Costa del Sol is still a preferred destination for Irish families, according to Castle Travel.
The former fishing villages of the Sun Coast welcome millions of international visitors each year – not counting the estimated 300,000 expats who call the coast home. The winning formula is 320 sunny days a year, warm, clean, waters and beaches, and good-value, though somewhat brash, entertainment options. Heavy on neon and tower blocks, most of what’s here has little to do with local culture, but what is exuberantly Andalucían is the verve with which visitors enjoy themselves in the sun. Nights, too, are given over to typically Spanish merriment that continues until dawn.
Estepona still has a large fishing fleet, with a fish auction every dawn when the boats come in with their catch.
The lively city of Malaga, on the coast about 80 miles (129km ) southeast of Seville, is the gateway to Spain's popular Costa del Sol holiday resort region. The city was also the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, and features several galleries displaying his work. Most notable is the 16th century Museum of Fine Arts, alongside the Cathedral. Picasso's birthplace in Plaza Merced is open to the public and showcases his life and works. Like most Andalusian cities, Malaga has Moorish roots and its illustrious past has left an imprint on the historic centre, particularly around the fortress of La Alcazaba, dating from 1065, which is now an archaeological museum. The Moorish castle nearby is used as a state hotel. The city's famous botanical garden, sited on the Calle Alameda, dates from the days when Malaga was a popular winter resort for the rich and famous, and is also worth a visit.
Situated 25 miles (40km ) southwest of Malaga, the few miles of coast between Marbella and Puerto Banus is Spain's answer to Monte Carlo. Spain's elite, and Britain's more successful felons, have flashy houses on the surrounding hills, and swanky yachts in the marina. Marbella is the Costa del Sol's quality resort - the restaurants and bars are more stylish (and expensive ) and the town has been spared the worst excesses of concrete development that have blighted neighbours such as Torremolinos. The old town is hidden away and retains some of its medieval charm and has some good clothes shops and restaurants. The more exclusive Puerto Banus, six miles (10km ) to the west, is where you will find the casino and the seriously large yachts. Those visitors who drive a few miles inland, to the villages in the hills around Ronda, will discover a Spain completely untouched by tourism with village markets and tapas bars to be explored.
Southern Spain's answer to Benidorm, Torremolinos is a vast purpose-built resort situated 10 miles (16km ) west of Malaga, on the road to Marbella. Holidaymakers looking for a cultural experience will be disappointed, as Torremolinos, particularly in high season, is noisy and fast-paced, 24 hours a day. With six miles (10km ) of wide, sandy beaches, lots of watersports, masses of bars and restaurants, and an exhausting nightlife, the resort attracts tourists of all ages from all over Europe. There is a large gay scene, but the resort is equally popular with families and the inevitable 18 to 30 age group.
There is a great range of shops in Torremolinos ranging from international clothes stores to lots of small shops catering for the tourist trade. Good buys include the local jewellery, leather goods, and the famous Spanish Lladro porcelain. For self-caterers, there is a good selection of corner shops and supermarkets stocking all the well-known international brands. Calle San Miguel is at the heart of the shopping centre; it is an attractive pedestrianised street, flanked by small shops and cafes and is a good place to sip sangria and people watch for those not interested in shopping. More extensive shopping can be found in Malaga.
Torremolinos is packed with restaurants catering for the tourist trade and menus, usually in a few languages, offer good staple dishes such as fish and chips, steak, pasta and schnitzel. However, some excellent Spanish restaurants are also around. The best seafood restaurants are in the fisherman's district of La Carihuela, which has been relatively undisturbed by high-rise hotels and has retained its Andalucian coastal charm. The upmarket harbour at Puerto Banus is only 10 miles (16km ) along the coast and is packed with good restaurants overlooking rows of expensive-looking yachts.
Most people come to Torremolinos to spend idle days on one of its beaches. The largest and most popular two are Playamar and Bajondillo, both offering safe swimming and all sorts of watersports. Bars and cafés along the promenade offer respite and refreshment away from the sun. The nearby water park is one of the best on the continent and is a great family day out.
Torremolinos is a sprawling purpose-built resort; those expecting any cultural or architectural merit will be disappointed. Explore a few miles inland, however, and the real Spain can quickly be discovered.
Castle Travel offers direct flights from Shannon Airport every Sunday from May 3 to September 20. Packages for family (two adults and two children ) start at €1,023 including taxes and fees.
Let Castle Travel organise your holiday to Costa del Sol by contacting them on 094 902 4244 or e-mail [email protected].