.es.
Taxis are plentiful throughout the Costa del Sol and may be hailed on the street or from specified taxi ranks marked “Taxi.” Restaurants are usually happy to call a taxi for you, too. Fares are reasonable, and meters are strictly used. You are not required to tip taxi drivers, though rounding up the amount will be appreciated.
Málaga is the main rail terminus in the area, with 12 high-speed trains a day from Madrid (from 2 hours 25 minutes to 2 hours 50 minutes, depending on the train). Málaga is also linked by high-speed train with Barcelona (3 daily, 5 hours 45 minutes). Six daily trains also link Seville with Málaga in just under two hours.
From Granada to Málaga (3–3½ hours), you must change at Bobadilla, making buses more efficient from here (a high-speed AVE line is currently under construction from Granada to Antequera, due for completion in 2016). Málaga’s train station is a 15-minute walk from the city center, across the river.
RENFE connects Málaga, Torremolinos, and Fuengirola, stopping at the airport and all resorts along the way. The train leaves Málaga every 20 minutes between 5:20 am and 11:30 pm and Fuengirola every half hour from 6:10 am to 11:50 pm. For the city center, get off at the last stop. A daily train connects Málaga and Ronda via the dramatic Chorro gorge. The travel time is 1 hour 45 minutes.
Málaga is best for traditional Spanish cooking, with a wealth of bars and seafood restaurants serving fritura malagueña, the city’s famous fried seafood. Torremolinos’s Carihuela district is also a good destination for lovers of Spanish seafood. The area’s resorts serve every conceivable foreign cuisine, from Thai to the Scandinavian smorgasbord. For delicious cheap eats, try the chiringuitos. Strung out along the beaches, these summer-only restaurants serve seafood fresh off the boats. Because there are so many foreigners here, meals on the coast are served earlier than elsewhere in Andalusia; most restaurants open at 1 or 1:30 for lunch and 7 or 8 for dinner. Restaurant prices are the average cost of a main course or equivalent combination of smaller dishes at dinner.
Most hotels on the developed stretch between Torremolinos and Fuengirola offer large, functional rooms near the sea at competitive rates, but the area’s popularity as a budget destination means that most such hotels are booked in high season by package-tour operators. Finding a room at Easter, in July and August, or over holiday weekends can be difficult if you haven’t reserved in advance. In July and August many hotels require a stay of at least three days. Málaga is an increasingly attractive base for visitors to this corner of Andalusia and has some good hotels. Marbella, meanwhile, has more than its fair share of grand lodgings, including some of Spain’s most expensive rooms. Gibraltar’s handful of hotels tends to be more expensive than most comparable lodgings in Spain.
There are also apartments and villas for short- or long-term stays, ranging from traditional Andalusian farmhouses to luxury villas. An excellent source for apartment and villa rentals is Spain Holiday (952/204435 | www.spain-holiday.com). For Marbella, you can also try Nordica Rentals (952/811552 | www.nordicarentals.com), and, for high-end rentals www.theluxuryvillacollection.com. Our local writers vet every hotel to recommend the best overnights in each price category, from budget to expensive. Unless otherwise specified, you can expect a private bath, phone, and TV in your room. Hotel prices are the lowest cost of a standard double room in high season.
GOLF IN THE SUN
Nicknamed the “Costa del Golf,” the Sun Coast has some 45 golf courses within putting distance of the Mediterranean. Most of the courses are between Rincón de la Victoria (east of Málaga) and Gibraltar, and the best time for golfing is October to June; greens fees are lower in high summer. Check out the comprehensive website www.golfinspain.com for up-to-date information.
Several companies run one- and two-day excursions from Costa del Sol resorts. You can book with local travel agents and hotels; excursions leave from Málaga, Torremolinos, Fuengirola, Marbella, and Estepona, with prices varying by departure point. Most tours last half a day, and in most cases you can be picked up at your hotel. Popular tours include Málaga, Gibraltar, the Cuevas de Nerja, Mijas, Tangier, and Ronda. The Costa del Sol’s varied landscape is also wonderful for hiking and walking, and several companies offer walking or cycling tours.
Bicycling Holidays. A good range of rural and urban guided cycling tours to suit all levels. | 952/471720 | www.sierracycling.com | From €480 a week.
John Keo Walking Tours. This company provides guided walks and hikes around eastern Costa del Sol, weekdays only. Reservations are essential. | 647/273502 | www.hikingwalkingspain.com | From €15.
Julia Travel. One of the largest tour operators in Spain, with a good selection of excursions on the Costa del Sol. | 917/690707 | www.juliatravel.com | From €4.50.
Viajes Rusadir. This local firm specializes in Costa del Sol excursions and private tours. | 952/463458 | www.viajesrusadir.com | Prices vary.
The official website for the Costa del Sol is wwww.visitacostadelsol.com; it has good information on sightseeing and events, guides to towns and villages, as well as contact details for the regional and local tourist offices, which are listed under their respective towns and cities. Tourist offices are generally open Monday–Saturday 10–7 (until 8 in summer) and Sunday 10–2.
EATING AND DRINKING WELL ALONG SPAIN’S SOUTHERN COAST
Spain’s southern coast is known for fresh fish and seafood, grilled or quickly fried in olive oil. Sardines roasted on spits are popular along the Málaga coast, while upland towns offer more robust mountain fare, especially in Almería.
C hiringuitos, small shanty shacks along the beaches, are summer-only Costa del Sol restaurants that serve fish fresh off the boats. Málaga is known for seafood restaurants serving fritura malagueña de pescaíto (fried fish). In the mountain towns, you’ll find superb rabo de toro (oxtail), goat and sheep cheeses, wild mushrooms, and game dishes. Almería shares Moorish aromas of cumin and cardamom with its Andalusian sisters to the west but also turns the corner toward its northern neighbor, Murcia, where delicacies such as mojama (salt-dried tuna) and hueva de maruca (ling roe) have been favorites since Phoenician times. Almería’s wealth of vegetables and legumes combine with pork and game products for a rougher, more powerful culinary canon of thick stews and soups.
Málaga has long been famous for the sweet muscatel wine that Russian empress Catherine the Great loved so much she imported it to Saint Petersburg duty-free in 1792. Muscatel was sold medicinally in pharmacies in the 18th century for its curative powers and is still widely produced and often served as accompaniment to dessert or tapas.
Cold Almond and Garlic Soup
Ajoblanco, a summer staple in Andalusia, is a refreshing salty-sweet combination served cold. Exquisitely light and sharp, the almond and garlic soup has a surprisingly creamy and fresh taste. Almonds, garlic, hard white bread, olive oil, water, sherry vinegar, and a topping of muscat grapes are the standard ingredients.
Fried Fish Málaga-style
A popular dish along the Costa del Sol and the Costa de Almería, fritura malagueña de pescaíto is basically any sort of very small fish—such as anchovies, cuttlefish, baby squid, whitebait, and red mullet—fried in oil so hot that the fish end up crisp and light as a feather. The fish are lightly dusted in white flour, crisped quickly, and drained briefly before arriving piping hot and bone-dry on your plate. For an additional Moorish aroma, fritura masters add powdered cumin to the flour.
Almería is known for heartier fare than neighboring Málaga. Puchero de trigo (wheat and pork stew) is a fortifying winter comfort stew of whole, boiled grains of wheat cooked with chickpeas, pork, black sausage, fatback, potatoes, saffron, cumin, and fennel. Ajo colorao, another popular stew that’s also known as atascaburras, consists of potatoes, dried peppers, vegetables, and fish that are simmered into a thick red-orange stew de cuchara (eaten with a spoon). Laced with cumin and garlic and served with thick country bread, it’s a stick-to-your-ribs mariner’s soup.
Known as moraga de sardinas, or espeto de sardinas, this method of cooking sardines is popular in the summer along the Pedregalejo and La Carihuela beaches east and west of Málaga: the sardines are skewered and extended over logs at an angle so that the fish oils run back down the skewers instead of falling into the coals and igniting a conflagration. Fresh fish and cold white wine or beer make this a beautiful and relaxing sunset beach dinner.
A Thousand and One Eggs
Something about the spontaneous nature of Spain’s southern latitudes seems to lend itself to the widespread use of eggs to bind ingredients together. In Andalusia and especially along the Costa del Sol, huevos a la flamenca (eggs flamenco-style) is a time-tested dish combining peppers, potatoes, ham, and peas with an egg broken over the top and baked sizzling hot in the oven. Revuelto de setas y gambas (scrambled eggs with wild mushrooms and shrimp) is a tasty combination and a common entrée. And, of course, there is the universal Iberian potato omelet, the tortilla de patatas.
BEST BEACHES OF THE SOUTHERN COAST
Tourists have been coming to the Costa del Sol since the 1950s, attracted by its magical combination of brochure-blue sea, miles of beaches, and reliably sunny weather.
The beaches here range from the gravel-like shingle in Almuñécar, Nerja, and Málaga to fine, gritty sand from Torremolinos westward. The best—and most crowded—beaches are east of Málaga and those flanking the most popular resorts of Nerja, Torremolinos, Fuengirola, and Marbella. For more secluded beaches, head west of Estepona and past Gibraltar to Tarifa and the Cádiz coast. The beaches change when you hit the Atlantic, becoming appealingly wide with fine golden sand. The winds are usually quite strong here, which means that although you can’t read a newspaper while lying out, the conditions for windsurfing and kiteboarding are near perfect.
Beaches are free and busiest in July, August, and on Sunday from May to October when malagueño families arrive for a full day on the beach and lunch at a chiringuito.
Over the Topless
In Spain, as in many parts of Europe, it is perfectly acceptable for women to go topless on the beach, although covering up is the norm at beach bars. There are several nude beaches on the Costas; look for the “playa naturista” sign. The most popular are in Maro (near Nerja), Benalmádena Costa, and near Tarifa.
La Carihuela, Torremolinos
This former fishing district of Torremolinos has a wide stretch of beach. The chiringuitos here are some of the best on the Costa, and the promenade, which continues until Benalmádena port, with its striking Asian-inspired architecture and great choice of restaurants and bars, is delightful for strolling.
Backed by low-rise buildings and greenery, the beach here is unspoiled and refreshingly low-key. East of Fuengirola center, the Carvajal beach bars have young crowds, with regular live music in summer. It’s also an easily accessible beach on the Málaga–Fuengirola train, with a stop within walking distance of the sand.
Playa Los Lances, Tarifa
This white sandy beach is one of the least spoiled in Andalusia. Near lush vegetation, lagoons, and the occasional campsite and boho-chic hotel, Tarifa’s main beach is famed throughout Europe for its windsurfing and kiteboarding, so expect some real winds: levante from the east and poniente from the west.
Cabo de Gata, Almería
Backed by natural parkland, with volcanic rock formations creating dramatic cliffs and secluded bays, Almería’s stunning Cabo de Gata coastline includes superb beaches and coves within the protected UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The fact that most of the beaches here are only accessible via marked footpaths adds to their off-the-beaten-track appeal.
Puerto Banús, Marbella
Looking for action? Some great beach scenes flank the world-famous luxurious port. Pedro’s Beach is known for its excellent, laid-back Caribbean seafood restaurants, good music, and hip, good-looking crowd. Another superb sandy choice is the Sala Beach, one of the so-called boutique beaches, with a club area and massages available, as well as an attractive beach and tempting shallow waters.
El Saladillo, Estepona
Between Marbella and Estepona (take the Cancelada exit off the A7), this relaxed and inviting beach is not as well known as its glitzier neighbors. It’s harder to find, so mainly locals in the know frequent it. There are two popular seafood restaurants here, including Pepe’s Beach (dating from the 1970s), plus a volleyball net, showers, and sun beds and parasols for hire.
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The Cabo de Gata Nature Reserve | Agua Amarga | Almería
South of Spain’s Murcia Coast lie the shores of Andalusia, beginning with the Costa de Almería. Several of the coastal towns here, including Agua Amarga, have a laid-back charm, with miles of sandy beaches and a refreshing lack of high-rise developments. The mineral riches of the surrounding mountains gave rise to Iberia’s first true civilization, whose capital can still be glimpsed in the 4,700-year-old ruins of Los Millares, near the village of Santa Fe de Mondújar. The small towns of Níjar and Sorbas maintain an age-old tradition of pottery making and other crafts, and the western coast of Almería has tapped unexpected wealth from a parched land, thanks to modern techniques of growing produce in plastic greenhouses. In contrast to the inhospitable landscape of the mountain-fringed Andarax Valley, the area east of Granada’s Alpujarras, near Alhama, has a cool climate and gentle landscape, both conducive to making fine wines.
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THE CABO DE GATA NATURE RESERVE
40 km (25 miles) east of Almería, 86 km (53 miles) south of Mojácar.
The southeast corner of Spain is one of the country’s last unspoiled wildernesses, and much of the coastline is part of a highly protected nature reserve. San José, the largest village, has a pleasant bay, though these days the village has rather outgrown itself and can be very busy in summer. Those preferring smaller, quieter destinations should look farther north, at places such as Agua Amarga and the often-deserted beaches nearby.
Getting Here and Around
You need your own wheels to explore the nature reserve and surrounding villages, including San José. When it’s time to hit the beach, Playa de los Genoveses and Playa Monsul, to the south of San José, are some of the best. A rough road follows the coast around the spectacular cape, eventually linking up with the N332 to Almería. Alternatively, follow the signs north for the towns of Níjar (approximately 20 km [12½ miles] north) and Sorbas (32 km [20 miles] northeast of Níjar); both towns are famed for their distinctive green-glazed pottery, which you can buy directly from the workshops.
Parque Natural Marítimo y Terrestre Cabo de Gata–Níjar.
Birds are the main attraction at this nature reserve just south of San José; it’s home to several species native to Africa, including the camachuelo trompetero (large-beaked bullfinch), which is not found anywhere else outside Africa. Check out the Centro Las Amoladeras visitor center at the park entrance, which has an exhibit and information on the region and organizes guided walks and tours of the area. | Road from Almería to Cabo de Gata, Km 6 | 950/380299 | www.cabodegata-nijar.com | Daily 10–2 and 5–8.
Playazo literally means “one great beach,” and this sandy cove is certainly one of the gems in the Cabo de Gata Nature Reserve. Just a few minutes’ drive from the village of Rodalquilar (once home to Spain’s only gold mine), the yellow-sand beach is surrounded by ocher-colored volcanic rock; an 18th-century fortress stands at one end. These are sheltered waters, so bathing is safe and warm, and the offshore rocks make for great snorkeling. This beach is deserted during most of the year, and its isolation and lack of amenities mean that even in the summer months you won’t come across too many other beachgoers. Although nude bathing isn’t officially allowed here, it is tolerated. Amenities: none. Best for: snorkeling; solitude; sunrise. | Rodalquilar | No credit cards.
Playa de los Genoveses.
Named after the Genovese sailors who landed here in 1127 to aid King Alfonso VII, this beach is one of the area’s best-known and most beautiful. The long, sandy expanse is backed by pines, eucalyptus trees, and low-rising dunes. The sea is shallow, warm, and crystal clear here—snorkeling is popular around the rocks at either end of the cove. Parking is available September through June; in July and August you must park in nearby San José and take a minibus to the beach. The beach can also be reached via an easy coastal walk from San José, a 7-km (4½-mile) round trip. The beach has no amenities to speak of, so take plenty of water if it’s hot. Amenities: parking (seasonal). Best for: snorkeling; solitude; sunset; walking. | No credit cards.
WHERE TO STAY
Hostal La Isleta.
B&B/INN | This low-rise, white, blocky building with blue trim is nothing fancy—what you’re paying for is the location, within a stone’s throw of the beach on a charming bay, with superb, relaxing sea views. The rooms are plain but comfortable (book one with a sea view if available), and the downstairs restaurant serves excellent seafood. Pros: fabulous location. Cons: no frills; can be noisy with families in summer. | Rooms from: €50 | C. Isleta del Moro | 950/389713 | 10 rooms | No meals.
22 km (14 miles) north of San José, 55 km (30 miles) east of Almería.
Like other coastal hamlets, Agua Amarga started out in the 18th century as a tuna-fishing port. These days, as perhaps the most pleasant village on the Cabo de Gata coast, it attracts lots of visitors, although it remains much less developed than San José. One of the coast’s best beaches is just to the north: the dramatically named Playa de los Muertos (Beach of the Dead), a long stretch of fine gravel bookended with volcanic outcrops.
Getting Here and Around
If you’re driving here from Almería, follow signs to the airport, then continue north on the A7; Agua Amarga is signposted just north of the Parque Natural Cabo de Gata. The village itself is small enough to explore on foot.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
MEDITERRANEAN | Mediterranean and international dishes blend seamlessly at this intimate restaurant. Its three main rooms are all romantically, somewhat dimly lit, a theme carried through to the outside dining area around the pool. Diners come from far and wide for the Nebraska Angus burgers, marinated grilled octopus over aromatic tabbouleh, and foie-gras ravioli with a creamy wine sauce. Sit under the stars at the outside bar for a summer cocktail. | Average main: €18 | Ctra. Carboneras 18 | Agua Amarga | 950/138090 | Reservations essential | Closed mid-Jan.–mid-Mar. No lunch.
HOTEL | This complex includes a small and stylish hotel, with spa and wellness center, plus MiKasa La Joya (suites) and MiKasa Villas—the latter comprising seven smart town houses. All the accommodations have the same design-conscious look, with cubist Moorish-style architecture and chic modern rooms with large comfy beds. Perks include Jacuzzi bathtubs and a guest-only beach bar (open June through late October). Pros: wonderful breakfasts; heated pool; feels like a romantic hideaway. Cons: could be too quiet for some; not suitable for young children or late-night partying. | Rooms from: €130 | Ctra. de Carboneras 16 | Agua Amarga | 950/138073 | www.mikasasuites.com | 18 rooms, 12 suites, 7 townhouses | Breakfast.
