Alex – Sunny Spain’s Costa del Sol has certainly earned its fair share of scathing reviews from the travel community and not without good reason. The golden coastline has created a rod for its own back – its natural beauty attracting the package holiday hordes, mass development and soulless sport’s bars that quite frankly go against everything the independent traveller stands for.
However, to tar the whole of this region with the same brush would be a little unfair. A cheap getaway is certainly not to be sniffed at and if you skip peak season, it is still possible to find some rather lovely, traditional areas in amongst the unsightly development. Chloe Sherriff shares her experience of Benalmadena and finding the positive side of the Costa del Sol…
If you want to fly away but only have a limited budget, consider the cheap and cheerful Costa del Sol. With regular return flights from the UK, leaving plenty of change from £100, you can’t really go wrong.
Our budget basecamp was Benalmadena, where we stayed at Jardines Del Gamonal apartments. Offering fantastic value for those on a budget, £243 bought us a self-catering apartment with a balcony and double bed for 9 nights – just £13.50 each per night! The apartments were situated only 15 minutes from the beach and close to several bars, a small convenience store and a large super-market. Team that with a key to their private gardens and a pool just across the street – what more could you want for just over a tenner?
So, what is worth doing around Benalmadena? Here are the highlights…
1. Visit Benalmadena Pueblo
Catch the bus to Benalmadena Pueblo to see a perfect example of the traditional face of the Costa del Sol. The Pueblo is Benalmadena’s Old Town, a village of whitewashed houses and bright, colourful flowers. The winding, cobbled streets are lined with charming shops, bars and cafes to while away an afternoon. Look out for the pretty Plaza España with its fountains and famous La Niña statue as well as the Church of Santo Domingo – a world away from the high-rise developments you associate with this part of the Spanish coast.
2. Laze the day away at Carrasco Beach
Pack a picnic and a good page turner to protect those pennies. Don’t forget your sunnies, swimwear and suitable shoes for taking a stroll along the coast line, up towards Santa Ana and Bil Bil beach, home to Castillo De Bil Bil. This terracotta-coloured castle is a magnificent contrast against the bright blue backdrops of the Costa del Sol coastline. You could be forgiven for believing you have briefly wandered right across the sea and washed up on the Moroccan shore line!
True to its Neo-Arabic appearance, Bil Bil castle was originally built in 1936 by a Spanish Merchant, allegedly for his home-sick Moorish wife. Situated to look directly across the sea towards her beloved home country, it is a beautiful replica of an upmarket North African home.
3. Ride the cable car up Calamorro Mountain
This had to be the highlight of my whole holiday! For just 13.25 Euros, you can get a return ticket on the cable car up the Calamorro Mountain, part of the beautiful Sierra de Mijas mountain range. If you like a bit more of a challenge and are armed with suitable footwear, you can opt to get a one-way ticket up the mountain and hike your way back down. The 769m ascent gives a fantastic bird’s eye view of the towns and hillside as well as a fantastic, panoramic view of the Malaga coastline.
After the breath-taking ride in your little glass bubble, you are planted safely back on ‘terra firma’, but the journey isn’t over yet! A maze of footpaths invite you to take in the views from every angle. Gazing in awe as far as the eye can see, all the way to the Rock of Gibraltar and even as far as the Morocco! Get your camera at ready to capture your ‘on top of the world’ moment!
4. Explore the Parque de Palomer
Yet another beautifully budget way to whittle away the hours, wander amongst the ornate plants, trees and get up close and personal with the animals. That’s right – animals roam freely in this opulent outdoor space. This little hub of tranquillity is an ideal escape from the bustling streets and a perfect spot for a picnic if you want to skip the sand-filled sandwiches on the beach. An ideal hang out for any age group from any walk of life with its various zones to choose from.
The sculpture garden is spectacular with enormous disembodied heads, so large that you can climb inside. Countless crazy cacti twist their spiny shapes as far as the eyes can see. If you are lucky you might spot the odd bunny hopping his way over to the fabulous fountains and ponds full of geese and ducks. They even have cheeky chickens and roosters on the loose, all very tame.
5. Day trip to Granada
With the ancient Andalusian mountain town within a couple of hours drive, I couldn’t miss out! Granada is most famous for the Alhambra fortress, high up on the headlands with a grand view looking out over sprawling Southern Spain. The charming cobbled streets are filled with magnificent examples of Medieval, Moorish architecture against the beautiful backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Capilla Real was a landmark worth visiting with a Gothic mausoleum and Botticelli’s famous ‘Prayer in the garden of olives’ to enjoy, plus a whole courtyard of restaurants and bars – all busy with conversation, entertainment, tapas and sangria.
When it comes to the maze of palaces and water gardens that make up the Alhambra, you have to get up pretty early to compete in the entrance queues it draws! Even if you decide not to brave the crowds, there are many beautiful bohemian streets to explore outside, with colourful art and up-beat music. Granada is a rich, colourful tapestry of details that I would love to revisit with more time – just to lose myself further in that patchwork of Medieval streets.
Have I tempted you into trying the Costa del Sol?