A Sunny Visit To The Costa Del Sol In Spain

This week’s reader-contributed story keeps us in the same country as we were last week. But there are two significant differences.

Instead of last week’s look at the northern coast, we’re in the other world of the Spain’s southern, Mediterranean coast. And instead of a “Top Five” look at fun cultural differences told from an American student, the below story is classic travel tale of sites, experiences, and accommodations as told by a professional from the UK.

Sally Graves now shares about her travels to Spain’s ritzy, cultured Costa del Sol…

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A Sunny Visit to the Costa del Sol in Spain

Ever since I first read Sean Connery’s biography, in which the actor’s golden days holidaying in Marbella were described in detail, I had always wanted to visit Costa del Sol.

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Costa del Sol

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This coast spans one of southern Spain’s main provinces (more like cities) Málaga as well as the white villages that pepper the coastline, including Marbella, the luxurious seaside village where the world’s most luxurious yachts dock and where some of the world’s most exclusive boutiques are located (on the boardwalk of the beautifully kept port, Puerto Banús).

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Puerto Banús, Marbella
Puerto Banús, Marbella

Friends had also told me that Málaga is a food lover’s paradise; the city may be much smaller than tourist havens like Madrid and Barcelona, but it is famed for its wide gastronomic offerings. One of Spain’s most lauded chefs Dani García is a proud Malagueño and continues to call Málaga his hometown.

Last summer, I was at a crossroads in my life – I had decided to take a sabbatical from my job in a legal firm, and my husband, who is a teacher, had almost the whole summer off. I suggested that we take off for Spain and he enthusiastically agreed.

We headed for Málaga first, wasting no time in heading for La Malagueta (the city’s most popular beach), enjoying espetos (sardines on a stick barbecued over hot coals, right on the beach) and paella at ridiculously affordable prices. In the evening, we visited the house where Picasso was born, in the trendy Plaza de la Merced square, which now boasts an array of chic restaurants (vegetarian, fusion, Japanese, you name it) and swish cocktail bars where the young and young-at-heart congregate on weekends.

Plaza de la Merced
Plaza de la Merced

We walked through the streets afterwards, surprised to find a huge theatre (the Teatro Cervantes) a stone’s throw away from the Plaza. Elegant theatregoers flocked to the theatre doors, where a poster announced that Beethoven’s 9th was being performed that evening.

At our hotel, we asked about the theatre and enjoyed a lovely chat with the receptionist (we stayed at the four-star NH Hotel, a 10-minute walk from the city centre). We were stunned to discover that there was so much more to do than work on our tan. There were a plethora of museums (including the Museo Picasso de Málaga, the Museo de Vidrio y Cristal (Glass and Crystal Museum), a Classic Car Museum and the new Russian Museum – the latter is housed in a gorgeous old tobacco factory, a short 10-minute drive from the hotel).

My favorite of all the museums was the Museo Carmen Thyssen de Málaga, focusing on 19th century art and featuring masterpieces by artists like Julio Romero de Torres, Niccolò Frangipane, and Francisco de Zurbarán. We also loved the Glass and Crystal Museum; the founder is a learned scholar who provides a fascinating tour of the 19th century mansion in which his family’s private collection is located. Also new to Málaga is the Centre Pompidou, the first ‘pop-up Pompidou’ set up by the famous Parisian institution. Here, the focus is on contemporary art, with works by Picasso, Frida Kahlo, and George Segal, to name just a few artists.

Centre Pompidou
Centre Pompidou

When we weren’t walking from museum to museum, we took in the gorgeous architecture. Particularly beautiful was the Cathedral of Málaga, often referred to by locals as ‘la manquita’ (‘manquita’ means ‘one-armed in Spanish), owing to the fact that it is missing a tower. The façade of the building is a fine exponent of 16th-century architecture, though the cathedral took almost three centuries to build. The cathedral houses many important works of art and its altar, designed by Diego de Vergara, is considered one of the most beautiful in Spain.

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We spent a week in Málaga, alternating between beach life, sightseeing, and dining. Then we decided to end our holiday with a weekend in Marbella. We drove there, despite being worried at first about not knowing the roads well and having to drive on the right side of the road (we are from the UK). But the motorway was in tip-top shape and it was very easy to find everything. Parking is a problem all throughout the Costa del Sol, though, so expect to pay for private parking.

We first headed to Puerto Banús, to view the beautiful yachts and treat ourselves to a little shopping (I did some major window shopping at Louis Vuitton and Jimmy Choo). We were stunned by the choice of restaurants – everything from pizza (we recommend a popular pizza place called Picasso) to fine French cuisine (Los Bandidos is a decades-old restaurant that is known at the place to visit for a knockout meal).

We also ventured into the Old Town of Marbella, with its cobblestoned streets, stunning little shops and super romantic restaurants.

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There, we caught a classical music concert in one of the squares. Afterwards, we took a leisurely walk down to Messina restaurant, which was awarded its first Michelin star a couple of months ago. The chef is big on creating new textures using unexpected ingredients and the creativity of the food was right on par with the top notch service (the chef’s wife is the maître d’ and sommelier, and she does a great job at making diners feel totally at ease despite the elegance of the surrounds).

We enjoyed our little escape more than I can express, above all because we spent so much more time on cultural pursuits (and on dining) than we had originally envisioned. We expected to be lying on the beach all day and although I returned home with a lovely golden glow, I must say that there is much more to Málaga than sun, sea, and surf.

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Sally Graves worked for many years in the travel sector and hospitality industry and was lucky enough to visit many varied countries throughout the world. Once she became a mother, her outlook and priorities changed, and now she has taken a step back to start a career as a writer. She can be reached at sally@arialblack.org.

If you’d like to share a travel story on The Periphery, please email me at Brandon@ThePeriphery.com.  We’d love to hear all about your adventure.

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