183 km (114 miles) east of Málaga.
Warmed by the sunniest climate in Andalusia, Almería is a youthful Mediterranean city, basking in sweeping views of the sea from its coastal perch and close to several beaches. It’s also a capital of the grape industry, thanks to its wonderfully mild climate in spring and fall. Rimmed by tree-lined boulevards and some landscaped squares, the city’s core is a maze of narrow, winding alleys formed by flat-roof, distinctly Mudejar houses. Now surrounded by modern apartment blocks, these dazzling-white older homes continue to give Almería an Andalusian flavor.
Getting Here and Around
The No. 20 bus runs roughly every 70 minutes from Almería airport to the center of town (Calle del Doctor Gregorio Marañón).
The city center is compact, and most of the main sights are within easy strolling distance of each other.
Almería Visitor Information. | Pl. de la Constitución | 950/210538 | www.almeria-turismo.org.
Dominating the city is this fortress, built by Caliph Abd ar-Rahman I and given a bell tower by Carlos III. From here you have sweeping views of the port and city. Among the ruins of the fortress, which was damaged by earthquakes in 1522 and 1560, are landscaped gardens of rock flowers and cacti. | C. Almanzor | 950/801008 | Free | June–Sept. 15, Mon.–Sat. 9–3:30 and 6:30–10, Sun. 10–5; Sept. 16–Mar., Tues.–Sat. 9–6:30, Sun. 10–5; Apr.and May, Tues.–Sun. 9–8, Sun. 10–5.
Below the Alcazaba is the local cathedral, with buttressed towers that give it the appearance of a castle. It’s in Gothic style, but with some classical touches around the doors. Guided tours are available, and admission includes a visit to the ecclesiastical museum. | Pl. de la Catedral | €5 | Weekdays 10–1:30 and 4–5, Sat. 10–1:30.
Refugios de la Guerra Civil (Civil War Shelters).
Almería, the last bastion of the Republican government during the Spanish Civil War, was heavily bombed via air and sea by Nationalist forces. To protect civilians, 4½ km (2¾ miles) of tunnels were built under the city to provide shelter for over 34,000 people. About 1 km (½ mile) can now be visited on a tour that covers the food stores, sleeping quarters, and an operating theater for the wounded, with its original medical equipment. Visits, which are guided, must be booked by phone in advance. | Pl. Manuel Pérez García s/n | 950/268696 | €3 | June–Sept., Tues.–Thurs. and Sun. 10:30–1:30, Fri. and Sat. 10:30–1:30 and 6–9; Oct.–May, Tues.–Thurs. and Sun. 10–1, Fri. and Sat. 10–1 and 5–8.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Los Millares.
This important archaeological site is 2.3 km (1½ miles) southwest from the village of Santa Fe de Mondújar and 19 km (12 miles) from Almería. This collection of ruins scattered on a windswept hilltop was the birthplace of civilization in Spain nearly 5,000 years ago. Large, dome-shape tombs show that the community had an advanced society, and the existence of formidable defense walls indicates it had something to protect. A series of concentric fortifications shows that the settlement increased in size, eventually holding some 2,000 people. The town was inhabited from 2700 to 1800 BC and came to dominate the entire region. Guided tours are available; call in advance to book. Allow two hours for your visit. | Santa Fe de Mondújar | 677/903404 | Free | Wed.–Sun. 10–2.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
SPANISH | This justly popular restaurant is housed in an 1860s building that also incorporates an 11th-century Moorish well. Time may have stood still with the setting, but the cuisine reflects a modern twist on traditional dishes, including seafood mains like merluza en papillote con almejas y gambas (hake with clams and shrimp, cooked in parchment) or carpaccio de champiñón a lo Idiazábal (mushroom “carpaccio” with Idiazabal, a traditional Basque cheese). There’s also a reasonably priced and generous tasting menu (€35), and the wine and gin lists are among the best in the city. The restaurant is fronted by a popular tapas bar (€2.50 including drink) that is generally filled with a boisterous business crowd. | Average main: €17 | C. Marín 3 | 950/273429 | www.restaurantelaencina.es | Closed Mon.
SPANISH | This popular, central spot serves fine regional specialties, such as cazuela de rape (monkfish baked in a sauce of almonds and pine nuts), arroz negro (rice flavored with squid ink), and the deliciously simple pescado en adobo (dogfish baked in clay with garlic, oregano, and paprika). If you’re open to serious credit-card overdrive, go for the lobster. The surroundings are rustic-yet-elegant Andalusian: whitewashed walls, dark wood, and exposed brick. Come on the early side (around 9) to get a table for dinner. | Average main: €18 | Tenor Iribarne 10 | 950/264475.
HOTEL | Covered in creams, beiges, and browns, this hotel, part of the Marriott chain, is modern and corporate, and in a good location. Lots of small touches in the rooms, including personal climate control and angled reading lamps on the head of the bed, make them very comfortable. The hotel’s contemporary gloss peaks in the reception area with the metallic staircase that spirals up to the rooms. The hotel restaurant, El Asador, specializes in grilled meat. Pros: good value; great for people-watching on the plaza. Cons: can be crowded with business and tour groups; parking not included in price. | Rooms from: €70 | P. de las Flores, 5 | 950/234999 | www.marriott.com | 97 rooms | No meals.
HOTEL | Value is the overriding attraction at this comfortable and elegant modern hotel, which has slick, bright rooms and the kind of amenities you’d expect to come at a higher price. The restaurant, Torreluz Mediterráneo, is notable for innovative cuisine; it does a brisk lunchtime service. The menu is an excellent cross section of southeastern fare—try the calamar gratinado con un pesto de cilantro (grilled squid with cilantro pesto). The 24 rooms in the Hotel Torreluz Centro next door are cheaper, and the nearby apartments give you more space for the same price as the main hotel. Pros: great central location; large rooms; good value. Cons: no pool; breakfast served in hotel next door. | Rooms from: €55 | Pl. de las Flores 10 | 950/234399 | www.torreluz.com | 98 rooms | No meals.
Plaza Vieja Hotel & Lounge.
HOTEL | In the heart of the old quarter, early-19th-century architecture sits comfortably beside all comfortable and up-to-date amenities in this boutique hotel with strong design features. Spacious rooms come with exposed stone walls and picture-wall photos of the city and surroundings, while acrylic and chrome fittings combine with antique furniture. The upstairs terrace (open from April to October) is great for views of the city while sipping cocktails, and the underground 15th-century Arab baths (included in rates) continue the relaxation theme. Pros: personal service; central location; designer look. Cons: the bathrooms are in view from the rest of the guest rooms; poor noise insulation in hotel. | Rooms from: €129 | Pl. de la Constitución 4 | 950/282096 | www.plazaviejahl.com | 6 rooms, 4 suites | No meals.
In Almería, the action’s on Plaza Flores, moving down to the beach in summer.
El Café del Irlandés.
Darts and hearty beers in an Irish-style environment. | C. General Segura 15.
Peña El Taranto.
This excellent venue is one of the main centres for flamenco in Andalusia (it celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013), and foot-stomping live flamenco is performed every two weeks, from mid-October to May. Check ahead of time for the exact times and dates. | C. Tenor Iribame 20 | 950/235057 | www.eltaranto.com.
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Almuñécar | Nerja | The Axarquía
East of Málaga and west of Almería lies the Costa Tropical. Housing developments resemble buildings in Andalusian villages rather than the bland high-rises elsewhere, and its tourist onslaught has been mild. A flourishing farming center, the area earns its keep from tropical fruit, including avocados, mangoes, and pawpaws (also known as custard apples). You may find packed beaches and traffic-choked roads at the height of the season, but for most of the year the Costa Tropical is relatively free of other tourists, if not also devoid of expatriates.
EN ROUTE: Salobreña.
About 13 km (8 miles) east of Almuñécar, this unspoiled village of near-perpendicular streets and old white houses on a steep hill beneath a Moorish fortress is a true Andalusian pueblo, separated from the beachfront restaurants and bars in the newer part of town. It’s great for a quick visit. You can reach Salobreña by descending through the mountains from Granada or by continuing west from Almería on A7.
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85 km (53 miles) east of Málaga.
This small-time resort with a shingle beach is popular with Spanish and Northern European vacationers. It’s been a fishing village since Phoenician times, 3,000 years ago, when it was called Sexi; later, the Moors built a castle here for the treasures of Granada’s kings. The road west from Motril and Salobreńa passes through what was the empire of the sugar barons, who brought prosperity to Málaga’s province in the 19th century: the cane fields now give way to lychees, limes, mangoes, pawpaws, and olives.
The village is actually two, separated by the dramatic rocky headland of Punta de la Mona. To the east is Almuñécar proper, and to the west is La Herradura, a quiet fishing community. Between the two is the Marina del Este yacht harbor, which, along with La Herradura, is a popular diving center.
Getting Here and Around
The A7 highway runs north of town. There is an efficient bus service to surrounding towns and cities, including Málaga, Granada, Nerja, and, closer afield, La Herradura. Almuñécar’s town center is well laid out for strolling, and the local tourist office has information on bicycle and scooter rental.
Almuñécar. | Palacete de la Najarra, Av. de Europa | 958/631125.
Castillo de San Miguel (St. Michael’s Castle).
A Roman fortress once stood here, later enlarged by the Moors, but the castle’s present aspect, crowning the city, owes more to 16th-century additions. The building was bombed during the Peninsular War in the 19th century, and what was left was used as a cemetery until the 1990s. You can wander the ramparts and peer into the dungeon; the skeleton at the bottom is a reproduction of human remains discovered on the spot. | C. San Miguel Bajo | €2.35, includes admission to Cueva de Siete Palacios | July–mid-Sept., Tues.–Sat. 10–1:30 and 6:30–9, Sun. 10–1; mid-Sept.–Oct. and Apr.–June, Tues.–Sat. 10–1:30 and 5–7:30, Sun. 10–1; Nov.–Mar., Tues.–Sat. 10–1:30 and 4–6:30, Sun. 10–1.
Cueva de Siete Palacios (Cave of Seven Palaces).
Beneath the Castillo de San Miguel is this large, vaulted, stone cellar of Roman origin, now Almuñécar’s archaeological museum. The collection is small but interesting, with Phoenician, Roman, and Moorish artifacts. | C. San Miguel Bajo | €2.35, includes admission to Castillo de San Miguel | July–mid-Sept., Tues.–Sat. 10–1:30 and 6:30–9, Sun. 10–1; mid-Sept.–Oct. and Apr.–June, Tues.–Sat. 10–1:30 and 5–7:30, Sun. 10–1; Nov.–Mar., Tues.–Sat. 10–1:30 and 4–6:30, Sun. 10–1.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
Fodor’s Choice | El Arbol Blanco.
INTERNATIONAL | Though slightly away from the center of town, it’s worth the hike to dine at this superb restaurant run by the congenial brothers Jorge and Nacho Rodriguez; they provide excellent service. The light and airy dining room is elegantly decorated with sunny yellow tablecloths and colorful art on the walls, and there’s a covered terrace as well. The dishes, all creatively presented, include traditional options like the oven-baked lamb, as well as more innovative choices like monkfish in a creamy leek sauce, which goes well with the excellent local white wine, Calvente blanco. The desserts are sublime, particularly the cheesecake. | Average main: €12 | Av. de la Costa del Sol, Urbanización Costa Banana s/n | 958/631629 | Closed Wed.
HOTEL | This quaint, family-run hotel comes with a pink-and-white neo-Moorish facade, a choice location next to the beach and near the botanical park, and comfortable rooms that are all different. All the rooms have either private balconies or large picture windows with superb views: their modern fittings contrast with antiques and the occasional four-poster bed. The restaurant specializes in traditional cuisine, such as migas (bread crumbs fried with sausage and spices), grilled meats—try the lamb—and paella. Pros: family-run; atmospheric. Cons: rooms vary, and some are small; parking can be difficult. | Rooms from: €70 | Pl. San Cristóbal 4 | 958/635575 | www.hotelcasablancaalmunecar.com | 39 rooms | No meals.
52 km (32 miles) east of Málaga, 22 km (14 miles) west of Almuñécar.
Nerja—the name comes from the Moorish word narixa, meaning “abundant springs”—has a large community of expats, who live mainly outside town in urbanizaciones (“village” developments). The old village is on a headland above small beaches and rocky coves, which offer reasonable swimming despite the gray, gritty sand. In July and August, Nerja is packed with tourists, but the rest of the year it’s a pleasure to wander the old town’s narrow streets.
Getting Here and Around
Nerja is a speedy hour’s drive east from Málaga on the A7. If you’re driving, park in the underground lot just west of the Balcón de Europa (it’s signposted) off Calle La Cruz. The town is small enough to explore on foot.
Nerja. | C. Carmen 1 | 952/521531 | www.nerja.org.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Balcón de Europa.
The highlight of Nerja, this tree-lined promenade is on a promontory just off the central square, with magnificent views of the mountains and sea. You can gaze far off into the horizon using the strategically placed telescopes, or use this as a starting point for a horse and carriage clip-clop ride around town.
Cuevas de Nerja (Nerja Caves).
Located between Almuñécar and Nerja, these caves are on a road surrounded by giant cliffs and dramatic seascapes. Signs point to the cave entrance above the village of Maro, 4 km (2½ miles) east of Nerja. Its spires and turrets, created by millennia of dripping water, are now floodlit for better views. One suspended pinnacle, 200 feet long, is the world’s largest known stalactite. The cave painting of seals discovered here may be the oldest example of art in existence—and the only ones known to have been painted by Neanderthals. The awesome subterranean chambers create an evocative setting for concerts and ballets during the Nerja Festival of Music and Dance, held annually during the third week of July. There is also a bar-restaurant near the entrance with a spacious dining room that has superb views.TIP Visits take at 45 minutes so arrive at least an hour before closing time. Private tours in English are available (€15, firstname.lastname@example.org). | Maro | 952/529520 | www.cuevadenerja.com | €9 | July and Aug., daily 10–7; Sept.–June, daily 10–1:30 and 4–6:30.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Frigiliana.
On an inland mountain ridge overlooking the sea, this village has spectacular views and an old quarter of narrow, cobbled streets and dazzling white houses decorated with pots of geraniums. It was the site of one of the last battles between the Christians and the Moors. Frigiliana is a short drive from the highway to the village; if you don’t have a car, you can take a bus here from Nerja, which is 8 km (5 miles) away.
One of the string of coves on the coastline west of Nerja, this beach of gray sand mixed with shingle is backed by pine trees and scrub that perfume the air. Reachable only via a stony track down the cliffs, this protected beach is one of the few on the Costa del Sol to be almost completely untouched by tourism. Its moderate waves mean you need to take care when bathing. The snorkeling around the rocks at either end of the beach is among the best in the area. This spot’s seclusion makes the beach a favorite with couples and nudists—it’s quiet even at the height of summer. Limited parking is available off the N340 highway, but there are no amenities, so take plenty of water. Amenities: none. Best for: nudists; snorkeling; solitude. | N340, Km 299.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
El Mesón de Julio.
SPANISH | Check the blackboard outside this longstanding and reliably good restaurant for the day’s specialties and the long list of tapas. There’s comfortable seating outside on the terrace or in an attractive pine-clad interior with bare brick columns, wood beams, and an inviting bar (tapas €1.50). The menu includes familiar Andalusian standbys like steaks and lamb chops, along with fish dishes and more international options, including deep-fried Camembert with strawberry preserves and goat cheese, all in large portions. Julio’s is popular with the local business community at midday, so get here early if you want a table for lunch. | Average main: €12 | C. Cristo 7 | 952/521190.
Fodor’s Choice | Hotel Carabeo.
B&B/INN | Down a side street near the center of town but still near the sea, this British-owned boutique hotel combines a great location and views with comfortable, pleasant rooms. You’ll find shelves of books, antiques, and cozy overstuffed sofas in the downstairs sitting room. Hung throughout are colorful oil paintings by the local artist David Broadhead. There are seven rooms—five with sea views (well worth the extra)—and a private terrace overlooking the sea. The excellent restaurant serves a mix of contemporary and traditional dishes such as prawns in a garlic-and-oil-based pil-pil sauce and a chicken tagine—you can dine on the extended terrace with sea views. The hotel is generally closed from late fall through early spring, but check for exact dates. Pros: friendly owners; great location. Cons: not open out of season. | Rooms from: €85 | C. Hernando de Carabeo 34 | 952/525444 | www.hotelcarabeo.com | 7 rooms | Closed late Oct.–late Mar. | Breakfast.
NIGHTLIFE AND PERFORMING ARTS
Although the flamenco show is undeniably touristy, this club has an authentic olé atmosphere. The food is good, and local specialties, including paella, are served. Dinner shows (€38), with a three-course meal, begin at 9 pm on Wednesday from March until December. | C. Granada 6 | 952/521826 | Closed Jan. and Feb.
Vélez-Málaga: 36 km (22 miles) east of Málaga.
The Axarquía region stretches from Nerja to Málaga, and the area’s charm lies in its mountainous interior, peppered with pueblos, vineyards, and tiny farms. Its coast consists of narrow, pebbly beaches and drab fishing villages on either side of the high-rise resort town of Torre del Mar.
Getting Here and Around
Although the bus routes are fairly comprehensive throughout the Axarquía, reaching the smaller villages may involve long delays; renting a car is convenient and lets you get off the beaten track and experience some of the beautiful unspoiled hinterland in this little-known area. The four-lane A7 highway speeds across the region a few miles in from the coast; traffic on the old coastal road (N340) is slower.
