The Costa del Sol includes about 300km of the Spanish Mediterranean Coast belonging to the Provinces of Granada, Malaga and Cadiz. Recently, the Granada Province coastline was designated as the "Costa Tropical". It is protected from the northern winds by a mountain chain which sometimes reaches down to the edge of the sea. This privileged coast consists of a series of large beaches, coves half-hidden among cliffs, sports harbours and fishing grounds. The mild climate, scant rainfall and the sea breeze produce a semitropical vegetation with frequent palm-trees, cypresses, oleander and hibiscus. The proximity of very different countryside - mountains, valleys full of orchards and the sea - is undoubtedly one of the main attractions of this coast, which has all the attractive features of the Mediterranean scenery and culture.

As it was easily accessible from the most important places of the ancient Mediterranean world, at an early stage the Costa del Sol was visited by Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians. The Roman empire also moved its tentacles towards it and left considerable traces which the traveller can admire in the provincial and municipal museums. But it is the period under Islamic rule which left the deepest mark, not only as regards the oriental atmosphere of many of the villages, but also as regards the most traditional means of earning a living: the orchard crops, an unquestionable legacy of the wise lesson taught by their original Arab owners, and the crafts where the Islamic roots of the techniques and designs are always evident. The popular music and the magnificent Muslim buildings, which the traveller must include on his visit at all costs, occupy a place of prime importance among the characteristics of Andalusian culture and consequently of the Costa del Sol.

Christianity in these lands coincides with the Modern Age. Between the 16C and 18C the cities and towns were endowed with churches and palaces by then totally Westernised, although occasionally it is possible to discern Arab traces in the Baroque forms of the less official art and architecture. There the traveller finds a long series of modest rural parish churches. Visiting them in the course of wandering through the small whitewashed streets in every village on the Costa del Sol is almost as obligatory as getting to know the halls, rooms and gardens of La Alhambra.

Apart from the villages with a rural air, today there are housing developments, yacht harbours, golf courses, centres of entertainment, night clubs and many other tourist attractions. Fortunately, all of them blend perfectly with the traditional, peaceful atmosphere enveloping towns and villages, miraculously and faithfully preserved in their original mould. However, holiday on the beach with all the attractions it may have in this part of the Mediterranean Sea is not the only thing the Costa del Sol has to offer: by making short trips the traveller has the opportunity of getting to know the most genuine aspects of Andalusian culture.

In addition to the folklore provided in the tourist centres, it is also possible to reach the heart and soul of the popular celebrations. The fiestas, Holy Week, flamenco competitions and bullfights are probably the best recommendations for the travellers who are not satisfied with the first thing they come across. Tasting the wines of the region in charming wineries from other times and trying the pescadito (deep fried fish) prepared in accordance with the demanding rules of popular cooking to the ever present "international cuisine".

The Western Costa del Sol

The visit of the western half of the Costa del Sol is the most representative sector: between Torremolinos and Marbella the journey passes through a real display of tourist attractions near beaches and yacht clubs. However, the visit, which begins in Malaga, must not omit many less known places, often still unchanged despite their proximity to more cosmopolitan and sophisticated places. (Total length of the trip: 213km.)

Malaga is a city with an attractive personality consisting of the most refined essence of Mediterranean traditions. It is no competition for other Andalusian capitals as regards sights - such as Granada, Seville and Cordoba-, but it does have a valuable series of buildings from each of the different periods of its history. A walk through the old part shows the visitor the different features of this friendly city. Beginning with the two Muslim fortresses - the Alcazaba and the castle of the top of the hill of Gibralfaro- and the nearby Roman theatre, the visit continues with the Cathedral, an excellent example of renaissance and Baroque architecture. A stones throw away lies the Paseo del Parque and the 18C Alameda, which - together with El Marques de Larios St - are the centre of Malaga. The Parish Church of Sagrario, next to the Cathedral, and the Churches of El Cristo de la Salud, San Juan, Santiago, Los Martires and the Sanctuary of La Victoria, which has an interesting crypt, are the most outstanding buildings apart from the Episcopal Palace. El Pasaje de Chinitas, La Merced and La Constitucion squares are other key places in Malaga.

As far as Torremolinos - once a fishermen's area of the capital - a busy motorway is used. About 8km from Malaga the Parador del Golf on the seashore has one of the best courses on the Costa del Sol. Torremolinos (12km from Malaga) is very near. The enormous concentration of recent buildings surrounds the former hamlet of La Carihuela, once a small seaside village, which was to turn into the summer paradise called Torremolinos today. In la Carihuela it is still possible to taste the Pescadito (deep fried fish and the fino (a sherry) as in the past. Apart from that the discotheques, night clubs, restaurants and other places of leisure practically occupy the whole extension of the multifaceted tourist centre, which includes recreational activities and entertainment of every kind, from the most sophisticated to the most informal. The beaches of La Carihuela, El Bajondillo, Montemar and El Lido stretch as far as the mouth of the Guadalhorce.

Almost without noticing, the traveller enters Benalmadena-Costa, a kind of natural extension of Torremolinos. There, however, the visitor should go in search of the old part of Benalmadena inland, a whitewashed, friendly village on the slope of a 2km beach. A huge funfair provides entertainment of all kinds. Further along the road skirting the coast, Fuengirola (17km from Torremolinos) comes into view almost immediately. It stretches along a very long beach. From there a road leads to Mijas which is so picturesque that it has produced an excessive surge of excursions. A visit is nevertheless worthwhile. The setting is a prototype of rural Andalucia: the impeccably whitewashed little streets, the small squares perfectly suited to the village and the two modest Mudejar style churches. The observation platform in the upper part provides a magnificent view over a good part of the Malaga coast.

