Sun, sea and so much more!
Sitting in the garden at home on a balmy summer evening last year, the conversation turned to the misery of an English January and how wonderful it would be to escape the cold and have a full month in the sunshine. After all, it was argued, one of the joys of retirement is that freedom of choice comes with the territory. So, having dutifully fulfilled all our Christmas family commitments to kids and grandkids, why not leave them to it and head for the sun during January? Principle agreed but the next knotty question was where to choose? It would need to be somewhere with a good climate, be reasonably priced, have sufficient places of interest to keep us occupied and be just a short flight from the UK.
A few days after this somewhat dreamy and fanciful conversation, Ann reappeared from the depths of her computer armed with pages of print-outs about winter holidays in Costa del Sol, enthusiastically explaining that it fitted all the criteria for our winter escape. My initial reaction was akin to horror – I had heard too many tales of high rise hotels, fish and chips, hokey-cokey and drunken lager louts. Whilst I moaned and groaned (loudly and often) Ann smiled indulgently and quietly got on with the booking! So, it came to pass that on January 1, we were on the Monarch flight down to Malaga. Efficiently met at the airport by Resort Hoppa transfer service, we were taken to the 4* Hotel Riu Nautilus, which was to be our home for the next four weeks. Having stayed at Riu hotels before, we were expecting good things and we were not disappointed! It was obvious from the start that this ‘winter escape malarky’ is shared by many European representatives of the ‘grey army’ – not a single lager lout in sight! Hotels give very tempting off-peak deals in winter, especially for long stays, and booking direct often achieves the biggest saving.
It is not really our scene to join the throng at the poolside (who seem to dedicate their holiday to turning a serious shade of pink) much preferring to walk in the gentle sunshine or explore locally. The choice of activities to fill the day is endless – so many interesting places are within easy reach. By foot, the town of Torremolinos is a brisk 40 minute walk along the seafront. In the other direction, the busy marina at Benalmadena is just a short distance away, with its award winning marina and a variety of shops and cafes. It is a luxurious indulgence to intersperse these walks with a drink at an outside cafe, watching the sun glint on the sea and smugly thinking of friends at home, miserably wrapped up against the cold and wet as they battle with the joys of the January sales!
Travelling by public bus, the town of Arroyo De La Miel is well worth a visit and is the starting point for the cable car (this closes on or around 7 January, immediately after the Spanish Bank Holiday to celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings). The next stop after Arroyo is the pretty, typical, whitewashed village of Benalmadena Pueblo. This is like going back in time and it is a delight to walk the narrow streets and the orange tree-lined squares, soaking up an atmosphere which is truly Spanish. Thereafter, the bus will wind its way up the mountain roads to the town of Mijas. This is yet another delightful town, offering wonderful views down to the coast. Here visitors can opt to take a tour of the town by donkey or pony and trap. It is a ‘must see’ town, with individual shops (leather is a speciality) but, as a hint, try to avoid the peak times when tour coaches tend to arrive en-masse! Arming ourselves with a walking map from the Tourist Information Office, we decided to tackle one of the published mountain trails behind the town. Views are lovely but the paths are tough and steep, so these walks are not for the faint hearted! Looking down from Mijas, one can see the sprawl of Fuengirola in the distance, so on the following day we resolved to visit the town, again using the excellent (and cheap) local bus service. Fuengirola has the longest promenade on the Costa del So1 (albeit a little soulless) and a lovely beach, but for us the real joy was to discover such a bustling and interesting town, just one street back from the seafront.
Another most enjoyable day was spent in Marbella, courtesy again of the local buses. The Old Town has a delightful maze of tiny streets that culminate at Orange Square. Choose one of the outside restaurants and lunch in the shade of orange trees, listening to the sounds of Spanish guitar. It may be slightly on the pricey side but worth it for the enchanting atmosphere and the holiday memory! So, well fed and rested, we moved on to Porto Banus, to drool over the mega-yachts of the super rich, moored in this exclusive millionaire’s playground. It’s another world!
Mention must also be made of the local trains that run along the coast from Fuengirola to the main hub at Malaga, where travellers can connect with many other cities – Seville and Cordoba, for example. Immediately outside the main station in Malaga is the stop for the open-top ‘hop on – hop off’ tour bus, which affords an effortless and flexible way of seeing the highlights of this capital city.
Although the local travel agencies have a multitude of different tours to offer, the only organised coach tour that we did was to Ronfia. A very scenic ride up the twisting mountain roads leads to this fascinating town, which is packed with history. We especially loved the Arab Quarter, the tour of the old bull ring and, of course, the magnificent bridge over the gorge. Although visited by many tourists, it has maintained its natural identity and epitomises all the appeal and character of inland Andalucia.
The outcome is that we both loved every minute of our holiday and have fallen under the spell of this attractive and interesting region.
After four weeks of sunshine, healthy eating and plenty of walking, we returned feeling ten years younger! With the cheaper cost of living in Spain, even the wallet did not suffer too much damage!
Hasta la vista … We’lI be back next year!