Cómpeta. | Av. de la Constitucion | 952/553685.
Ruta del Sol y del Vino and the Ruta de la Pasa.
The Axarquía has a number of tourist trails that take in the best of local scenery, history, and culture. Two of the best are the Ruta del Sol y del Vino (Sunshine and Wine Trail), through Algarrobo, Cómpeta (the main wine center), and Nerja; and the Ruta de la Pasa (Raisin Trail), which goes through Moclinejo, El Borge, and Comares. The trails are especially spectacular during the late-summer grape-harvest season or in late autumn, when the leaves of the vines turn gold. A visit to nearby Macharaviaya (7 km [4 miles] north of Rincón de la Victoria) might lead you to ponder this sleepy village’s past glory: in 1776 one of its sons, Bernardo de Gálvez, became the Spanish governor of Louisiana and later fought in the American Revolution (Galveston, Texas, is named for him). Macharaviaya prospered under his heirs and for many years enjoyed a lucrative monopoly on the manufacture of playing cards for South America. | No credit cards.
Vélez-Málaga is the capital of the Axarquía: it’s a pleasant agricultural town of white houses, strawberry fields, and vineyards. Worth quick visits are the Thursday market, the ruins of a Moorish castle, and the church of Santa María la Mayor, built in the Mudejar style on the site of a mosque that was destroyed when the town fell to the Christians in 1487.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
Museo del Vino.
SPANISH | There’s no museum here—instead it’s a rambling arts-and-crafts shop, a bodega lined with barrels and bottles of muscatel wine, and a restaurant. The latter is suitably rustic, with brick walls and a wood-beam ceiling. Start out the evening sampling the local wines (they’re sold in plastic flagons), and tasty tapas, including pungent Manchego cheese, cured hams, and garlic-spiked olives. If you’re still hungry, settle in for a full meal featuring grilled meats and baked suckling pig, the house specialty. | Average main: €11 | Av. Constitución s/n | Cómpeta | 952/553314 | www.museodelvinocompeta.com | Closed Mon.
Hotel Rural Alberdini.
B&B/INN | A couple of kilometers out of town, this rural inn has colorful mosaics, tiles, and other features, all put together in a Gaudí-esque style. The bungalows and hotel rooms are all simply yet tastefully furnished. The bungalows come with kitchenettes and basic comforts, and each is distinctive in style—particularly the Enmanuel bungalow, which resembles a round cave with a terrace, and the Marina bungalow, which is decorated with mosaics. Pilates and yoga classes are held regularly, and horseback riding is available. The restaurant has sweeping views from the terrace and an extensive menu using local vegetables, wine, honey, and raisins. Pros: very reasonably priced. Cons: long walk to village; hotels rooms can be noisy. | Rooms from: €40 | Pago La Lornilla 85 | Cómpeta | 952/516294 | www.alberdini.com | 7 rooms, 4 bungalows | Breakfast.
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Málaga | Cruise Ship Travel to Málaga | Antequera | The Guadalhorce Valley | Torremolinos | Benalmádena | Fuengirola | Mijas | Marbella | Ojén | Estepona | Casares | Tarifa
The city of Málaga and the provincial towns of the upland hills and valleys to the north create the kind of contrast that makes travel in Spain so tantalizing. The region’s Moorish legacy—tiny streets honeycombing the steamy depths of Málaga, the layout of the farms, and the crops themselves, including olives, grapes, oranges, and lemons—is a unifying visual theme. Ronda and the whitewashed villages of Andalusia behind the Costa del Sol make for one of Spain’s most scenic and emblematic driving routes.
To the west of Málaga, along the coast, the sprawling outskirts of Torremolinos signal that you’re entering the Costa del Sol, with its beaches, high-rise hotels, and serious number of tourists. On the far west, you can still discern Estepona’s fishing village and Moorish old quarter amid its booming coastal development. Just inland, Casares piles whitewashed houses over the bright-blue Mediterranean below.
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175 km (109 miles) southeast of Córdoba.
Málaga is one of southern Spain’s most welcoming and happening cities, and it more than justifies a visit. Visitor figures have soared since the Picasso Museum opened a decade ago and a new cruise-ship terminal opened in 2011, and much of the city has had a well-earned face-lift. Many of its historic buildings have been restored or are undergoing restoration; the area between the river and the port is being spruced up and transformed into the Málaga Arte Urbano Soho (MAUS Art District); and some great shops, and lively bars and restaurants have sprung up all over the center.
True, the approach from the airport certainly isn’t that pretty, and you’ll be greeted by huge 1970s high-rises that march determinedly toward Torremolinos. But don’t give up so soon: in its center and eastern suburbs, this city of about 550,000 people is a pleasant port, with ancient streets and lovely villas amid exotic foliage. Blessed with a subtropical climate, it’s covered in lush vegetation and averages some 324 days of sunshine a year.
Central Málaga lies between the Guadalmedina River and the port, and the city’s main attractions are all located here. The Centro de Arte Contemporáneo sits next to the river; to the east lies the MAUS district, slowly being hoisted from its former seedy red-light reputation to a vibrant art center with galleries and up-and-coming restaurants. Around La Alameda boulevard, with its giant weeping fig trees, is old-town Málaga: elegant squares, pedestrian shopping streets such as Calle Marqués de Larios, and the major monuments, which are often tucked away in labyrinthine alleys.
Eastern Málaga starts with the pleasant suburbs of El Palo and Pedregalejo, once traditional fishing villages. Here you can eat fresh fish in the numerous chiringuitos and stroll Pedregalejo’s seafront promenade or the tree-lined streets of El Limonar. A few blocks inland is Málaga’s bullring, La Malagueta, built in 1874, and continuing west, Muelle Uno (port-front commercial center). It’s great for a drink and for soaking up views of the old quarter.
Getting Here and Around
If you’re staying at one of the coastal resorts between Málaga and Fuengirola, the easiest way to reach Málaga is via the train (every 20 minutes). If you’re driving instead, there are several well-signposted underground parking lots, and it’s not that daunting to negotiate by car. Note that the city is in the process of constructing the second section of a metro, the first of which is scheduled to open by 2015.
Málaga is mostly flat, so the best way to explore it is on foot or by bike via the good network of designated bike paths. To get an overview of the city in a day, hop on the Málaga Tour City Sightseeing Bus. There is a comprehensive bus network, too, and the tourist office can advise on routes and schedules.
Pick up a free audio guide to Málaga at the visitor information center in Plaza de la Marina. The guides talk you through the history and local anecdotes along five different walking routes. Guides are available for 48 hours’ use, and you need to show your passport and a credit card.
Aeropuerto Costa del Sol (AGP) (Aeropuerto de Málaga). | Av. Comandante García Morato s/n | 952/048804 | www.aena.es.
Bike Rental Contact
Málaga Bike Tours.
A 4-hour guided bike tour round the city sights costs €25. Bikes are also available for rent. | Calle Trinidad Grund 4 | 606/978513 | www.malagabiketours.eu.
Málaga bus station. | Paseo de los Tilos | 952/350061 | www.estabus.emtsam.es.
Car Rental Contacts
Europcar. | Málaga Costa del Sol Airport | 902/503010 | www.europcar.es.
Niza Cars. | Málaga Costa del Sol Airport | 951/013520 | www.nizacars.es.
Unitaxi. | 952/320000 | www.unitaxi.es.
Málaga Tour City Sightseeing Bus.
This open-top, hop-on hop-off bus tour gives you an overview of Málaga’s main sites in a day; it includes the Gibralfaro. Buy tickets online ahead of your trip or when you board the bus. | www.city-sightseeing.com/tours/spain/malaga.htm | €16.50.
Tapas in Málaga.
Eat your way around Málaga with a guided tour of some of its best tapas. Other tour options (from €55) cover the Picasso Museum and flamenco. | www.tapasinmalaga.com.
Málaga train station. | Explanada de la Estación | 902/320320 | www.renfe.com.
Málaga. | Pl. de la Marina, Paseo del Parque | 951/926620 | www.malagaturismo.com.
Best Bets for Cruise Ship Travelers to Málaga
•The Old Quarter: Explore the streets and monuments off Calle Marqués de Larios.
•Walking Tour: Pick up a free audio guide from the tourist office for one of five tours at your own pace.
•Feast of Art: Take in contemporary art at the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, street art in the Soho District. Then hit the Museo Picasso and Museo Thyssen.
•Tapas Time: Málaga is filled with many bars, and each has its own tapas specialties. Sign up for a tour or take off on one of your own devising.
•El Palmeral and Muelle Uno: Stroll port side along El Palmeral de las Sorpresas and then grab a drink in one of the bars in Muelle Uno, where there are great views of the city.
CRUISE SHIP TRAVEL TO MÁLAGA
Large ships dock at the exterior quay in Málaga port; smaller ones dock at the interior quay next to the port entrance and Plaza de la Marina. All cruise companies provide transfers between the exterior quay and the port entrance. From here, Calle Marqués de Larios and Málaga main attractions are just a few minutes’ walk. The main tourist information office is in Plaza de la Marina.
If you’re planning to explore beyond Málaga center, plan on taking a taxi to your destination (there’s a taxi rank just outside the port entrance). Fares are metered within city limits, and fixed rates apply for destinations beyond Málaga proper. A cheaper option is to take a taxi to the train or bus stations (both about 20 minutes’ walk) and then get public transport to your chosen destination. Renting a car is only practical if you’re staying in Málaga for longer than a day. Most rental companies have offices near the port or will meet you there.
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Just beyond the ruins of a Roman theater on Calle Alcazabilla stands Málaga’s greatest monument. This fortress was begun in the 8th century, when Málaga was the principal port of the Moorish kingdom, though most of the present structure dates from the 11th century. The inner palace was built between 1057 and 1063, when the Moorish emirs took up residence; Ferdinand and Isabella lived here for a while after conquering the city in 1487. The ruins are dappled with orange trees and bougainvillea and include a small museum; from the highest point you can see over the park and port. | Entrance on C. Alcazabilla | €2.20, €3.55 combined entry with Gibralfaro | Nov.–Mar., Tues.–Sun. 9–6; Apr.–Oct., Tues.–Sun. 9:30–8.
Built between 1528 and 1782, the cathedral is a triumph, although a generally unappreciated one, having been left unfinished when funds ran out. Because it lacks one of its two towers, the building is nicknamed La Manquita (the One-Armed Lady). The enclosed choir, which miraculously survived the burnings of the civil war, is the work of 17th-century artist Pedro de Mena, who carved the wood wafer-thin in some places to express the fold of a robe or shape of a finger. The choir also has a pair of massive 18th-century pipe organs, one of which is still used for the occasional concert. Adjoining the cathedral is a small museum of religious art and artifacts. A walk around the cathedral on Calle Cister will take you to the magnificent Gothic Puerta del Sagrario. | C. de Molina Larios | 952/215917 | €5 (free on weekends) | Weekdays 10–6, Sat. 10–5, Sun. 2–6.
Mercado de Atarazanas.
From the Plaza Felix Saenz, at the southern end of Calle Nueva, turn onto Sagasta to reach the Mercado de Atarazanas. The typical, 19th-century, iron structure incorporates the original Puerta de Atarazanas, the exquisitely crafted 14th-century Moorish gate that once connected the city with the port. Don’t miss the magnificent, stained-glass window depicting highlights of this historical port city as you stroll round the stalls, filled with local produce. | C. de la Atarazanas | Mon.–Sat. 9–3.
Fodor’s Choice | Museo Picasso.
Part of the charm of this art gallery, one of the city’s most prestigious museums, is that its small collection is such a family affair. These are the works that Pablo Picasso kept for himself or gave to his family, including the heartfelt Paulo con gorro blanco (Paulo with a White Cap), a portrait of his firstborn son painted in the early 1920s; and Olga Kokhlova con mantilla (Olga Kokhlova with Mantilla), a 1917 portrait of his insane first wife. The holdings were largely donated by two family members—Christine and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, the artist’s daughter-in-law and her son. The works are displayed in chronological order according to the periods that marked Picasso’s development as an artist, from Blue and Rose to Cubism and beyond. The museum is housed in a former palace where, during restoration work, Roman and Moorish remains were discovered. These are now on display, together with the permanent collection of Picassos and temporary exhibitions. Guided tours in English are available (book at least five days ahead). | C. de San Agustín | 952/127600 | www.museopicassomalaga.org | Permanent exhibition €7, combined permanent and temporary exhibition €9.50 (free Sun. 6–8) | Tues.–Thurs. and Sun. 10–8, Fri. and Sat. 10–9.
Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (Contemporary Arts Center).
This museum includes photographic studies and paintings, some of them immense. The 7,900 square feet of bright exhibition hall are used to showcase ultramodern artistic trends—the four exhibitions are used for a changing show from the permanent collection, two temporary shows, and one show dedicated to up-and-coming Spanish artists. The gallery attracts world-class modern artists like South African William Kentridge or the British duo Gilbert and George. Óleo, the riverside restaurant, is popular at lunchtime (closed Monday) and a favored summer evening venue for cocktails. Outside, don’t miss the giant murals behind the museum painted by the street artists Shepard Fairey and Dean Stockton (aka D*Face). | Alemania s/n | 952/120055 | www.cacmalaga.org | Free | Sept.–June, Tues.–Sun. 10–8; July and Aug., Tues.–Sun. 10–2 and 5–7.
Málaga’s most famous native son, Pablo Picasso, was born here in 1881, in what’s now the Fundación Picasso. The building has been painted and furnished in the style of the era and houses a permanent exhibition of the artist’s early sketches and sculptures, as well as memorabilia, including his christening robe and family photos. | Pl. de la Merced 15 | 951/926060 | www.fundacionpicasso.es | €2 | Daily 9:30–8.
Surrounded by magnificent vistas and floodlit at night, these fortifications were built for Yusuf I in the 14th century; the Moors called them Jebelfaro, from the Arab word for “mount” and the Greek word for “lighthouse,” after a beacon that stood here to guide ships into the harbor and warn of pirates. The lighthouse has been succeeded by a small parador. You can drive here by way of Calle Victoria or take a minibus that leaves 10 times a day, between 11 and 7, roughly every 45 minutes, from the bus stop in the park near the Plaza de la Marina. | Gibralfaro Mountain | €2.20, €3.55 combined entry with Alcazaba | Daily 9–6 (until 8 Apr.–Oct.).
A 150-year-old botanical garden, La Concepción was created by the daughter of the British consul, who married a Spanish shipping magnate—the captains of the Spaniard’s fleet had standing orders to bring back seedlings and cuttings from every “exotic” port of call. The garden is just off the exit road to Granada—too far to walk, but well worth the cab fare or the bus journey from the city center. Buses leave from La Alameda every hour, from 10 to 5. | Ctra. de las Pedrizas, Km 216 | 952/250745 | €5.20 | Apr.–Sept., Tues.–Sun. 9:30–8:30; Oct.–Mar., Tues.–Sun. 9:30–5:30.
QUICK BITES: Antigua Casa de Guardia.
Around the corner from the Mercado de Atarazanas, this is Málaga’s oldest bar, founded in 1840. Andalusian wines and finos (sherries) flow straight from the barrel, the walls are lined with sepia photos of old Málaga—including some of Picasso. The floor is ankle-deep in discarded shrimp shells. Closed Sunday. | C. Alameda 18 | 952/214680.
Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga.
Like Madrid, Málaga has its own branch of this museum, with over 200 works from Baroness Thyssen’s private collection. Shown in a renovated 16th-century palace, the collection features mainly Spanish paintings from the 19th century, but does also have work from two great 20th-century artists, Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida and Romero de Torres. The museum also hosts regular exhibitions and talks and workshops on art. | C. Compañia 10 | 902/303131 | www.carmenthyssenmalaga.org | €6 permanent exhibition, €4 temporary exhibition | Tues.–Sun. 10–8.
FAMILY | Museo de Artes Populares (Arts and Crafts Museum).
In the old Mesón de la Victoria, a 17th-century inn, this museum displays horse-drawn carriages and carts, old agricultural implements, folk costumes, a forge, a bakery, an ancient grape press, and painted clay figures and ceramics. | Pasillo de Santa Isabel 10 | 952/217137 | www.museoartespopulares.com | €4 | Weekdays 10–5, Sat. 10–2.
Museo del Vidrio y Cristal (Museum of Glass and Crystal).
More than 3,000 pieces of glass and crystal, lovingly collected by the owner, are displayed throughout this 18th-century mansion, which is a museum piece in its own right. The pieces, whether ancient Egyptian or from Europe’s Lalique and Whitefriars, give a unique insight into man’s decorative use of glass. Visits are by guided tour only. | Plazuela Santísimo Cristo de la Sangre 2 | 952/220271 | www.museovidrioycristalmalaga.com | €5, includes guided tour | Sept.–July, Tues.–Sun. 11–7.
Palacio Episcopal (Bishop’s Palace).
Facing the cathedral’s main entrance, this is a fine 18th-century mansion with one of the most stunning facades in the city, as well as interesting interior details. The inside is only viewable when there are temporary exhibitions. | Pl. Obispo 6 | 951/294051 | Free | Tues. 2:30–8, Wed.–Sat. 10–8, Sun. 10–2.
The narrow streets and alleys on each side of Calle Marqués de Larios have charms of their own. The most famous is Pasaje Chinitas, off Plaza de la Constitución and named for the notorious Chinitas cabaret here. Peep into the dark, vaulted bodegas where old men down glasses of seco añejo or Málaga Virgen, local wines made from Málaga’s muscatel grapes. Silversmiths and vendors of religious books and statues ply their trades in shops that have changed little since the early 1900s. Backtrack across Larios, and, in the streets leading to Calle Nueva, you can see shoeshine boys, lottery-ticket vendors, Gypsy guitarists, and tapas bars serving wine from huge barrels.
