Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Unspoilt treasures of Spain's Costa Del Sol (3 days, 3 great things)

When you hear the words Holidays and Costa Del Sol you may start thinking - long crowded beaches, cheap and nasty high-rise hotels, sun-burnt British beer bellies, bad karaoke, English breakfasts and chips with everything....Right? Wrong! 

Scratch underneath the well-worn tourist surface of this sun-baked stretch of southern Spain by heading just a few miles inland and you will find there's so much more and that the Costa's ebullient Andalusian spirit is stronger than ever.

Our long weekend on Spain's sunshine coast started at the regional capital Malaga, whose airport is served by budget airlines Easyjet and Ryanair. From here it was a one hour drive east along the coast to our home for the weekend, the picturesque white-washed village of Torrox, (around ten miles from the resort of Nerja). Like many of the villages in this area Torrox has both a 'costa' half - a modern beach town - and a 'barrio' half - an historic Andalusian village clinging to the steep mountainside and now separated from the sea by southern Spain's coastal motorway.

Our weekend's accommodation in Torrox (the holiday home of a friend's parents) was a quaint Andalusian town house set over three-levels with the most beautiful surprise to be found at the top of a very steep flight of stairs. From our secluded crow's nest roof terrace, we were treated to a spectacular view over the whole village of Torrox and beyond, all down the way to the Mediterranean sea. Needless to say, this roof quickly became our favorite place.

Thank you for this view Mr and Mrs Walsh!

Day 1: The Flamenco festival of Torrox

We had journeyed to Torrox for a low-key girls weekend, thoroughly expecting to escape the crowds and quietly enjoy some tapas on the sleepy town square before strolling home through the quaint Andalusian streets for an early night's sleep...

...And so rounding the corner on our first morning and finding this gang of colourful characters enjoying a early afternoon sing-a-long at the local cafe, was quite a surprise. Clearly, something was afoot.

We soon found out that we had arrived in sleepy little Torrox during their annual festival, which this year had proven to be the biggest yet. Young and old had travelled from villages and towns across the area to eat, drink, dance, flirt, see and be seen.

The first day of the festival (Friday) celebrated that most famous and fiery Andalusian tradition - flamenco. From eight years old to eighty years old, hundreds of local women of all shapes and sizes began to stroll into town, resplendent in the most show-stopping outfits possible and more than ready to dance, sing and generally set male hearts aflutter.

As the sun gradually lowered its fierce glare and the village square began to swell with people, our jaws hit the floor. From the colour-coded ruffles and elaborate embroidery designed to accentuate every sumptuous Latino curve, to the spectacular hairstyling, death-defying heels and matching traditional jewellery, scarves and fans, it was all very clear - we had found that most coveted holy grail of every foreign holiday, the chance to experience genuine local traditions unspoilt by the commercial hand of tourism - and, on the Costa Del Sol!

Buoyed by the realisation that we had lucked out on our short-break holiday in ways we had never expected, we then proceeded to do what we had originally come here to do in the first place - gorge on tapas, enjoy some rioja and generally catch up, way on into the wee hours - satisfied in the knowledge that we had unintentionally scored ourselves some extra-value-added people-watching, live music entertainment and generally all-out Spanish revelry to boot.

Day 2: Granada and the Alhambra

Now, I must add here that our whole weekend-away was not solely devoted to having a big lie-in everyday and hanging out at the local tapas bar. We also harboured serious intentions to soak up some history - which is why we woke up at a shade before 6am on Saturday morning to drive around two hours to the city of Granada, home to one of Spain's most celebrated historical sights, The Alhambra.

The Alhambra is regarded as one of the most spectacular examples of Islamic architecture in the world, and dates back to the last days of the Moors in Spain. Amazingly the elaborately carved palaces of the Alhambra complex were only inhabited for around two hundred years, before the Muslims were violently forced out of Southern Spain. 

These masterpieces of Islamic art have been very lucky to survive the ravages of subsequent centuries. It is largely thanks to writers such as Washington Irving and passionate 19th Century Spanish archaeologists, that restoration of the palaces began in earnest in the start of the 20th Century. The Alhambra is now recoginsed as one of the most important palaces in Spain, and indeed all of Europe, and work is constantly underway to restore and preserve the buildings' delicate mosaics, intricately carved marble friezes and pillars, awe-inspiring courtyards and stunning gardens and waterways.

Back at the Torrox Festival later that day, we were disappointed to find that traditional costume had been replaced by modern clothing. However, in return we were also treated to a huge party of more modern entertainments. Popular local pop bands played the stage, women performed choreographed dances wearing cheerleader-style outfits with 'Torrox' emblazoned across their chests and just when we thought it was all over for the night, thousands (literally) of youngsters descended down the hill from the village square to gather on a disused waste-ground which had temporarily been transformed into a giant open-air nightclub. You won't be surprised to hear that this big Torrox Festival dance party didn't even get into full swing until 2am - oh yes, welcome to Spain!

Day 3: Unspoilt beaches just an hour from Malaga

On our final day before heading back to the airport, we all agreed that we couldn't leave the Costa without sampling some fresh seafood by the beach and dipping our toes into the blue waters of the Med. Armed with a recommendation gleaned from some locals, we drove off to Nerja (around 15minutes from Torrox) in search of a small beach called Malo.

Happily Malo Costa was everything the locals had promised it would be. A lovely little beach for those looking for somewhere small, quiet and basic to rest up, blissfully free from preening youngsters and the loud music who follow them. The short beach cove has toilet and shower facilities, a handful of sun loungers and a delightfully simple beach shack-style cafe serving freshly grilled fish and immense mixed seafood platters. Even if you are not interested in taking a dip or spending the day lounging on the beach, it is worth visiting Malo's little seafood shack anyway, as it offers both outstanding value for money, unforgettable fresh fish and this picture-postcard view.

hmmmmm, fish

Needless to say, if it weren't for the fact that I live all the way down in South Africa, I'd be spending every October in Torrox with these three ladies!

My best friends - the ultimate holiday dream team

The Essentials:

Where to stay in Torrox: Torrox village has two main hotels the Al Andaluz and Hotel La Casa. There are also two village apartments listed for rent on and many more on Be very careful not to confuse your booking with Torrox Costa which is about 5 km away.

Dates of next year's festivals: Torrox Festival 3 - 5 October, Nerja Festival 10 - 12 October

Getting Alhambra tickets: As the complex is understandably very popular only a certain number of entry tickets are printed each day. You can reserve your tickets and book an entry time online at and then pick them up at the entrance when you arrive. Take note that every ticket will be marked with a specific time at which you may enter the main palace - the only time we could get was 08:30am, hence our very early start. The worst times to book tend to be midday as this is when the largest tour groups arrive.

Finding Malo beach: Follow the signs through Nerja to Malo Costa. Make sure you drive all the way down the hill road until you can actually see the beach. There are many car parks along the way, but these are in fact aimed at visitors to the village of Malo not the beach and it's a hell of walk from the village.

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