Back in Fuengirola, the road passes through housing developments and continues skirting the coast. On the left there is the old Castle of Sohail, built by Abd el-Rahman III in the 10C and rebuilt in the 18C. A little later the traveller reaches the boundary of Marbella (17km). High hedges isolating the villages and luxury housing developments appear on either side of the road. The town still preserves its Moorish layout and the small whitewashed façades around a pleasant tree-lined square. The most outstanding sights of this important seaside and agricultural town are the walls of the medieval caste, the 16C Casa del Corregidor (town hall) on the main square, San Juan de Dios Hospital and the Parish Church of la encarnacion from the 16C, 17C and 18C, apart from the 16C Hermitages of Santo Cristo and Baroque El Calvario. A slow walk through Marbella and along its beaches is a must for every visitor. The babel of languages and the string of attraction along the way turn the town into one of the most cosmopolitan and colourful places on the Costa del Sol. On the way out of the town, there is a modern mosque built by a Saudi sheik, which is proof of the presence of really exclusive neighbours. From Marbella a good, though winding road leads into the Sierra Blanca as far as Ojen, a peaceful mountain village. The Parador lies 10km away from Ojen. It is the meeting point of hunting sportsmen in search of a rare species, the capra hispanica. A visit to Ojen should include the 16C/18C La Encarnacion church with a good Mudejar coffered ceiling.

Back on the coast, there is yet one more place on the left where the temporary Marbella society loves to meet: Puerto Banus. The same as other nearby housing developments, it was built in a style designed to be reminiscent of the old fishing harbours, where the most dazzling yachts as well as luxury restaurants and shops are found. San Pedro de Alcantara lies 10km from Marbella. It is an old seashore village where valuable Roman and palaeo-Christian remains are preserved. The excellent beach has attracted modern housing estates.

After another 15km, the traveller reaches Estepona, an important fishing village, which has managed to preserve a peaceful village atmosphere next to the modern buildings of the Paseo Maritimo (promenade). The Baroque façade of Los Remedios church, which stands out among the roofs and whitewashed houses, is charmingly attractive. A walk around the harbour is a standing invitation. Behind the village lies Bermeja Sierra, a part of the spurs of the Ronda mountains, with beautiful views.

A visit to the Malaga coast cannot be considered complete without going to a certain village inland. Casares (25km from Estepona) is unquestionable one of the most attractive of the famous so-called white (whitewashed) villages of Andalusia. It clings to the slopes of a hill at the foot of a castle in ruins and commands a magnificent view. The most remarkable buildings are the parish church and San Sebastian church (both from the 17c). the detour, 14km from the coastal road, is well worth the effort.

With Sabinillas beach and the small Castle of La Duquesa (18C) the journey through the Province of Malaga comes to an end. At this point the road turns away from the coast and passes through more solitary countryside.

A short detour is required to enter the Cadiz part of the Costa del Sol On the right there are the housing estates of Guadiaro, among them especially Punta Europa and Sotogrande. The key attractions of these summer resorts are a golf course and long beach ideal for water sports.

The mountain pass of El Higueron leads to San Roque (10km), a small, orderly place founded in the 18C by the inhabitants of Gibraltar in full view of their place of origin. It deserves a leisurely visit to see Santa Maria la Coronada Church, the Palace of the Governors and the whole of the old part in general. At a distance of about 5km, half way round the bay of Algeciras, there are the ruins of Carteya, an extraordinarily well preserved, first Phoenician and later roman, colony.

There is an industrial centre between San Roque and La Linea de la Concepcion. La Linea at the foot of the Rock of Gibraltar is yet another of the austere, rectilinear places with good beaches along the coast of Cadiz. Skirting the bay, the traveller reaches Algeciras, an important port and an obligatory meeting point for passengers to Ceuta and Tangier. It is recommended to visit Alta Square in Algeciras: the palm tree, the ceramic fountain in the centre as well as the Baroque façades of San Isidro Chapel and the parish church lend the a vague colonial air, which the traveller will come across again in other places in this province. Other parts to be visited are the promenade and the beaches of the bay.

There are only 22km left for the traveller to reach Punta Tarifa on the border of the Costa de la Luz (Coast of Light) and the only gateway to the Mediterranean Sea. The road lined with cork oaks, which grow on the rugged slopes of the cape, passes through two small harbours. Upon arrival, the Arab walls point the way towards the seaside area and the magnificent observation platform overlooking the African coast. The most outstanding sights in this ancient city are the Castle of Guzman el Bueno (10C) and the Churches of San Mateo (16C), San Francisco (16C/18C) and Santa Maria.

Accommodation

Everywhere on the Costa del Sol there are hotel establishments of every kind. It is prudent, however, to book in advance.

The largest number of luxury hotels, villas and residential areas are found in Marbella, Torremolinos, Benalmadena costa, Fuengirola, Estepona and Malaga. This part of the coast has hotels of all categories, camping sites and a wide variety of holiday apartments to rent.

Tourist Information Offices

Costa del Sol Tourist Board
Pasaje Chinitas, 4
29015 Malaga
Tel: (+34) 95 221 34 45
Fax: (+34) 95 222 94 21
Airport Tourist Board
Malaga Airport
Avda. García Morato, s/n
Tel: (+34) 95 204 84 84
Fax: (+34) 95 204 85 35

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