WHERE TO EAT
MEDITERRANEAN | Set among the Palm Walk near the cruise-ship terminal and with first-class views of the harbor, this restaurant quickly become a firm favorite with locals and visitors when it opened in 2012. Sit inside the modern glass cube for elegant dining or outside for a more informal meal (or just coffee). Try the homemade croquettes or octopus carpaccio for starters, and follow with one of the paellas—the highlight is the arroz caldoso con bogavante (creamy rice with lobster) or fresh fish. Make sure you leave plenty of room for the canutillos de almendra con mousse de chocolate blanco (almond snaps with white-chocolate mousse). Service is friendly and fast even when busy. | Average main: €16 | Muelle 2 | 648/675528 | www.palmeralmalaga.com.
SPANISH | A longstanding favorite for traditional Andalusian cuisine, El Trillo could fit in happily in Madrid with its hams over the bar, well-worn tiles, and dark wood furniture. Alcoves add to the intimate feel, and the outside tables overlook the smart shopping street Marques de Larios. The menu includes Córdoba-style oxtail and house cod and hake specialties, such as suprema de bacalao a los cinco tomates (cod fillets in a creamy sauce with five different kinds of tomatoes). | Average main: €14 | C. Don Juan Diaz 4 | 952/603920 | www.grupotrillo.es.
SPANISH | If you’re looking to sample traditional Andalusian cuisine in an elegant yet cozy atmosphere, this is the place, on a fairly anonymous side street between the port and the city center (and just behind La Alameda). The setting is warm and woody, with arches, beams, and a barrel-vaulted ceiling, and the service is appropriately hospitable but efficient. Stone-cooked steak, warm fish salad, and king prawns with setas (oyster mushrooms) are just some of the menu options, and the adjacent bar has tapas for €3–€4.50. | Average main: €18 | C. Trinidad Grund 28 | 952/221314 | www.restaurantelamensula.com | No lunch Sun.
SPANISH | The pleasant terrace here, one of the few that gets the winter afternoon sun in the city, overlooks the Plaza de la Merced and is a couple of doors down from the Fundación Picasso, helping make it great for people-watching. If you’d rather be inside, the tapas bar is cozy and the dining room is elegant and airy. This all-day pit stop serves breakfast and tapas (the goat cheese with caramelized onion and beet is particularly good) as well as mains, which might include Moroccan lamb couscous and a curry made with the rosada fish, with a mango cream sauce. | Average main: €17 | Pl. de la Merced 18 | 952/608491.
Fodor’s Choice | Los Patios de Beatas.
SPANISH | Sandwiched between the Museo Picasso and Fundación Picasso is one of Málaga’s largest wine collections (there are over 500 on the list). The two historic mansions that make up this restaurant include an original patio and 17th-century stone wine vats. Sit on bar stools in the beamed tapas section, where the walls are lined with dozens of wine bottles, or dine on the airy patio, which is covered with stained glass. Each of the creative dishes here can be paired with its own wine if you wish: marinated sardines with caramelized tomato and red tuna tartare might come with manzanilla, for instance, and black cod with purple potato and coconut sauce arrive with white Málaga wine. Wine and olive-oil tasting sessions, led by the owner, are available on request, or you can try three different wines at any time for €7.50. | Average main: €14 | C. Beatas 43 | 952/210350 | www.lospatiosdebeatas.com.
MIDDLE EASTERN | Tables spill out onto the attractive pedestrian street fronting this bright pine-wood-covered Middle Eastern restaurant that’s a popular lunchtime spot for young Spanish students and shoppers. Falafel, kebabs, hummus, and tabbouleh salad are on the menu, along with a choice of 15 stuffed pita breads, spicy sausage, and a reasonable choice of wines. The location is ideal if you’re sightseeing—it’s between the cathedral and Picasso Museum, in the old part of town—and it’s a boon if you need a bite when everything else is closed (it’s open 24/7). | Average main: €5 | Echegaray 8 | 952/608675 | No credit cards.
ECLECTIC | It isn’t on the way to any of the main monuments, but a visit to this tapas venue that fuses Mediterranean and Asian cuisine is more than worth the slight detour. Inside, choose from bar seating or more formal dining; there’s also a pleasant outdoor terrace to enjoy the unusual menu. Here, you’ll find tapas (from €3) such as an octopus kebab with smoked potato puree and peanut and lime sauce, an oxtail spring roll, stewed lamb with kimchi sauce, and vegetable couscous as well as an extensive sushi menu. Tapadaki is hugely popular with locals, so book ahead to be sure of a seat. | Average main: €14 | Calle Carretería 69 | 952/217966 | Closed Mon. No dinner Sun.
SPANISH | Come to this sprawling, noisy restaurant for the experience rather than the food, which is fine but not spectacular. There’s no menu—waiters circle the restaurant carrying various dishes (tapas and main courses) and you choose whatever looks good. The bill is totaled up according to the number and size of the plates on the table at the end of the meal. On the El Palo seafront, Tintero specializes in catch-of-the-day seafood, such as boquerones (fresh anchovies), sepia (cuttlefish), and the all-time familiar classic, gambas (grilled prawns). Be warned that it’s packed on Sunday with expats and boisterous Spanish families. In other words, it’s not the place for a romantic lunch. | Average main: €10 | Pl. del Dedo, El Palo | 952/206826.
WHERE TO STAY
HOTEL | In 2013, this centrally located and gracious hotel underwent a total refurbishment that brought it completely up-to-date. The well-priced rooms are small but functional, with double glazing to block out any late-night street revelry—those facing the side street or the interior patio are the quietest. The owners are friendly, although they don’t speak a lot of English. Pros: great location between the city center and the port; parking. Cons: rooms are small; no restaurant. | Rooms from: €58 | C. Córdoba 7 | 952/218635 | www.hotelcastillaguerrero.com | 51 rooms | No meals.
Fodor’s Choice | Parador de Málaga–Gibralfaro.
HOTEL | The attractive rooms at this cozy, gray-stone parador are some of the best in Málaga, with spectacular views of the city and the bay, so reserve well in advance. Furnished with blue curtains and bedspreads and woven rugs on bare tile floors, the rooms feel classic, and they all have terraces to take advantage of a location that’s on top of the Gibralfaro hill, 3 km (2 miles) above the city and surrounded by pine trees. The restaurant excels at classic Mediterranean dishes plus local specialties like fried fish and gazapachuelo (tomato soup with monkfish and king prawns). On hot days, you can take in the views while cooling off in the rooftop pool. Pros: some of the best views on the Costa; excellent service. Cons: some distance from town; books up quickly. | Rooms from: €145 | Monte de Gibralfaro s/n, Monte | 952/221902 | www.parador.es | 38 rooms | No meals.
Petit Palace Plaza Malaga.
HOTEL | The sumptuous historic exterior belies the modern interior and amenities in this sleek business-oriented hotel. A member of Spain’s High Tech hotel chain, it has an edgy contemporary style, from the bold black-and-orange color scheme in the downstairs breakfast room, to the minimalist rooms with their punchy modern colors, parquet floors, and in-room laptops. Some rooms have stunning views of the cathedral spires, with the hilltop Alcazaba beyond. Other perks include free bicycle rental and a 24-hour coffee-and-tea lounge. Pros: superb central location; great for business travel. Cons: may be too corporate and modern for some; no bar. | Rooms from: €80 | C. Nicasio 5 | 952/222132 | www.hthoteles.com | 66 rooms | No meals.
Room Mate Larios.
HOTEL | On the central Plaza de la Constitución, in the middle of a sophisticated shopping area, this elegantly restored 19th-century building holds luxuriously furnished rooms. These have spacious black-and-white marble bathrooms, and several also have balconies overlooking the busy shopping street below. The rooms also have carpeting throughout and king-size beds, which are unusual in Spain. The separately owned roof terrace bar (open evenings in spring and summer) has stunning views of the cathedral. lBook a street-side room during Easter week for bird’s-eye views of the processions. Pros: stylish; efficiently run. Cons: on busy shopping street that can be noisy in daytime; interior rooms are dark. | Rooms from: €100 | Marqués de Larios 2 | 952/222200 | www.room-matehotels.com | 41 rooms, 1 studio, 3 apartments | No meals.
NIGHTLIFE AND PERFORMING ARTS
Málaga’s main nightlife districts are Maestranza, between the bullring and the Paseo Marítimo, and the beachfront in the suburb of Pedregalejo. Central Málaga also has a lively bar scene around the Plaza Uncibay and Plaza de la Merced.
Palacio Flamenco Kelipé.
Flamenco shows are held here on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 9 pm. The cost ranges from €20–€35. | C. Álamos 7 | 692/829885 | www.kelipe.net.
64 km (40 miles) north of Málaga, 87 km (52 miles) northeast of Ronda.
The town of Antequera holds a surprising number of magnificent baroque monuments (including some 30 churches)—it provides a unique snapshot of a historic Andalusian town, one a world away from the resorts on the Costa del Sol. It became a stronghold of the Moors after their defeat at Córdoba and Seville in the 13th century. Its fall to the Christians in 1410 paved the way for the Reconquest of Granada; the Moors’ retreat left a fortress on the town heights.
Next to the town fortress is the former church of Santa María la Mayor. Built of sandstone in the 16th century, it has a ribbed vault that is now used as a concert hall. The church of San Sebastián has a brick baroque Mudejar tower topped by a winged figure called the Angelote (“big angel”), the symbol of Antequera. The church of Nuestra Señora del Carmen (Our Lady of Carmen) has an extraordinary baroque altarpiece that towers to the ceiling. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings in the summer, many monuments are floodlighted and open until midnight.
Getting Here and Around
There are several daily buses from Málaga and Ronda to Antequera. Drivers will arrive via the A367 and A384, and should head for the underground parking lot on Calle Diego Ponce in the center of town, which is well signposted.
Antequera. | Pl. de San Sebastian 7 | 952/702505 | turismo.antequera.es.
About 8 km (5 miles) from Antequera’s Lovers’ Rock, the village of Archidona winds its way up a steep mountain slope beneath the ruins of a Moorish castle. This unspoiled village is worth a detour for its Plaza Ochavada, a magnificent 17th-century octagon resplendent with contrasting red and ocher stone. | Along A45.
These mysterious prehistoric megalithic burial chambers, just outside Antequera, were built some 4,000 years ago out of massive slabs of stone weighing more than 100 tons each. The best-preserved dolmen is La Menga. | Signposted off Málaga exit rd. | 952/712206 | Free | Tues.–Sat. 9–6:30, Sun. 10–5.
Fuente de Piedra.
Europe’s major nesting area for the greater flamingo is a shallow saltwater lagoon. In February and March, these birds arrive from Africa by the thousands to breed, returning to Africa in August when the water dries up. The visitor center has information on wildlife. Bring binoculars if you have them. On weekends and public holidays in April and May, which is flamingo hatching time, the visitor center remains opens from 10 to 7. Guided tours are available in English (€6 per person, book ahead of time by phone). | 10 km (6 miles) northwest of Antequera, off A92 to Seville | 952/712554 | Free | Apr.–Sept., daily 10–2 and 5–7; Oct.–Mar., daily 10–2 and 4–6.
Museo de la Ciudad de Antequera.
The town’s pride and joy is Efebo, a beautiful bronze statue of a boy that dates back to Roman times. Standing almost 5 feet high, it’s on display along with other ancient, medieval, and Renaissance artifacts and art in this impressive museum. | Pl. Coso Viejo | 952/708300 | turismo.antequera.es | €3 (free Sun.) | July and Aug., weekdays 9:30–2 and 7–9, Sat. 9:30–2 and 4–7, Sun. 10–2; Sept.–June, weekdays 9:30–2 and 4:30–6:30, Sat. 9:30–2 and 4–7, Sun. 10–2.
Fodor’s Choice | Parque Natural del Torcal de Antequera (El Torcal Nature Park).
Well-marked walking trails (stay on them) guide you at this park, where you can walk among eerie pillars of pink limestone sculpted by aeons of wind and rain. Guides can be arranged for longer hikes. The visitor center has a small museum. | Centro de Visitantes, Ctra. C3310, 10 km (6 miles) south of Antequera | 952/243324 | Free | Apr.–Sept., daily 10–7, Oct.–Mar., daily 10–5.
Peña de los Enamorados.
East of Antequera, along A45, is the dramatic silhouette of the Peña de los Enamorados (Lovers’ Rock), an Andalusian landmark. Legend has it that a Moorish princess and a Christian shepherd boy eloped here one night and cast themselves to their deaths from the peak the next morning. The rock’s outline is often likened to the profile of the Cordobés bullfighter Manolete.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
Caserío San Benito.
SPANISH | If it weren’t for the cell-phone tower looming next to this country restaurant 11 km (7 miles) north of Antequera, you might think you’d stumbled into an 18th-century scene. Popular dishes include porra antequerana (a thick gazpacho topped with diced ham) and a giant flamenquín (a rolled and breaded filet of pork and ham). There are more innovative dishes here as well, like Moroccan-style chicken and arroz cremoso (creamy rice) with pork loin and asparagus. The restaurant’s a popular Sunday lunch spot for hungry malagueños in the winter months (in summer they head for the beach). While you’re there visit the museum, filled with antiques and agricultural implements. | Average main: €10 | Ctra. Málaga–Córdoba, Km 108 | 952/034000 | www.caseriodesanbenito.com | No dinner Sun.–Thurs.
El Mesón Ibérico Dehesa Las Hazuelas.
SPANISH | Down the road from the tourist office, this ordinary-looking restaurant serves excellent and abundant Spanish cooking for some of the best prices in the area. Inside, traditional wine barrels share space with modern leather stools, pine furniture, and a wide-screen television. There’s also an outside terrace. Open all day from early to late, the Mesón serves breakfast, snacks, tapas, lunch and dinner—it’s often bustling and more than a little loud. Specialties include pulpo a la brasa (grilled octopus), solomillo al jerez con cabrales (pork steak in a sherry and blue-cheese sauce) and pluma ibérica al foie (Iberian pork with foie gras). The service is friendly, although it can be slow when the restaurant’s busy. Finish off with a liqueur or something from the impressive gin list. | Average main: €10 | C. Encarnación 9 | 952/704582.
Parador de Antequera.
HOTEL | Within a few minutes’ walk of the historic center, this parador provides a welcome oasis of calm for relaxing after sightseeing; panoramic vistas of the Peña de los Enamorados peak can be seen from the gardens, restaurant, and some rooms. The style is reminiscent of a typical Andalusian estate, but with a modern edge, with steel and sharp contour details. Rooms are spacious and minimalist, with white and beige touches. Plenty of lounge chairs surround the pool in the manicured gardens. Pros: very quiet; perfect setting for a romantic break. Cons: service in restaurant can be frosty; decor could be too impersonal for some. | Rooms from: €134 | Pl. García del Olmo 2 | 952/840261 | www.parador.es | 58 rooms | No meals.
THE GUADALHORCE VALLEY
About 5 km (3 miles) from Antequera.
Coming from Antequera, take the El Torcal exit, turning right onto A343, then from the village of Alora, follow the small road north to the awe-inspiring Garganta del Chorro (Gorge of the Stream), a deep limestone chasm where the Guadalhorce River churns and snakes its way some 600 feet below the road. The railroad track that worms in and out of tunnels in the cleft is, amazingly, the main line heading north from Málaga for Bobadilla junction and, eventually, Madrid. Clinging to the cliffside is the Caminito del Rey (King’s Walk), a suspended catwalk built for a visit by King Alfonso XIII at the beginning of the 19th century. It has been closed since 1992, but the €9 million renovations, which finally started in early 2014, may be completed in 2015.
North of the gorge, the Guadalhorce has been dammed to form a series of scenic reservoirs surrounded by piney hills, which constitute the Parque de Ardales nature area. Informal, open-air restaurants overlook the lakes and a number of picnic spots. Driving along the southern shore of the lake, you reach Ardales and, turning onto A357, the old spa town of Carratraca. Once a favorite watering hole for both Spanish and foreign aristocracy, it has a Moorish-style ayuntamiento (town hall) and an unusual polygonal bullring. Today the 1830 guesthouse has been renovated into the luxury Villa Padierna spa hotel. The splendid Roman-style marble-and-tile bathhouse has benefited from extensive restoration.
11 km (7 miles) west of Málaga, 16 km (10 miles) northeast of Fuengirola, 43 km (27 miles) east of Marbella.
Torremolinos is all about fun in the sun. It may be more subdued than it was in the action-packed 1960s and 1970s, but it remains the gay capital of the Costa del Sol. Scantily attired Northern Europeans of all ages still jam the streets in season, shopping for bargains on Calle San Miguel, downing sangria in the bars of La Nogalera, and congregating in the bars and English pubs. By day, the sun seekers flock to El Bajondillo and La Carihuela beaches, where, in high summer, it’s hard to find towel space on the sand.
Torremolinos has two sections. The first, Central Torremolinos, is built around the Plaza Costa del Sol; Calle San Miguel, the main shopping street; and the brash Nogalera Plaza, which is full of overpriced bars and restaurants. The Pueblo Blanco area, off Calle Casablanca, is more pleasant; and the Cuesta del Tajo, at the far end of Calle San Miguel, winds down a steep slope to Bajondillo Beach. Here, crumbling walls, bougainvillea-clad patios, and old cottages hint at the quiet fishing village of bygone years.
