Harry Glass had a self-catering break on the Costa del Sol, and found the real Spain by the sea and up in the hills
Is it still possible to enjoy a taste of true Spain and an uncrowded beach on the sun-kissed Costa del Sol? You bet. Even along the most developed stretch west of Malaga – which includes Torremolinos, Marbella and Fuengirola – there are small towns with villas, apartments and old converted houses which aren’t part of modern developments. Renting one is the first step to dipping yourself into the Andalucian lifestyle.
We took a short spring break in a renovated town house in the tangled streets and back alleys of old Estepona, just 40 miles – or an hour’s drive – from Malaga airport, and 20 minutes past Marbella. From our terrace we could see clusters of white-washed houses with flowers spilling from window sills and balconies.
The town’s sweeping beach, Playa de la Rada, was five minutes’ walk away through plazas and streets lined with palms trees. Because it was early May, we had the town almost to ourselves – and the weather was good. This far south, the climate is extremely mild year-round.
There are six beach bars – or Schiringuitos – on the one-and-a-half-mile stretch of sand. The promenade alongside it leads to the marina and an impressive collection of luxury yachts.
But Marbella it isn’t. We watched a family fishing for mullet, which we could see in the clear water. Instead of designer shops lining the waterfront, there are just a few restaurants, the best of which is El Espignon del Puerto, an indoor seafood place with good views and few tourists – perhaps because it’s slightly more expensive, or because the entrance is at the top of a flight of stairs at the back of the building.
There’s no need to do all of your food shopping shop in supermarkets. There is a market every Wednesday on the Avenida Juan Carlos in the town centre, where you can buy the best fresh produce. If your Spanish is rusty, it’s a good chance to get some practice. We picked up some fresh fish and veg, including Sboquerones – anchovies – and cooked a tasty evening meal on our roof terrace. There’s also a tourist market – for arts and crafts – on Sundays at the marina.