Costa Del Sol is the crown jewel of Spanish holiday destinations. Cities and resorts here sparkle as the sun tints off the white buildings. The region’s temperatures are famous worldwide, whilst flights from the rest of Europe are fast and regular. The beaches of the Costa del Sol have a well-deserved reputation for smooth fair sands, and what’s more, there’s plenty of them! Sat on the coast of Spain’s Andalucia region, many towns here are pivotal to the Spanish tourist industry.
Aside from the regions capital, Malaga, Costa del Sol is known for several key cities and towns. Mijas gifts visitors with a slice of authentic Spanish small-town living, whereas Puerto Banus comprises typical Mediterranean palms trees and wide, flat coastlines. Marbella, on the other hand, is every bit the glitzy collection of bars and beaches that attract many to the region in the first place…
Once you’ve torn your eyes from the opulent buildings of the Golden Mile, Marbella’s inner beauty begins to surface. The old town, often referred to as Casco Antiguo, is made up of narrow streets and charming churches. Conveniently, it’s a great place to escape the heat of the Spanish sun and retreat into the confines of a local café. Like much of Spain, Marbella’s residents like a siesta. Jump in on the tradition and join them, albeit from the luxury of your holiday villa rental.
Despite its contemporary feel, Marbella’s history is fascinating. Its origins hark to simpler times, when fishing was the primary industry. The Romans also left their mark on the city, visible through the baths of the San Pedro district. The ruins of the Rio Verde Roman Villa take tourists back to the era, with tile paintings and fenced off archaic structures.
Further along the coast, Malaga’s azure waters and rising citadels draw in tourists throughout the year. Stroll along long stretches of promenade, before dipping inland to visit tourist hotspots, such as the city’s castle or the Pablo Picasso museum. It’s bigger than many other Costa del Sol destinations, but you can still stay in a holiday villa near Malaga and soak up the city buzz from a more secluded location.
Food wise, Malaga, like the rest of Spain, is perfect for enjoying tapas. The bay surrounding Malaga is home to many small fish, like anchovies and sardines – why not enjoy some freshly caught salty treats by the waterfront? The night, however, is when the city really comes alive. Squares are filled with diners, and bars open their doors to serve sangria into the early hours of the morning.
Northeast of Malaga, Mijas is an alluring mountainside village made for a more traditionalist holiday in the Costa del Sol. Glistening white buildings house a combination of taverns and eateries should you be tempted by the Mediterranean lifestyle. Otherwise, enjoy the rural views whilst dining as self-catering villas often offer balconies elevated above the Spanish countryside.
Donkeys are a common sight here, and are also known as burro taxis. Hop on, and let them guide you through the narrow streets to tourist landmarks. Beaches are never far away, despite the fact that the village itself is actually landlocked. If, or when, the sea starts calling, head towards the coastal town of Fuengiro – a 15-minute drive from Mijas.
Back by the water, Fuengirola offers a livelier holiday whilst still maintaining its Andalusian charms. Like its contemporaries, Fuengirola was also a major fishing village, yet has since evolved into a buzzing metropolis of bars and restaurants. Part of the port is dedicated to watersports, where you can try your hand at anything from jet-skiing to scuba-diving and parasailing.
Breaks in the Costa del Sol often have a reputation for being flashy affairs, much down to towns like Puerto Banus. Walking by the harbour, you can’t help but notice the swanky yachts and omnipresent air of wealth. What really makes the town stand out, is its beach clubs. These are lavish beachside buildings, complete with rows of sun loungers where revelers drink cocktails and champagne.
It’s easy to forget all of this, and enjoy a more traditional side to Puerto Banus. There are several smaller tapas taverns behind the fancy restaurants and bars, if you wish to find them. Every Saturday, a street market (one of the largest in the region!) is erected near the bull ring in Nueva Andalucia. For a change, why not pick up some local delicacies and cook up something special in your own self-catering villa?