The second, much nicer, section of Torremolinos is La Carihuela. To get here, head west out of town on Avenida Carlota Alessandri and turn left following the signs. This more authentically Spanish area still has a few fishermen’s cottages and excellent seafood restaurants. The traffic-free esplanade is pleasant for strolling, especially on a summer evening or Sunday at lunchtime, when it’s packed with Spanish families. Just 10 minutes’ walk north from the beach is the Parque de la Batería, a very pleasant park with fountains, ornamental gardens, and good views of the sea.
Bus Station. | C. Hoyo | No phone.
Radio Taxi Torremolinos. | 952/380600.
La Carihuela. | Paseo Marítimo, next to Tropicana on the seafront | 952/372956 | Closed weekends.
Torremolinos | Pl. Comunidades Autónomas | 952/371909 | Closed Mon.
FAMILY | La Carihuela.
This 2-km (1½-mile) stretch of sand running from the Torremolinos headland to Puerto Marina in Benalmádena is a perennial favorite with Málaga residents as well as visitors. Several hotels, including the Tropicana, flank a beach promenade that’s perfect for a stroll, and there are plenty of beach bars where you can rent a lounger and parasol—and also enjoy some of the best pescaíto (fried fish) on the coast. The gray sand is cleaned regularly, and the moderate waves make for safe bathing. Towel space (and street parking) is in short supply during the summer months, but outside high season this is a perfect spot for soaking up some winter sunshine. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards (mid-June–mid-September); showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: swimming; walking. | West end of town, between the center and Puerto Marina.
WHERE TO EAT
SEAFOOD | Thanks to the malagueño families who flock here on weekends for the legendary fresh seafood, this restaurant has been steadily increasing its capacity. Now seating 170 inside and 150 outside, the complex is in an attractive square, one line back from the seafront. Try for a table overlooking the mermaid fountain. This is a good place to indulge in fritura malagueña or arroz marinera (seafood with rice), one of 11 different rice dishes prepared here; others include lobster rice, vegetable rice, and black rice flavored with squid ink. The generous set menus feature different types of seafood, fish or rice dishes. Service can be brisk and impersonal. | Average main: €14 | Pl. San Gines, La Carihuela | 952/373512.
SPANISH | Just north of Torremolinos (toward Coín), this cooking school is well worth the detour. Surrounded by tropical gardens, the main building dates from 1856—in the 1850s an American family lived here, and Ernest Hemingway was a frequent visitor. Today, diners can enjoy excellent and innovative cuisine prepared by the students. The menu changes twice yearly, but expect to find dishes such as lobster with ginger and lemongrass, roast venison with polenta, mushrooms, and dill sauce, and desserts like the finger-licking cream of chestnuts with a raspberry filling. There’s also an interesting tasting menu (€35). | Average main: €22 | Finca La Consula, Churriana | 952/436026 | www.laconsula.com | Reservations essential | Closed weekends. No dinner.
Yate El Cordobes.
SPANISH | Ask the locals which beachfront chiringuito they prefer and El Yate will almost always be the answer. Run and owned by an affable Cordobes family, the menu holds few surprises, but the seafood is freshly caught, and meat and vegetables are top quality. Have the classic Córdoba salmorejo soup (thick, garlicky gazpacho, topped with diced egg and ham) as a starter. Then you may be tempted by the barbecued sardines; or choose a freshly grilled fish like dorada or lubina. The back terrace with its sea and sand views fills up fast, but the dining room is pleasant too, given its large and light picture windows. Service is friendly and fast, although little or no English is spoken. Desserts are the usual limited choice of crème caramel, rice pudding, and similar, but at least they’re locally made. | Average main: €9 | Paseo Marítimo Playamar s/n | 952/384956 | Closed mid-Dec.–mid-Feb.
WHERE TO STAY
HOTEL | Despite the concrete anonymity of this hotel’s looming exterior, this is one of the classiest and most comfortable places to stay on this strip of coastline, with spacious rooms and grand sea views. Acres of marble meet you in the vast lobby, which is a taste of things to come. The rooms, which are decorated in a soothing ocher color scheme, have terraces. The extensive breakfast buffet includes eggs prepared to order. The leisure facilities include a spa, complete with Turkish bath and an indoor pool. During the summer months, there are barbecues prepared poolside. Pros: close to beach and port; multilingual staff. Cons: parking costs extra; common areas are slightly dated; expensive for the area. | Rooms from: €208 | C. Los Nidos 23 | 952/384700 | www.amaragua.com | 263 rooms, 16 suites | Breakfast.
Hotel La Luna Blanca.
HOTEL | A touch of Asia comes to Torremolinos at Spain’s only Japanese hotel, tucked away at the western end of the resort and a few minutes walk from La Carihuela beach. Most of the spacious rooms are functional and European style, except for the Japanese Suite with its futon and Furo tub (six times larger than a regular tub). The small gardens and pool area provide ideal relaxation space away from the crowds at the beach. Added extras include free parking (a big bonus in Torremolinos) and daily newspapers. Japanese food is served at all meals (including breakfast), with the lunch and dinner menus costing €30. Pros: peaceful; friendly staff; free parking. Cons: can be difficult to find; steep walk back from the beach. | Rooms from: €98 | Pasaje del Cerrillo 2 | 952/053711 | www.hotellalunablanca.com | 9 rooms, 2 suites | Breakfast.
Sol Don Pedro.
HOTEL | Comfortable and well maintained, this three-story, traditional Andalusian-style hotel has spacious rooms with balconies; sea views get snapped up fast. Part of the reliable Spanish Sol Melia chain, it forms a three-hotel complex with Sol Don Pablo and Sol Don Marco. The bodega-style bar is popular at happy hour, and nightly entertainment here includes flamenco shows. The hearty breakfast buffet should set you up for the day; lunch is less enticing. Note that the views vary considerably, so ask for a sea view if this is important to you, or you could find yourself overlooking the parking lot. Pros: across from the beach; good deals via the website. Cons: popular with tour groups; pool area gets crowded and noisy in peak season. | Rooms from: €110 | Av. del Lido | 952/386844 | www.solmelia.com | 281 rooms | Breakfast.
HOTEL | On the beach at the far end of the Carihuela, in one of the most pleasant parts of Torremolinos, this low-rise resort hotel has a loyal following for its friendly and homey style and comfortable, bright rooms. A tropical theme runs throughout: purple passionflower climbers cover the brickwork, exotic plants and bamboo furniture decorate the common areas, and warm color schemes and dazzling white fabrics make the guest rooms cheerful. The beachfront restaurant has a good selection of meat and fish dishes. Pros: great for families; surrounded by bars and restaurants; has its own beach club. Cons: can be noisy; a half-hour walk to the center of Torremolinos. | Rooms from: €140 | Trópico 6, La Carihuela | 952/386600 | www.hoteltropicana.es | 84 rooms | Closed Dec. and Jan. (call for exact dates) | No meals.
NIGHTLIFE AND PERFORMING ARTS
Most nocturnal action is in the center of Torremolinos, and most of its gay bars are in or around the Plaza de la Nogalera, in the center, just off the Calle San Miguel.
Taberna Flamenca Pepe López.
Many of the better hotels stage flamenco shows, but you may also want to check out this venue, which has shows throughout the year: November–February, Friday or Saturday (call to confirm); March, Thursday–Saturday; April–June, September and October, Monday–Saturday; July and August, Wednesday–Saturday. | Pl. de la Gamba Alegre | 952/381284.
9 km (5½ miles) west of Torremolinos, 9 km (5½ miles) east of Mijas.
Benalmádena-Pueblo, the village proper, is on the mountainside 7 km (4 miles) from the coast. It’s surprisingly unspoiled and offers a glimpse of the old Andalusia. Benalmádena-Costa, the beach resort, is practically an extension of Torremolinos; it’s run almost exclusively by package-tour operators, although the marina does have shops, restaurants, and bars that may also appeal if you’re traveling on your own.
Benalmádena Costa. | Av. Antonio Machado 10 | 952/442494.
Sea Life Benalmádena.
At this above-average aquarium at the marina, you can find rays, sharks, and sunfish; there’s also a turtle reef with rare green turtles, an Asian otter family and an Amazon rainforest area with poisonous frogs plus information about various conservation projects. Nearbvy is a pirate-theme miniature golf course. Book online to save on admission. | Puerto Marina Benalmádena | 952/560150 | www.visitsealife.com | €15.50; mini-golf €5 | May–Sept., daily 10 am–midnight; Oct.–Apr., daily 10–6.
FAMILY | Tivoli World.
The Costa del Sol’s leading amusement park is Tivoli World, with 27 rides, Wild West shows, and 40-odd restaurants and snack bars. A 4,000-seat, open-air auditorium showcases international stars alongside cancan, flamenco, and Spanish ballet performances. Next to the park is a cable car that takes you to the top of Calamorro Mountain for hiking trails and a birds-of-prey show. | Av. Tivoli s/n, Arroyo de la Miel | 952/577016 | www.tivoli.es | €7.95, rides extra | Mid-Mar.–Apr., Sept., and Oct., weekends noon–7; May, Wed.–Sun. noon–7; June, Wed.–Sun. 4 pm–midnight; July, daily 5 pm–1 am; Aug., daily 6 pm–2 am.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
MEDITERRANEAN | Perched on the hillside on the way up to Benalmádena-Pueblo, next to the small municipal golf course and with panoramic views of the coast, this restaurant is a favorite with locals for lunch in winter and dinner in summer. The glass-box-on-stilts exterior gives way to a modern interior, where wooden beams and steel pipes crisscross the ceiling. Start with a warm shrimp salad, and follow with a wok or pasta dish or fresh fish such as rodaballo con patata y jugo de cebolla roja (skate with potato and essence of red onion). Or go for the daily menu at lunch for €12. Live music accompanies dinner and cocktails on summer evenings. | Average main: €18 | Ctra. de Arroyo de la Miel | 902/102675 | Closed Mon.
SPANISH | If you’ve done any traveling on the Costa’s main A7 highway, you’ve doubtless spotted this place, perched high in the pine-clad hills above the village—the views from the dining room stretch all the way to Africa on a clear day. What you’ll find on the menu are simple dishes made with the freshest ingredients, and the restaurant and tapas (from €2.50) bar are both popular with a sophisticated Spanish clientele. Highlights include traditional stews such as fabes con almejas (beans with clams), and steaks grilled over oak wood embers. There’s an extensive wine list. | Average main: €25 | Ctra. Benalmádena-Mijas, Km 3.1 | 952/119163 | www.elhigueron.com.
HOTEL | Tucked away in the heart of Benalmádena-Pueblo is, judging by the reviews, one of the Costa del Sol’s best-kept secrets when it comes to small hotels. Casa Rosa is a family-run affair so expect friendly and attentive service as well as plenty of helpful tips on places to visit. The interior design is low-key but comfortable, and all rooms have terraces looking out to the ocean below. Visitors rave about excellent breakfast, which is well worth the extra €6. Pros: excellent value. Cons: small, so rooms book up fast. | Rooms from: €55 | C. Pensamiento 31, Benalmádena-Pueblo | 952/568047 | www.hotelcasarosabenalmadena.com | 14 rooms | No meals.
Hotel Mac Puerto Marina.
HOTEL | This dazzling white hotel fits in well with the surrounding quasi-Oriental architecture of the Puerto Deportivo, and most balconies have sea views. Rooms are spacious and stylish, with bold fabrics contrasting with pastel paintwork and arty prints. There is nightly entertainment ranging from flamenco to magic shows, and the breakfast buffet has been applauded by guests for its wide variety of hot and cold choices, although the lunch buffet isn’t as well received. The hotel is also ideally placed for La Carihuela’s famed seafood restaurants and the international dining options found in the port. Pros: good service; superb location. Cons: can be noisy from nearby clubs and bars; have to pay for safety box. | Rooms from: €175 | Av. del Puerto Deportivo | 952/961696 | www.mac-hotels.com | 272 rooms | Breakfast.
Sunset Beach Club.
RESORT | It’s big and brash, but this hotel has a lot going for it, not least the price: you can get great deals on these attractive apartments out of season and by booking online. Kitchens are well equipped, and after preparing a cocktail, you can adjourn to your generously sized terrace and enjoy the sunset over the sea. Among the myriad activities offered are a cabaret theater with live nightly shows, an introduction to diving, and a disco that’s open from Easter to October. Half of the apartments are time-shares. Pros: excellent facilities for families; well located for shops and beach. Cons: beach towels have to be rented; most apartments just have twin beds; Wi-Fi only in communal areas and suites. | Rooms from: €163 | Av. del Sol 5, Benalmádena-Costa | 952/579400 | www.sunsetbeachclub.com | 553 rooms | No meals.
For discos, piano bars, and karaoke, head for the port.
This casino nightclub usually has evening entertainment on Friday and Saturday. A passport is required in the casino, which is open daily from 3 pm; there’s also a bit of a dress code (no sports clothes or sneakers). | Casino Torrequebrada, Av. del Sol s/n | 952/577300 | www.casinotorrequebrada.com | €3.
16 km (10 miles) west of Torremolinos, 27 km (17 miles) east of Marbella.
Fuengirola is less frenetic than Torremolinos. Many of its waterfront high-rises are vacation apartments that cater to budget-minded sun seekers from Northern Europe and, in summer, a large contingent from Córdoba and other parts of Spain. The town is also a haven for British retirees (with plenty of English and Irish pubs to serve them) and a shopping and business center for the rest of the Costa del Sol. The Tuesday market here is the largest on the coast and a major tourist attraction.
Getting Here and Around
Fuengirola is the last stop on the train line from Málaga. There are also regular buses that leave from Málaga’s main bus station.
Bike Rental Contact
Marbella Rent a Bike. This company is based in Marbella but will deliver bikes to Fuengirola. Rental costs are from €15 a day. | Poligono Nueva La Campana 63, | Marbella | 952/811062 | www.marbellarentabike.com.
Bus Station. | Av. Alfonso X 111 | No phone.
Radio Taxi Fuengirola. | 952/471000.
Fuengirola. | Av. Jesús Santos Rein 6 | 952/467457 | www.visitafuengirola.com.
FAMILY | Bioparc Fuengirola.
In this modern zoo, wildlife live in a cageless environment in habitats as close to their natural ones as possible. The Bioparc is involved in almost 50 international breeding programs for species in danger of extinction and also supports conservation projects in Africa and several prominent ecological initiatives. Four different habitats have been created, and chimpanzees, big cats, and crocodiles may be viewed, together with other mammals such as white tigers and pygmy hippos, as well as reptiles and birds. There are also daily shows and exhibitions, and various places to get refreshments. In July and August, the zoo stays open late to allow visitors to see the nocturnal animals. | Av. José Cela 6 | 952/666301 | www.bioparcfuengirola.es | €17.90 | Sept.–June, daily 10–dusk; July and Aug., 10–midnight.
FAMILY | Carvajal.
Lined with low-rises and plenty of greenery, this typically urban beach is between Benalmádena and Fuengirola. One of the Costa del Sol’s “blue flag” holders (awarded to the cleanest beaches with the best facilities), the 1¼ -km (¾-mile) beach has yellow sand and safe swimming conditions, which make it very popular with families. There’s a choice of beach bars that rent lounge chairs and umbrellas, and regular live music in the summer. Like most beaches in the area, Playa Carvajal is packed throughout July and August, and most summer weekends, but at any other time this beach is quite quiet. The Benalmádena end has a seafront promenade and on-street parking, and the Carvajal train station (on the Fuengirola–Málaga line) is just a few yards from the beach. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards (mid-June to mid-September); parking; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: sunrise; swimming. | N340, Km 214–216.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
Moochers Jazz Cafe.
INTERNATIONAL | Inside an old fisherman’s cottage, this classic restaurant lies in the heart of Fuengirola’s “Fish Alley,” just off the seafront promenade. It’s popular with expats as well as tourists—there’s live music every evening, and tables are surrounded by jazz and other music memorabilia. Specialties include very spicy chili con carne as well as both sweet and savory pancakes, which come in very generous portions. There’s also a piano bar for drinks and cocktails, and in summer, the rooftop terrace comes into its own for starlit dining. | Average main: €12 | C. de la Cruz | 952/477154 | No lunch.
Restaurante La Solera.
SPANISH | Tucked into the elbow of a narrow street near the main church square, this Spanish restaurant serves up superb dishes, including pimientos rellenos de bacalao con arroz (peppers stuffed with cod and rice), and alcachofas salteadas con almejas y langostinos (stir-fried artichokes with clams and king shrimps). The three-course daily menu (€15) offers a wide range of choices. The interior is warm and rustic, with lots of dark wood and beamed ceilings. The tapas bar comes with a tempting display of light bites, and the wine selection is well conceived and extensive. | Average main: €15 | C. Capitán 13 | 952/467708 | Closed Tues.
Fodor’s Choice | Vegetalia.
VEGETARIAN | This attractive, long-established restaurant has a large, pleasant dining space decorated with giant prints of (surprise, surprise) vegetables. It’s best known for its excellent, and vast, lunchtime buffet, which includes salads and hot dishes like lentil burgers and soy “meatballs”; it’s a popular place for expatriate “veggies.” The dinner menu includes curries, vegetable lasagna, pasta dishes, and pancakes. Leave room for the house-made desserts, especially the blueberry pie, which is made by the Finnish owner Katja’s mother. Biodynamic wines and beer are available, as are more mainstream Spanish varieties. | Average main: €7 | C. Santa Isabel 8, Los Boliches | 952/586031 | www.restaurantevegetalia.com | Closed Sun. and July and Aug. No dinner Mon.–Thurs.
Florida Hotel & Spa.
HOTEL | This glossy spa hotel has a sophisticated edge on its high-rise neighbors, with light and airy rooms and private terraces overlooking the port and surrounding beach. Expanses of glossy marble in the lobby are crowned by a dramatic stained-glass dome, and glass elevators give dramatic views of the coast and mountains en route to your room. The rooms have pale parquet floors and pleasant floral fabrics. Service is generally excellent. The spa has a good range of treatments, including the irresistible-sounding chocolate body wrap. Pros: great location; in-house spa. Cons: not all rooms have a sea view; can be an overload of business travelers; very small pool. | Rooms from: €130 | C. Galvez Ginachero | 952/922700 | www.hotel-florida.es | 184 rooms | No meals.
B&B/INN | Right off the main plaza and near the beach, this deservedly popular family-run hotel has bright and comfortable but small rooms; guests return year after year, particularly during the October feria. Most rooms have their own small balconies, and there’s also a larger sun terrace for catching rays. The hostal is surrounded by restaurants and bars, so finding a desayuno (breakfast) destination is no problem. If you’re here during Christmas, the owners display one of the most impressive belenes (model Nativity scenes) in town. Pros: friendly owners; spotless rooms. Cons: not much English spoken; rooms are small. | Rooms from: €57 | C. de la Cruz 1 | 952/474193 | www.hostal-italia.com | 40 rooms | No meals.
NIGHTLIFE AND PERFORMING ARTS
Palacio de la Paz.
For theater and concerts—including classical, rock, and jazz—check out the modern Palacio de la Paz between Los Boliches and the town center. | Av. Jesús Santo Rein, Recinto Ferial | 952/585836.
Salón de Variétés Theater.
From October through June, amateur local troupes stage plays and musicals in English at the Salón de Variétés Theater. | Emancipación 30 | 952/474542 | www.salonvarietestheatre.com.
8 km (5 miles) north of Fuengirola, 18 km (11 miles) west of Torremolinos.
Mijas is in the foothills of the sierra just north of the coast. Long ago foreign retirees discovered the pretty, whitewashed town, and though the large, touristy square may look like an extension of the Costa, beyond it are hilly residential streets with timeworn homes. Try to visit late in the afternoon, after the tour buses have left.
Mijas extends down to the coast, and the coastal strip between Fuengirola and Marbella is officially called Mijas-Costa. This area has several hotels, restaurants, and golf courses.
Getting Here and Around
Buses leave Fuengirola every half hour for the 25-minute drive through hills peppered with large houses. If you have a car and don’t mind a mildly hair-raising drive, take the more dramatic approach from Benalmádena-Pueblo, a winding mountain road with splendid views. You can park in the underground parking garage signposted on the approach to the village.
Mijas. | Avda. Virgen de la Peña | 952/589034.
Bullfights take place from April to November, usually on Sunday at 4:30, at Mijas’s tiny bullring, one of the few square ones in the country. During the the height of summer, they are frequently preceded by a flamenco show. The ring is off the Plaza Constitución—Mijas’s old village square—and up the slope beside the Mirlo Blanco restaurant. | Pl. Constitución | 952/485248 | Museum €3 | May–Oct., daily 10–9; Nov.–Apr., daily 10–7.
Iglesia Parroquial de la Inmaculada Concepción (Immaculate Conception).
This delightful village church is worth a visit. It’s impeccably decorated, especially at Easter, and the terrace and spacious gardens have a splendid panoramic view. The church is up the hill from the bullring. Opening hours are sporadic; ask at the tourist office. | Pl. Constitución.
This charming museum occupies the former town hall. Its themed rooms, including an old-fashioned bakery and bodega, surround a patio, and regular art exhibitions are mounted in the upstairs gallery. | Pl. de la Libertad | 952/590380 | €1 | May–Oct., daily 10–3 and 5–10; Nov.–Apr., daily 9–7.
QUICK BITES: Bar Porras.
On Plaza de la Libertad (at the base of Calle San Sebastián—the most photographed street in the village), this bar attracts a regular crowd of locals with its well-priced, tasty tapas and strategically placed outside tables. | Pl. de la Libertad.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
SPANISH | A major appeal of this restaurant is that it is slightly off the well-trodden tourist route and has a strong local following, especially at tapas time (they start at €1). The intimate, rustic-style dining room provides a welcoming setting for enjoying a wide range of dishes, including surprisingly good pizzas as well as generous portions of heartwarming local specialties like braised oxtail, bacalao al pisto (cod with ratatouille), and prawns in a spicy chili sauce. Barbecued meat and fish are available in the summer. | Average main: €8 | C. Málaga 38 | 952/486581 | Closed Mon. and Feb.
SPANISH | In an old house on the pleasant Plaza de la Constitución, with a terrace for outdoor dining, this restaurant is run by a Basque family that’s been in the Costa del Sol restaurant business for decades. The interior is welcoming and intimate, with original and noteworthy artwork interspersed among the arches, hanging plants, and traditional white paintwork. Good choices here are Basque specialties such as txangurro (spider crab) and kokotxas de bacalau (cod cheeks). And don’t miss the sensational Grand Marnier soufflé for dessert. There’s an outside terrace for alfresco summer dining and a permanent exhibition of paintings by local foreign artists. | Average main: €18 | Cuesta de la Villa 13 | 952/485700 | www.mirlo-blanco.es | Reservations essential | Closed Jan.
EUROPEAN | Halfway up the road from Fuengirola on the way to Mijas, this sprawling house is in its own garden, complete with swimming pool. There’s live music nightly, ranging from flamenco to opera and jazz. This is a favorite among local (mainly British) expatriates, some of whom come in full evening dress to celebrate birthdays or other events. In winter, logs burn in a cozy fireplace. The pato a la naranja (duck in orange sauce) is popular, but there’s also an emphasis on Italian cuisine, with pasta choices that include fusilli with lamb meatballs and risotto with asparagus and scallops. | Average main: €17 | Ctra. de Mijas–Fuengirola, Km 4 | 952/485975 | www.restaurantevalparaiso.net | No lunch Mon.–Sat. No lunch Sun. June–Oct., no dinner Sun. Nov.–May.
Hotel IPV Beatriz Palace.
HOTEL | Right on the beach and in the shadow of Fuengirola Castle, this modern hotel is a great base for sightseeing on this side of the Costa del Sol. The rooms are spacious (the suites come with large balconies), and the majority have sea views (ask for one when you book). Done with a Mediterranean theme, the interior also has some Andalusian touches in the tapas bar. Two restaurants provide lunch and dinner, and snacks are available in the beach club during summer. Spa treatments are wide-ranging and include beauty and massage treatments. Pros: well-maintained; beachfront location. Cons: pool crowded in summer; long walk to the center of town. | Rooms from: €140 | A7, Km 207 | Mijas-Costa | 952/922000 | www.beatrizhoteles.com | 279 rooms, 6 suites | Breakfast.
27 km (17 miles) west of Fuengirola, 28 km (17 miles) east of Estepona, 50 km (31 miles) southeast of Ronda.
Thanks to its year-round mild climate and a spectacular natural backdrop, Marbella has been a playground for the rich and famous since the 1950s, when wealthy Europeans first put Marbella on the map as a high-end tourist destination. Grand hotels, luxury restaurants, and multimillion-euro mansions line the waterfront. Marbella itself is a mixture of a charming Casco Antiguo (Old Quarter), where visitors can get a taste of the real Andalusia; an ordinary, tree-lined main thoroughfare (Avenida Ricardo Soriano) flanked by high-rises; and a buzzing Paseo Marítimo (Seafront Promenade), which now stretches some 10 km (6 miles) to San Pedro in the west. The best beaches are to the east of the town between El Rosario and the Don Carlos Hotel. Puerto Banús, the place to see and be seen during the summer, is Spain’s most luxurious marina, home to some of the most expensive yachts you will see anywhere. A bevy of restaurants, bars, and designer boutiques are nearby.
Getting Here and Around
There are regular buses departing from the bus station to the surrounding resorts and towns, including Fuengirola, Estepona (both every 30 minutes), and Málaga (hourly).
Bus Station. | Av. Trapiche | no phone.
Marbella. The Marbella tourist office can provide a map of the town and information on exhibits and events. | Pl. de los Naranjos 1 | 952/768707 | www.marbellaexclusive.com.
Museo de Bonsai.
In a modern building just east of Marbella’s old quarter is this collection of miniature trees, including a 300-year-old olive tree from China. | Parque Arroyo de la Repesa, Av. Dr. Maiz Viñal | 952/862926 | €4 | July and Aug., weekdays 10:30–1:30 and 5–8, weekends 10:30–7.30; Sept.–June, weekdays 10:30–1:30 and 4–6:30, weekends 10:30–6:30.
Museo del Grabado Español Contemporáneo.
The museum, in a restored 16th-century palace in the heart of the old town, shows some of the best in contemporary Spanish prints. Some of Spain’s most famous 20th-century artists, including Picasso, Miró, and Tàpies, are on show. Temporary exhibitions are also mounted here. | Hospital Bazán | 952/765741 | www.museodelgrabado.es | €3 | Sept. 22–June 20, Mon. and Sat. 10–2:30, Tues.–Fri. 10–2:30 and 5–9; July and Aug., Mon. and Sat. 10–2:30, Tues.–Fri. 10–2:30 and 6:30–10.
Plaza de los Naranjos.
Marbella’s appeal lies in the heart of its Old Town, which remains surprisingly intact. Here, a block or two back from the main highway, narrow alleys of whitewashed houses cluster around the central Plaza de los Naranjos (Orange Square), where colorful, albeit pricey, restaurants vie for space under the orange trees. Climb onto what remains of the old fortifications and stroll along the Calle Virgen de los Dolores to the Plaza de Santo Cristo.
QUICK BITES: La Taberna del Pintxo.
Enjoy a glass of wine and a transplanted Basque delight at La Taberna del Pintxo. A pintxo is a little morsel served on a slice of bread. This restaurant serves platter after platter of creative examples, including shellfish, slices of omelet, mushrooms baked in garlic, and homemade burgers. Prices (€1.15–€1.95) are signaled by the length and size of the stick holding the pintxo together. The kitchen is open continuously from 12:30 pm. | Av. Miguel Cano 7 | 952/829321.
Marbella’s wealth glitters most brightly along the Golden Mile, a tiara of star-studded clubs, restaurants, and hotels west of town and stretching from Marbella to Puerto Banús. A mosque, an Arab bank, and the former residence of Saudi Arabia’s late King Fahd reveal the influence of middle-eastern oil money in this wealthy enclave. About 7 km (4½ miles) west of central Marbella (between Km 175 and Km 174), a sign indicates the turnoff leading down to Puerto Banús. Though now hemmed in by a belt of high-rises, Marbella’s plush marina, with 915 berths, is a gem of ostentatious wealth, a Spanish answer to St. Tropez. Huge yachts, beautiful people, and countless expensive stores and restaurants make up the glittering parade that marches long into the night. The backdrop is an Andalusian pueblo—built in the 1960s to resemble the fishing villages that once lined this coast.
FAMILY | Marbella East Side Beaches.
Marbella’s best beaches are to the east of town, between Los Monteros and Don Carlos hotels, and include Costa Bella and El Alicate beaches. The 6-km (3¾-mile) stretch of yellow sand is lined with residential complexes and sand dunes (some of the last remaining on the Costa del Sol). The sea remains shallow for some distance, so bathing is safe. Beach bars catering to all tastes and budgets dot the sands, as do several exclusive beach clubs (look for Nikki Beach, for instance, where luxury yachts are anchored offshore). Tourists and locals flock to these beaches in the summer, but take a short walk away from the beach bars and parking lots, and you’ll find a less crowded spot for your towel. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards (mid-June to mid-September); parking (fee in summer); showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: swimming; walking. | A7, Km 187–193 | No credit cards.
Playas de Puerto Banús.
These small sandy coves are packed almost to bursting in the summer, when they’re crowded with young, bronzed, perfect bodies: topless sunbathing is almost de rigueur. The sea is shallow along the entire stretch, which is practically wave free and seems warmer than other beaches nearby. In the area are excellent Caribbean-style beach bars with good seafood and fish, as well as lots of options for sundown drinks. This is also home to the famous beach clubs Ocean Club and Sala Beach with their oversized sun beds, champagne, and nightlong parties. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards (mid-June to mid-September); showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: partiers; sunset; swimming. | Puerto Banús.
WHERE TO EAT
SEAFOOD | The modest, old-fashioned exterior of this local favorite is a bit deceiving: when you step inside you’ll be greeted not with stodgy decoration but rather with three spacious dining rooms with Spanish soccer memorabilia, photos of famous patrons, and tanks of fish. Traditional blue tiles complete the look. Fish and seafood choices include fried or grilled squid, spider crab, lobster, sole, red snapper, and sea bass. If you’re not a fish eater, though, you’ll have to make do with little more than a roll and dessert. The latter includes homemade rice pudding and chocolate mousse. This is a popular venue with locals and tourists, so go early to be sure of a table—especially if you want to dine outside, on the lovely terrace in the plaza. | Average main: €12 | Pl. Altamirano | 952/824932 | Closed Wed.
Amore e Fantasía.
ITALIAN | Without knowing better, you might mistake this for an antiques-and-housewares shop rather than a restaurant, what with the Buddha statues, gilt mirrors, Moorish lights, and Pompeii-theme frieze. It was one of the first restaurants to open in the port, back in the 1980s, and the menu is vast, with traditional and deliciously prepared Italian choices like risotto al funghi porcini (with porcini mushrooms), more sophisticated dishes including lasagne with spicy chicken, and a well-priced daily lunch menu (€15). Opt for the superbly moist dark-chocolate soufflé served with vanilla ice cream if it’s available. One of the original partners is from Naples, a fact reflected in the superb crisp pizzas, prepared in a traditional wood-burning oven. The only major negative here are the inflated prices of drinks, especially mineral water—ask for a jug of agua del grifo (tap water) instead. | Average main: €17 | Muelle Benabolá 5–6, Puerto Banús | 952/813464 | www.amorefantasia.com.
Fodor’s Choice | Cappuccino.
INTERNATIONAL | Just under the Don Pepe Hotel and right on the promenade, this place is the perfect spot to get some refreshment before/after you tackle a long stroll along the seafront. Done in navy and white with wicker chairs, this outdoor café-restaurant has a fitting nautical theme, and if the temperature drops, blankets and gas heaters are at the ready. Meals are available all day, starting with a range of breakfast options and continuing with brunch-style dishes such as Caesar salad with king prawns and cured-ham croquettes, or something a little more filling like minute steaks with fries. Drinks are on the expensive side (€2.80 for coffee), but the ocean-gazing venue is well worth it. | Average main: €18 | C. de José Meliá, on seafront near Don Pepe Hotel | 952/868790.
Dani García Restaurante.
MEDITERRANEAN | The avant-garde celebrity chef Dani Garcia has moved his Michelin-star culinary skills slightly west in Marbella, to the Puente Romano Hotel. Using food-science-inspired methods, he transforms traditional ingredients into innovatively textured, flavored, and visually stunning dishes. Liquid nitrogen, for instance, is used to maximize the flavors in dishes such as the “false tomato.” Other signature offerings include carrot cupcake, foie gras yogurt with smoked eel topping, and tuna with chilmole (slightly spicy guacamole). The space manages to be zen minimalist, yet warm and intimate, and the entire kitchen performs before diners’ eyes. Both à la carte and prix-fixe menus (€65 and €145) are available. For more conventional (and less expensive) dishes, pop into the informal Bibo bistro next door. | Average main: €35 | Puente Romano Hotel, Bulevar Hohenlohe s/n | 952/764252 | Closed Sun. and Mon., and Jan.
MEDITERRANEAN | Between the Old Quarter and the seafront, this innovative restaurant has an unpromising, plain exterior, but forge ahead; its interior’s chocolate browns and deep reds make for cozy surroundings for a quiet dinner. The menu has an Italian slant, with more than a sprinkling of Spanish cuisine in its unusual fusion dishes. Try the parsnip-and-goat-cheese foam with quail egg, Iberian ham, and black pudding to start, followed by an Iberian ham filet with couscous, dates, and fresh tomato. Homemade pasta also features. Finish off with a truly international dessert—torrija Thai (Spanish-influenced French toast with a touch of Asian-inspired spice). | Average main: €24 | Av. Severo Ochoa 12 | 952/864895 | www.restaurantemessina.com | Closed Sun. No lunch.
MEDITERRANEAN | Terra Sana (there are two branches in Marbella and one at Laguna Village near Estepona) serves excellent, innovative, and healthy food. This branch is right on the seafront promenade, so it’s a handy stop before or after the beach. All branches serve similar cuisine, with selections like the Thai Break salad (spicy chicken, red peppers, zucchini, bean sprouts, cucumber, carrots, coriander, and nuts with a spicy lime dressing) or the Al Andalus Wrap filled with Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, tomatoes, olives, spinach, and caramelized red onions. Note that the branch in Nueva Andalucia doesn’t serve dinner on Sunday. | Average main: €9 | Plaza del Mar, Seafront promenade | 952/772686.
Fodor’s Choice | Zozoi.
MEDITERRANEAN | Tucked into the corner of one of the town’s squares, this upbeat, Belgian-owned restaurant consistently receives rave reviews. The fashionably Mediterranean menu makes little distinction between starters and mains, as all the portions are generous; it shows imaginative use of ingredients in such dishes as reindeer carpaccio with sheep’s cheese and herb oil, and roast monkfish wrapped in crispy potatoes and served with a red citrus butter. Innovative pizzas are also an option. For dessert, try the forest fruits Pavlova or the warm white soup with mandarin sorbet. The large courtyard terrace is cozy and traditional, with brightly tiled walls and a terra-cotta floor. | Average main: €24 | Pl. Altamirano 1 | 952/858868 | www.zozoi.com | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. No lunch.