Things to do with kids
Costa del Sol has all the right ingredients for a great holiday with children – sun, beaches, and sea! The region is blessed with a range of outlets – if tapas isn’t to their tastes – which ensures an idyllic family evening out. Kids love to be outdoors, and when the climate’s as fair as it is here, it’s hard to deny them the opportunity. Here’s the best family attractions in the Costa del Sol –
1. BioParc Zoo, Fuengirola
Teaching kids about the importance of animal conservation has never been more important. When combined with an educational – not to mention enjoyable! – visit to a zoo which breeds endangered animals, everyone’s a winner. Amongst others, you’ll see Sumatran tigers, cheetahs, monkeys and snakes. Once you’ve seen all the animals, grab a bite to eat in the zoo restaurant or browse the shop for souvenirs.
2. Castillo de Colomares, Benalmadena
South of Malaga, a tour of this castle will leave your both you and your kids in awe of its enriching history and viewpoints. Despite its fairytale appearance, Castillo de Colomares was actually built as a monument to Christopher Colombus, between 1987 and 1994. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d time travelled back to the middle ages – it’s that authentic! Cheap holidays in the Costa del Sol don’t mean missing out on key landmarks, so be sure to pen in a visit.
3. Aqualand Waterpark, Torremolinos
You might have a villa with a pool, but you can’t beat the adrenalin rush of hurtling down a steep water slide in the sun! This is the largest of Costa del Sol’s waterparks, so if you have to pin down just one afternoon splashing about, pick Aqualand. Complete with chilled out gardens and kid’s areas (not everyone loves flumes and chutes, after all), this makes for one of the region’s most popular sites.
4. Sea Life Aquarium, Benalmadena
Once you’ve finished at the Castillo de Colomares, submerge yourselves amongst exotic fish, crabs, and even sharks! Venture down underwater walkways and look up as piranhas and octopus glide overhead, or coordinate your visit with feeding times. The rush of seeing these creatures up close is one thing, but it’s also a great educational experience for both you and the little ones.
Take a pack lunch, or eat in the café overlooking the seafront. The aquarium attracts big crowds all year, so book your tickets online to avoid disappointment. It’s also generally cheaper than paying on the door, so you’ll have more to spend on holiday presents!
5. Butterfly Park, Benalmadena
Nature in the Costa del Sol doesn’t stop there, remember that Spain’s ecosystem includes a wide range of beautiful insects, too. As well as being Europe’s largest butterfly park, the attraction boasts a convincing Thai theme, with luscious green plants and multicoloured butterfly species. Dress accordingly, as temperatures inside are kept between 24 and 29 degrees Celsius. It gets fairly humid, so bring a bottle of water to make sure the kids don’t start to get tired.
6. Paloma Park
Often, the best things in life are free. This is certainly the case with Paloma Park, a large collection of ponds, gardens and grassy spaces for the kids to let loose in. Rabbits, chickens and hens roam free around the park, all of which contribute to a wholly tranquil atmosphere. If you’re villa is in Benalmadena, or near it, make sure to spend at least one afternoon spent chilling out here.
Costa del Sol’s attractions, both scenic and tourist-orientated, pull in visitors from across all four corners of the globe. Adults travel here for fine cuisine, but most of all, are looking for a taste of that famous Mediterranean lifestyle. Waking up to the Mediterranean sun beating down on you, whilst eating breakfast in your self-catering villa tops any morning spent elsewhere.
For families, there can be, if anything, too many amenities to choose from. Yet when you consider the quality on offer, and the generous climate behind them, it’s not a bad predicament to be in. Soak up some rays by the beach, before evenings spent out or within your rental villa, making those priceless, happy holiday memories.
To find your very own slice of Spanish paradise, take a look at some of our villas.
By Arianne Fabrice, a travel journalist who specialises in the popular resort destinations in and around Europe. Having worked for some of Paris’ premium travel mags, she’s recently moved into English-language publications.