WHERE TO STAY
HOTEL | This stylish boutique hotel is in a sumptuous 17th-century mansion in which all the original architectural features and finishes have been preserved. The overall look is chic and sophisticated. Inside, it’s all plush furnishings and fabrics, crystal chandeliers, gorgeous claw-foot antique bathtubs, and original beams, alcoves, arches, and columns. There’s a fairytale rooftop terrace on several levels, with intimate corners and stunning views of the mosaic-tiled steeple of the adjacent Santa Cristo church and beyond. Pros: fabulous breakfast; extra attentive staff. Cons: pricey given the lack of facilities; no on-site parking. | Rooms from: €280 | C. San Francisco 5 | 952/900840 | www.hotelclaudemarbella.com | 6 rooms, 1 suite | Closed Jan. 7–Feb. 14 | Breakfast.
La Morada Mas Hermosa.
HOTEL | On one of Marbella’s prettiest plant-filled pedestrian streets (on the right just up Calle Ancha), this small hotel has a warm, homey feel, and the rooms are lovely. The lobby feels welcoming, with turquoise-and-blue tiles; bright, Andalusian-themed paintings—painted by the owner—hang throughout the property. The rooms, redone in 2014, are furnished with wood beams, terra-cotta tiles, wrought-iron headboards, and exquisitely tiled bathrooms in warm earth tones. Breakfast, which uses organic products and natural juices, is served in the cozy dining room, and the boutiques and the beach are just a short stroll away. Pros: a hotel with real character; quiet street, yet near the action. Cons: some rooms accessed by steep stairs; no parking. | Rooms from: €105 | C. Montenebros 16A | 952/924467 | www.lamoradamashermosa.com | 6 rooms, 1 suite | Closed mid-Dec.–mid-Feb. | Breakfast.
HOTEL | Two blocks from the beach and a short walk from the historic center stands this midrange option, which has appealing though slightly generic rooms. These have dark wood furniture, bright floral bedspreads, and balconies; the corner rooms are the largest. Pros: downtown location is good for town and beach; beach towels are provided so you don’t have to sneak the fluffy white ones out from the bathroom; open all year. Cons: room sizes vary considerably. | Rooms from: €96 | Av. Antonio Belón 2 | 952/770500 | www.hotellimamarbella.com | 64 rooms | No meals.
Fodor’s Choice | Marbella Club.
HOTEL | The grande dame of Marbella hotels offers luxurious rooms (all refurbished in 2013–14), tropical grounds, and sky-high rates. It was a creation of the late Alfonso von Hohenlohe, a Mexican-Austrian aristocrat who helped turn the town into a playground for the rich and famous. Lofty palm trees, dazzling flower beds, and a beachside tropical pool area all emphasize the sense of seclusion here. The bungalow-rooms vary in size; some have private pools. The main restaurant has a classy, eclectic menu of modern Mediterranean cuisine; if you can’t afford a meal, stop by for a cocktail in the piano bar (open in the summer). Pros: classic hotel; superb service and facilities. Cons: a drive from Marbella’s restaurants and nightlife; slightly stuffy; extremely expensive. | Rooms from: €700 | Blvd. Principe Alfonso von Hohenlohe at Ctra. de Cádiz, Km 178, 3 km (2 miles) west of Marbella | 952/822211 | www.marbellaclub.com | 84 rooms, 37 suites, 14 bungalows | No meals.
Fodor’s Choice | The Town House.
HOTEL | In a choice location in one of old town Marbella’s prettiest squares, this former family home is now a luxurious boutique hotel. A combination of antiques and modern fittings make for appealing rooms, which have accents in earthy colors and white linen. The bathrooms are decked out in shiny marble. There is an attractive downstairs bar and lovely rooftop terrace, also with a bar, and you’re within easy strolling distance of the beach. Pros: upbeat design; great central location. Cons: no parking; street-facing rooms are noisy on weekends. | Rooms from: €160 | C. Alderete 7, Pl. Tetuan | 952/901791 | www.townhouse.nu | 9 rooms | Breakfast.
This chic gambling spot is in the Hotel Andalucía Plaza, just west of Puerto Banús. Shorts and sports shoes are not allowed, and passports are required. It’s open daily from 8 pm to 4 am (9 pm to 5 am in August). | Hotel Andalucía Plaza, N340 | 952/814000 | www.casinomarbella.com.
One of Marbella’s most popular night spots for “older” clubbers, i.e., those out or nearly out of their twenties. Dine in before you dance to the live music. | C. Belmonte, near bullring, Puerto Banús | 952/814145.
Olivia Valére disco.
Marbella’s most famous nightspot is decorated to resemble a Moorish palace. To get here, head inland from the town’s mosque (it’s easy to spot). Doors open at midnight (daily in July and August; weekends only from September to June), and it closes at 7 am. | Ctra. de Istán, Km 0.8 | 952/828861.
Fodor’s Choice | Puerto Banús.
Much of the nighttime action in Marbella revolves around the Puerto Banús—the marina—in bars like Sinatra’s and Joy’s Bar.
Tablao Ana María.
At this popular flamenco venue in the center of town, there are performances every evening in summer, starting around 11 pm. Off-season, October through May, the shows start at 10:30 and are held Wednesday through Sunday. Group bookings are available at other times. | Pl. de Santo Cristo 5 | 952/771117.
10 km (6 miles) north of Marbella.
For a contrast to the glamour of the coast, drive up to Ojén, in the hills above Marbella. Take note of the beautiful pottery and, if you’re here the first week in August, don’t miss the Fiesta de Flamenco (August), which attracts some of Spain’s most respected flamenco names, including the Juan Peńa El Lebrijano, Miguel Póveda, and Marina Heredia. Four kilometers (2½ miles) from Ojén is the Refugio del Juanar, a former hunting lodge in the heart of the Sierra Blanca, at the southern edge of the Serranía de Ronda, a mountainous wilderness. A walking trail takes you a mile from the Refugio to the Mirador (lookout), with a sweeping view of the Costa del Sol and the coast of North Africa.
Getting Here and Around
Approximately eight buses leave from the Marbella main bus station for Ojén on weekdays and Saturday with just four on Sunday.
Spanish Olive Oil
Inland from the Costa del Sol’s clamor and crowds, the landscape is stunning. Far in the distance, tiny villages cling precariously to the mountainside like a tumble of sugar cubes, while in the foreground, brilliant red poppies and a blaze of yellow mimosa are set against a rippling quilt of cool-green olive trees and burnt-ocher soil.
Up close, most of the trees have dark twisted branches and gnarled trunks; some of the larger may be more than a hundred years old. It’s believed that many of the olive trees here are born from seeds of the original crop brought to the Mediterranean shores in the 7th century BC by Greek and Phoenician traders. Since that time, the oil produced has been used for innumerable purposes, ranging from monetary to medicinal.
Spain’s southernmost region produces a copious million metric tons of olive oil each year, or 90% of the entire country’s output. The area currently exports to more than 95 countries, with the main buyers of bulk oil being Italy, France, Germany, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. The type and grade of oil varies according to the destination. Some oils taste sweet and smooth; others have great body and character and varying intensities of bitterness. In general, Canadians and Americans like their oil to be light, with little distinctive taste, while Mexicans prefer olive oil that is dark and strong.
These days, the benefits of olive oil are well known, but the locals don’t need convincing. Olive oil has long been an integral part of the traditional cuisine and is used lavishly in every meal, including breakfast—when the country bars fill up with old men wearing flat caps, starting their day with coffee and brandy along with slabs of toasted white bread generously laden with olive oil, garlic, and salt.
WHERE TO STAY
La Posada del Angel.
B&B/INN | With friendly Dutch owners and rooms with lots of traditional Andaulusian features and even a few Moroccan touches, this hotel makes a perfect rural retreat. Built around a central courtyard like that in a Moroccan riad, the hotel was formed out of five village houses; some of its 15 rooms have terraces with views over Ojén, and they’re all atmospheric and restful. Flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi keep you from feeling too cut off, however. Family rooms and a heated pool are two more pluses. Pros: good service; chance to sample Andalusian village life. Cons: could be too quiet for some. | Rooms from: €79 | C. Mesones 21 | 952/881808 | www.laposadadelangel.net | 15 rooms | Breakfast.
Refugio del Juanar.
HOTEL | Once an aristocratic hunting lodge (King Alfonso XIII came here), this secluded hotel and restaurant was sold to its staff in 1984 for the symbolic sum of 1 peseta and is a world apart from the glamour of Marbella, just 30 minutes’ drive away. The hunting theme prevails, both in the common areas—where a log fire roars in winter—and in the restaurant, where hearty game dishes dominate the menu (perfect fare after a hike in the mountains). The rooms are simply decorated, and six (including the three suites) have a fireplace. Pros: superb for hikers; traditional Andalusian looks. Cons: can seem very cut off; some rooms are a little tired. | Rooms from: €80 | Sierra Blanca s/n | 952/881000 | www.juanar.com | 21 rooms, 4 suites | Breakfast.
17 km (11 miles) west of San Pedro de Alcántara, 22 km (13 miles) west of Marbella.
Estepona is a pleasant and relatively tranquil seaside resort, despite being surrounded by an ever-increasing number of urban developments. The beach, more than 1 km (½ mile) long, has better-quality sand than the Costa norm, and the promenade is lined with well-kept, aromatic flower gardens. The gleaming white Puerto Deportivo is packed with bars and restaurants, serving everything from fresh fish to Chinese food. Back from the main Avenida de España, the old quarter of cobbled narrow streets and squares is surprisingly unspoiled.
Getting Here and Around
Buses run every half hour from 6:30 am to 11 pm from Marbella to Estepona. The town is compact enough to make most places accessible via foot.
Bus Station. | Av. de España.
Estepona. | Av. San Lorenzo | 952/802002.
Casa de la Juventud.
Right in the heart of Estepona’s old quarter in the flower-filled Plaza de las Flores is one of the eastern Costa del Sol’s cultural treasures—a private art collection containing more than 300 paintings and sculptures, belonging to actor and comedian Ángel Garó. It’s on display in this 19th-century mansion, which is itself a museum piece. Highlights include paintings and sketches by Picasso, Dalí, and the poets Lorca and Alberti, as well as an 18th-century Madonna and Child by Maella, and more modern works, including Walt Disney drawings. You need to show your passport on entry. | Pl. de las Flores | Free | Tues.–Fri. 9–2 and 5–8, Sat. 9–2.
Something of a Costa del Sol secret, this quiet 4-km (2½-mile) beach of gray sand has long, empty stretches with plenty of room for towels, even in high summer, making it a great place to relax, walk, or swim. The water’s safe for swimming when waves are low, but watch out for the undertow when it’s windy. Located between San Pedro and Estepona, and flanked by residential developments, El Saladillo is dotted with the occasional beach bar, including Pepe’s Beach, one of the first on the Costa del Sol and still a popular seafood spot. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards (mid-June to mid-September); showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: solitude; sunset; walking. | A7, Km 166–172.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
Fodor’s Choice | Alcaría de Ramos.
INTERNATIONAL | José Ramos, a winner of Spain’s National Gastronomy Prize, opened this restaurant in El Paraíso complex, between Estepona and San Pedro de Alcántara. It gained an enthusiastic and loyal following as his two sons followed in his culinary footsteps. Try the carpaccio de solomillo de cerdo ibérico con morcilla (Iberian pork steak carpaccio with black pudding) followed by rodaballo con salsa de almejas (skate with clam sauce). Portions are very generous, but if you can, leave room for the chocolate soufflé or the equally delicious Pavlova. Reservations are a good idea on weekends and in summer. | Average main: €18 | Urbanización El Paraíso, Ctra. N340, Km 167 | 952/886178 | www.laalcariaderamos.es | Closed Sun. No lunch.
MEDITERRANEAN | This luxurious beach club and restaurant has all the trendy trappings: white canopied beach beds, “nomad” tents, exotic Oriental theme, a glossy marbled spa, hip young waitstaff, and chill-out background music. Try the daily dawn yoga ritual or one of the massages within the “Global Treats” program. The restaurant serves seafood dishes and meatier fare, including the popular Puro burger and chicken satay. Cocktails are a specialty: the classic Puro piña colada is a deliciously frothy concoction. | Average main: €19 | Laguna Village, Pl. El Padrón | 952/800015 | www.purobeach.com | Closed Mon. and Tues. Nov.–Feb. No dinner mid-Sept.–mid-June.
Hotel Fuerte Estepona.
HOTEL | The beach hotel, part of the local Fuerte chain, sits to the west of Estepona right on a tranquil beach, which you have almost to yourself outside high season. Built in a typical Andalusian white-village style, the hotel backs large gardens that include four pools and are divided into a family area and an adults-only zone. All rooms have terraces and mountain or ocean views, worth paying extra for (ask for one near the shore so you can hear the ocean). Rooms are generously sized, and they are done in a cream palette with burgundy accents. Pros: tranquil location; spacious rooms. Cons: out of town; may be too quiet for some. | Rooms from: €150 | Ctra. A7, Km 150, Arroyo Vaquero | 900/343410 | www.fuertehoteles.com | 210 rooms | Closed roughly Nov.–mid-Mar. | No meals.
Kempinski Hotel Bahía.
RESORT | This luxury resort, between the coastal highway and the sea, looks like a cross between a Moroccan casbah and a take on the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, with tropical gardens and a succession of large swimming pools meandering down to the beach. The spacious rooms have faux–North African furnishings and balconies overlooking the Mediterranean. Nightly live music can be enjoyed during the summer. A spa was added to the fitness center and sauna in 2014. Pros: great beachside location; excellent facilities. Cons: so-so beach; no shops or nightlife within walking distance; expensive. | Rooms from: €350 | Playa El Padrón, Ctra. A7, Km 159 | 952/809500 | www.kempinski-spain.com | 132 rooms, 15 suites | Breakfast.
20 km (12 miles) northwest of Estepona.
The mountain village of Casares lies high above Estepona in the Sierra Bermeja, with streets of ancient white houses piled one on top of the other, perched on the slopes beneath a ruined but impressive Moorish castle. The heights afford stunning views over orchards, olive groves, and woods to the Mediterranean sparkling in the distance.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
ECLECTIC | Tucked in one of the many bends on the road from Estepona, Arroyo Hondo is a favorite with local expats and tourists. The rustic interior, in ocher tones with a log fire, make for cozy meals, and the terrace and poolside tables are perfect for alfresco dining with panoramic vistas. Food is a fusion of Mediterranean, Japanese, and Thai cuisines. Start with chicken karaage (deep-fried Japanese-style) or ruby fig salad with Roquefort, Serrano ham and arugula, then follow with five-spice duck with pumpkin curry or beef with porcini and truffle butter. Vegetarian options include a truffle-scented mushroom tart. The three-course set menu is a sound option. Reservations are advised in the summer and on weekends. | Average main: €16 | Ctra. de Casares, Km 10 | 952/895152 | www.arroyo-hondo.com | Closed Mon. No dinner Sun., or Tues. and Wed. Oct.–May.
Cortijo el Papudo.
B&B/INN | Michael and Vivien Harvey, expats from the United Kingdom, have given this cortijo (country house) a delightful, homey feel. The main building dates back to the early 19th century and is surrounded by mature gardens and 65 acres of avocado, palm, and orange trees. The couple’s horticultural expertise is further reflected in a thriving on-site garden center for exotic and rare plants. The rooms are simply decorated, with an appropriately rustic look, while the secluded pool, surrounded by greenery, is a magical spot. Pros: wonderful breakfast; gorgeous gardens. Cons: 30 km (19 miles) from Casares proper; may be too quiet for some. | Rooms from: €75 | Secadero, San Martín de Tesorillo | San Roque | Turn right at pharmacy in Secadero and drive for 1 km (½ mile) | 952/854018 | 11 rooms | Breakfast.
RESORT | If you’re looking for a luxury option on this side of the coast, then this suites-only hotel, on a 532-acre estate adjacent to an 18-hole Cabell Robinson golf course, will probably exceed your expectations. It was only built in 2008, but its traditional Andalusian cortijo (country estate) architecture, antique furniture, and olive-grove scenery make it seem as if you’re traveling back in time. The courtyards, patios, and even a cloister surround the communal areas, and each of the ample suites has a private garden or balcony. The huge spa comes with Spain’s only snow cabin—a room full of snow for really chilling out. The aquatic theme continues with two large pools and a private beach club with shuttle-bus service. Pros: luxury standards and service; tranquil surroundings. Cons: pricey; some distance from resorts. | Rooms from: €450 | Ctra. de Casares Km 2 | 952/937800 | www.fincacortesin.com | 67 suites | Breakfast.
74 km (46 miles) southwest of San Roque.
Tarifa’s strong winds helped keep it off the tourist maps for years, but now it is Europe’s biggest center for windsurfing and kiteboarding, and the wide, white-sand beaches stretching north of the town have become a huge attraction. Those winds have proven a source of wealth in more direct ways, also, via the electricity created by vast wind farms on the surrounding hills. This town at the southernmost tip of mainland Europe—where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic meet—has continued to prosper. Downtown cafés, which not that long ago were filled with men playing dominoes and drinking anís, now serve croissants with their café con leche and make fancy tapas for a cosmopolitan crowd.
Tarifa. | Paseo de la Alameda s/n | 956/680993.
Fodor’s Choice | Baelo Claudia.
Ten kilometers (6 miles) north of Tarifa on the Atlantic coast stand the impressive Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia, once a thriving production center of garum, a salty, pungent fish paste appreciated in Rome. The visitor center includes a museum. Concerts are regularly held at the restored amphitheater during the summer months. | 956/106797 | €1.50 | June 16–Sept. 15, Tues.–Sun. 10–5; Sept. 16–June 15, Tues.–Sat. 10–6:30, Sun. 10–5.
Tarifa’s 10th-century castle is famous for the siege of 1292, when the defender Guzmán el Bueno refused to surrender even though the attacking Moors threatened to kill his captive son. In defiance, he flung his own dagger down to them, shouting, “Here, use this,” or something to that effect (they did indeed kill his son). The Spanish military turned the castle over to the town in the mid-1990s, and it now has a museum on Guzmán and the sacrifice of his son. | Av. Fuerza Armadas | €2 | June–Sept., Tues.–Sat. 11–1:30 and 6–8, Sun. 11–1:30; Oct.–May, Tues.–Sat. 11–1:30 and 4–5:30, Sun. 11–1:30.
Playa Los Lances.
This part of the Atlantic coast is home to miles of white and mostly unspoiled beaches. Los Lances, to the north of Tarifa and the town’s main beach, is one of the longest. Backed by low-lying scrub and lagoons, the beach is also close to the odd campsite, kite-surfing school, and boho-chic hotel. Its windswept sands make for perfect kite-surfing: the beaches at Los Lances and Punta Paloma (just up the coast) are where you’ll see most sails surfing the waves and wind. Amenities are concentrated at the Tarifa end of the beach, where there are a few bars and cafés, usually open mid-June through mid-September; this is naturally where the crowds congregate in the summer. Otherwise, most of the beach is deserted year-round. Swimming is safe here, except in high winds, when there’s a strong undertow. Amenities: food and drink (mid-June to mid-September only); lifeguards; showers; toilets. Best for: solitude; sunset; walking; windsurfing.
WHERE TO STAY
Convento de San Francisco.
B&B/INN | The rooms here are comfortable and attractive, with exposed-stone walls and arches, but the main draw is the setting: a restored 17th-century convent in the spectacular village of Vejer, overlooking the coast. The original cloisters are quite lovely, lined with plants and bench seating for those in a reflective mood. Furnishings and dining areas were completely refubished in 2014. Breakfast is served in the former refectory, now a restaurant specializing in traditional Andalusian cuisine. Pros: great location in the center of the village; friendly owners. Cons: rooms rather bare; nearest parking a five-minute walk away. | Rooms from: €67 | La Plazuela, just west of Tarifa | Vejer | 956/451001 | www.tugasa.com | 25 rooms | No meals.
HOTEL | Surrounded by lush subtropical gardens and fronting the beach, the Hurricane is one of the best-loved hip hotels on this stretch of coastline, famous for its Club Mistral wind- and kite-surfing school, and its horse-riding center. Rooms are upbeat and simply furnished, making good use of white, cream, and natural terra-cotta tiling, and fit in well with the surroundings. Those facing the highway are cheaper but can be noisy with traffic. The restaurant gets rave reviews. Pros: fun and sophisticated; excellent restaurant. Cons: 6 km (3½ miles) from Tarifa proper; rooms are quite plain. | Rooms from: €156 | Ctra. 340, Km 78 | 956/684919 | www.hotelhurricane.com | 28 rooms, 5 suites | Breakfast.
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20 km (12 miles) east of Algeciras, 77 km (48 miles) southwest of Marbella.
The Rock of today is a bizarre anomaly of Moorish, Spanish, and—especially—British influences. There are double-decker buses, “bobbies” in helmets, and red mailboxes. Millions of pounds have been spent in developing its tourist potential, and a steady flow of expat Brits comes here from Spain to shop at Morrisons supermarket and other stores. This tiny British colony—nicknamed “Gib” or simply “the Rock”—whose impressive silhouette dominates the strait between Spain and Morocco, was one of the two Pillars of Hercules in ancient times, marking the western limits of the known world and commanding the narrow pathway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The Moors, headed by Tariq ibn Ziyad, seized the peninsula in 711, preliminary to the conquest of Spain. The Spaniards recaptured Tariq’s Rock in 1462. The English, heading an Anglo-Dutch fleet in the War of the Spanish Succession, gained control in 1704, and, after several years of local skirmishes, Gibraltar was finally ceded to Great Britain in 1713 by the Treaty of Utrecht. Spain has been trying to get it back ever since. In 1779 a combined French and Spanish force laid siege to the Rock for three years to no avail. During the Napoleonic Wars, Gibraltar served as Admiral Horatio Nelson’s base for the decisive naval Battle of Trafalgar, and during the two world wars, it served the Allies well as a naval and air base. In 1967 Franco closed the land border with Spain to strengthen his claims over the colony, and it remained closed until 1985.
There are likely few places in the world that you enter by walking or driving across an airport runway, but that’s what happens in Gibraltar. First you show your passport; then you make your way out onto the narrow strip of land linking Spain’s La Linea with Britain’s Rock. Unless you have a good reason to take your car—such as loading up on cheap gas or duty-free goodies—you’re best off leaving it in a guarded parking area in La Linea, the Spanish border town. Don’t bother hanging around here; it’s a seedy place. In Gibraltar you can hop on buses and take taxis that expertly maneuver the narrow, congested streets. The Official Rock Tour—conducted either by minibus or, at a greater cost, taxi—takes about 90 minutes and includes all the major sights, allowing you to choose where to come back and linger later.
In 2013, tensions between Gibraltar and Spain ramped up yet again, and as a result, lines for leaving the colony, both via car and on foot, are long—it can take up to three hours to cross the border into Spain. This is likely to continue, as there’s little sign of any progress on any sort of joint Anglo-Spanish sovereignty, which the majority of Gibraltarians fiercely oppose.
When you call Gibraltar from Spain or another country, prefix the seven-digit telephone number with 00–350. Gibraltar’s currency is the Gibraltar pound (£), whose exchange rate is the same as the British pound. Euros are accepted everywhere, although you will get a better exchange rate if you use pounds.
History of Gibraltar
Plenty of places in Spain are culturally a country apart, but Gibraltar is literally so. A little piece of Britain at the bottom of Spain, Gibraltar has an amusing mix of tea-and-biscuits culture paired with the baking sun of its Mediterranean surroundings. This strategic spot, a quick skip into Africa and a perfect point of departure around the base of Europe, has inspired a number of turf wars, ultimately placing it in the hands of the British. Conflicts between Spain and Gibraltar over territory and sovereignty continue today.
Although the Romans ruled the area from 500 BC to AD 475, it was left to the Moors to establish the first settlement here in 1160. The Duke of Medina Sidonia then recaptured the Rock for Spain in 1462. In 1501 Isabella the Catholic declared Gibraltar a crown property, and the following year it received the Royal Warrant that bestowed on it a coat of arms consisting of a castle and a key. In 1704 an Anglo-Dutch force eventually captured Gibraltar, which led to Spain’s ceding it to England in 1713.
In 1779, combined Spanish and French forces totaling more than 50,000 troops laid the final Great Siege against a mere 5,000 defenders. The attack highlighted all the unusual problems involved in defending Gibraltar: the great north face of the Rock guarded the entrance, but it seemed impossible to mount guns on it. The answer: tunnels. Of course, the solution had one major problem: cannons are designed to fire up, not down. Digging tunnels that sloped downward circumvented the problem. Later, in World War II, tunnels were used again to defend Gibraltar. General Dwight D. Eisenhower conducted the Allied invasion of North Africa from one of the tunnels, and all of them remain under military control today.
From 1963 to 1964, Gibraltar’s future was debated at the United Nations, but in a referendum on September 10, 1967, which has now become Gibraltar’s National Day, 99.9% of Gibraltarians voted to remain part of England. In 1969 this resulted in a new constitution granting self-government. These events severely provoked General Franco, and he closed the coastal border that same year. It stayed closed until February 5, 1985, and Spain has occasionally decided to make the crossing more difficult. In 2002, the U.K. and Spanish governments reached an agreement in principle on joint sovereignty. Another referendum resulted in 99% of Gibraltar’s population voting against the idea. Nevertheless, it led to the creation of a tripartite forum that included the Gibraltar government, which is a positive move toward obtaining greater cooperation and recognition between Spain and Gibraltar. However, the forum has not met since 2010.
Getting Here and Around
There are frequent day tours organized from the Costa del Sol resorts, either via your hotel or any reputable travel agency.
Gibraltar. | Grand Casemates Sq., | Gibraltar | 200/45000.
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The famous Barbary Apes are a breed of cinnamon-color, tailless monkeys (not actually apes, despite their name) native to Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. Legend holds that as long as they remain in Gibraltar, the British will keep the Rock; Winston Churchill went so far as to issue an order for their preservation when their numbers began to dwindle during World War II. They are publicly fed twice daily, at 8 and 4, at Apes’ Den, a rocky area down Old Queens Road near the Wall of Carlos V. Among the monkeys’ talents are their grabbing of food, purses, and cameras, so be on guard.
Fodor’s Choice | Cable Car.
You can reach St. Michael’s Cave—or ride all the way to the top of Gibraltar—on a cable car. The car doesn’t go high off the ground, but the views of Spain and Africa from the Rock’s pinnacle are superb. It leaves from a station at the southern end of Main Street, which is known as the Grand Parade. | Grand Parade | £10.50 round-trip | Apr.–Oct., daily 9:30–6:45; Nov.–Mar., daily 9:30–5:45.
Often overlooked by visitors heading to the Upper Rock Reserve, this museum houses a beautiful 14th-century Moorish bathhouse and an 1865 model of the Rock; the displays evoke the Great Siege and the Battle of Trafalgar. There’s also a reproduction of the “Gibraltar Woman,” the Neanderthal skull discovered here in 1848. | Bomb House La. | 200/74289 | www.gibmuseum.gi | £2 | Weekdays 10–6, Sat. 10–2.
The dignified Regency architecture of Great Britain blends well with the shutters, balconies, and patios of southern Spain in colorful, congested Gibraltar town. Shops, restaurants, and pubs beckon on Main Street; at the Governor’s Residence, the ceremonial Changing of the Guard takes place six times a year, and the Ceremony of the Keys takes place twice a year. Make sure you see the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity; the Catholic Cathedral of St. Mary; and the Crowned Law Courts, where the famous case of the sailing ship Mary Celeste was heard in 1872. | Main St.
Great Siege Tunnels.
These tunnels, formerly known as the Upper Galleries, were carved out during the Great Siege of 1779–82 at the northern end of Old Queen’s Road. You can plainly see the openings from which the guns were pointed at the Spanish invaders. They form part of what is arguably the most impressive defense system anywhere in the world. The privately managed World War II Tunnels, which are nearby, are also open to the public but are less dramatic. | Old Queen’s Rd.
The castle was built by the descendants of the Moorish general Tariq ibn Ziyad (670–720), who conquered the Rock in 711. The present Tower of Homage dates from 1333, and its besieged walls bear the scars of stones from medieval catapults (and later, cannonballs). Admiral George Rooke hoisted the British flag from its summit when he captured the Rock in 1704, and it has flown here ever since. The castle may be viewed from the outside only. | Willis’s Rd.
St. Michael’s Cave.
This is the largest of Gibraltar’s 150 caves; a visit here is part of the tour of the Upper Rock Nature Preserve. This series of underground chambers full of stalactites and stalagmites is sometimes used for very atmospheric (albeit damp) concerts and other events. The skull of a Neanderthal woman (now in the British Museum) was found at the nearby Forbes Quarry eight years before the world-famous discovery in Germany’s Neander Valley in 1856; nobody paid much attention to it at the time, which is why the prehistoric species is called Neanderthal rather than Homo calpensis (literally, “Gibraltar Man,” after the Romans’ name for the Rock, Calpe). | Queen’s Rd.
Upper Rock Nature Preserve.
The preserve, accessible from Jews’ Gate, includes St. Michael’s Cave, the Apes’ Den, the Great Siege Tunnels, the Moorish Castle, and the Military Heritage Center, which chronicles the British regiments that have served on the Rock. | From Rosia Bay, drive along Queensway and Europa Rd. as far as Casino, above Alameda Gardens. Make a sharp right here, up Engineer Rd. to Jews’ Gate, a lookout over docks and Bay of Gibraltar toward Algeciras | £10 for all attractions, plus £2 per vehicle | Apr.–Oct., daily 9–7:15; Nov.–Mar., daily 9–6:15.
Gibraltar’s social hub is on this pedestrian-only square in the northern part of town, where there are plenty of places to sit with a drink and watch the world go by. The Gibraltar Crystal company, where you can watch the glassblowers at work, is worth a visit. | Grand Casemates Sq.
This fishing village founded by Genoese settlers is now a resort on the eastern shores. The massive water catchments once supplied the colony’s drinking water. | From Rock’s eastern side, go left down Devil’s Tower Rd. as you enter Gibraltar.
From here, take a look across the straits to Morocco, 23 km (14 miles) away. You’re now standing on one of the two ancient Pillars of Hercules. In front of you is the lighthouse that has dominated the meeting place of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean since 1841; sailors can see its light from a distance of 27 km (17 miles). | On coast road, at the Rock’s southern tip.
Nefusot Yehuda Synagogue.
One of the oldest remaining synagogues on the Iberian Peninsula, Nefusot Yehuda dates back to 1798. Guided tours, which include a short history of the Gibraltar Jewish community, must be reserved by phone. | Line Wall Rd. | 200/76477.
There are fine views to be had if you drive up above Rosia Bay. The bay was where Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, was towed after the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. On board were the dead, who were buried in Trafalgar Cemetery on the southern edge of town—except for Admiral Nelson, whose body was returned to England, preserved in a barrel of rum. | From Europa Flats, follow Queensway along Rock’s western slopes.
Shrine of Our Lady of Europe.
To the north of the lighthouse, along the Rock’s southern tip, stands this shrine, on the site of a mosque. The small Catholic chapel, venerated by seafarers since the 14th century, has a small museum with a statue of the Virgin from 1462. | Free | Mon. and Fri. 10–1, Tues.–Thurs. 10–1 and 2:30–6, Sat. 11–1.
WHERE TO EAT AND STAY
MEDITERRANEAN | Enjoying an ace position with a sprawling terrace on Casemates Square, this place specializes in Mediterranean cuisine. Daily specials might include seafood risotto; char-grilled chili and garlic squid; or penne with roast chicken, mushroom, and pancetta. The interior is edgily modern. Across the square is the Solo Express branch, which specializes in tasty takeout wraps and similar choices. | Average main: £10 | Grand Casemates Sq. | Gibraltar | 200/44449.
BRITISH | Right off Main Street, this busy restaurant is as well known for its excellent coffee and cakes as it is for the rest of its food. There’s a varied salad and quiche buffet, as well as stuffed baked potatoes and daily specials, which could include fish-and-chips, or brandy-pork stuffed with cheese and bacon. Top your meal off with a specialty coffee with cream and vanilla. The restaurant has several warmly decorated rooms with cozy corners, dark-wood furnishings, and low-beamed ceilings, and the whole place has an old-fashioned English feel. | Average main: £10 | 57 Irish Town | 200/70625 | www.sacarellosgibraltar.com | Closed Sun. No dinner.
INTERNATIONAL | Easily distinguished by its flags and located right at Queensway Quay, this restaurant is a favorite with locals, especially for the Sunday Carvery. It was refurbished in 2014; navy and white are the colors that predominate among the cane furniture and the various Mediterranean touches. In addition to the upstairs and downstairs dining inside, there’s also a generous terrace and several tables that sit perched on the quay, allowing for views over the marina and to the mountains in Spain. The menu is distinctly international, with à la carte specialties such as steaks (aged on the premises), and British staples such as bangers and mash (sausages with mashed potatoes and onion gravy). Service is efficient and comes with a smile. | Average main: £15 | 4/5 Ragged Staff | 200/45666 | www.gibwaterfront.com.
HOTEL | If you want to stay at the slickest and most modern of the Rock’s hotels, try this one, in the center of town. Ask for a room at the top of the hotel, with a view over the Bay of Gibraltar; failing that, check out the rooftop pool. The Verandah Bar hosts live jazz Thursday evenings. Pros: views of either marina or the Rock; well-located for pubs and restaurants; good amenities. Cons: very business-oriented; fee for Wi-Fi. | Rooms from: £150 | 2 Governor’s Parade | 200/70500 | www.ocallaghanhotels.com | 113 rooms, 10 suites | No meals.
HOTEL | This hotel overlooking the straits first opened in 1932, and although furnishings in the rooms and restaurants are elegant and colorful, they still preserve something of the English colonial style, with bamboo, ceiling fans, and a terrace bar covered with wisteria. There are various whimsical touches, like plastic ducks in the bath and toy-monkey key rings, plus more useful amenities, like complimentary tea, coffee, and cookies. Refurbishment of the entire hotel (rooms and public areas) plus construction of a fitness area took place in 2014. Pros: old-fashioned, excellent service; magnificent Gibraltar bay views. Cons: inconvenient for shopping; Barbary apes are sometimes unwelcome visitors. | Rooms from: £130 | 3 Europa Rd. | 200/73000 | www.rockhotelgibraltar.com | 101 rooms, 2 suites | Breakfast.
A restaurant during the day and a lively bar at night, the Lord Nelson has karaoke on Saturday nights and jam sessions and live music during the week. A wide selection of ales is available on tap. | Grand Casemates Sq. | 200/50009.
SPORTS AND THE OUTDOORS
Bird- and dolphin-watching, diving, and fishing are popular activities on the Rock. For details on tours and outfitters, visit the Gibraltar government tourism website (www.visitgibraltar.gi) or call the local tourist office (200/45000).