The pretty Costa del Sol coastline is Europe’s favourite travel destination, evergreen and always popular it draws tourists like a magnet.
What is the secret that makes people return to the Andalucian south coast – time after time?
Looking for the secret of the much-loved Costa del Sol
The main draw of course is the endless sunshine and the warm, clean Mediterranean Sea.
The swimming-season here is among the longest in Europe and the 320 sunny days a year make it all just perfect. Even for winter sun Southern Spain is a good choice.
The lovely beaches are the main draw of the Costa del Sol
Then, what more you need is up to you, Costa del Sol has something for everyone.
The majority of visitors head to big resorts for shopping, beach, bars and social life while others look for local city life in Malaga that is Spain’s 6th largest city.
Social life on Paseo Maritimo, the beach promenade of Fuengirola
Then, there are the golfers that return every winter, the Puerto Banus luxury yachters – and those who love the outdoors or Spanish lifestyle. These people typically head into mountain regions where they hike and look for Spanish whitewashed villages.
We prefer Andalucian nature, old towns and pueblos blancos
Find Your Own Corner on the Costa del Sol
So the reason why Costa del Sol is so popular is its diversity. The Costa meets many needs. Just think about what you want and find your own corner on the coast, be it a city, village or rural countryside.
We went down for a couple of weeks to see if we like it or not – and found our own quiet corner on the 150 km long coastline, a perfect palm garden in the hills, close to the sea and views all the way to Africa in clear weather.
Our perfect base to always return to. Just to stay and relax, and get out and explore.
Our base and palm garden on the lovely Costa del Sol
So afterwards we have spent great days and weeks on the Costa, relaxing by the pool and sea, and then exploring the region. Going to towns, villages, mountains and castles.
For you, we have picked ideas on what the diverse Costa del Sol has to offer – and the neighboring regions. Nature, pretty places, something you shouldn’t miss on Europe’s favorite coastline.
So let’s start. First go and find the pretty old towns and villages. You can do it by public transport or car.
1. Discover Pretty Costa del Sol Old Towns
Exploring the old towns of Costa del Sol
So where do we find them?
Many old towns hide between tourist resorts, Spanish, pretty and original. These are our three favourites: Malaga, Marbella and La Cala de Mijas, a village. Try these three or go and find your own.
Malaga Old Town
The pretty Costa del Sol: Plaza de la Constitucion, Malaga
The seaside metropolis of Malaga is the administrative center of Costa del Sol. With a population of over half a million Malaga ranks the 6th largest city in Spain. Only Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville and Zaragoza are bigger.
Over the last decades Malaga has developed a lot and the port has changed to open city space full of activity and dining options.
While, next to it, the historic old town looks the same as it always did: medieval alleys, great architecture, massive palaces and marble paved plazas in all sizes.
Malaga Old Town in Photos:
We love spending time in the old town, strolling around without any plans.
To take in the atmosphere, stop for a coffee or buy fresh fruit on the Mercado Central that has a huge green glass window.
One day we drove to Malaga for morning coffee
To walk a bit more, we might take the path uphill to look at Malaga’s fantastic castle, in fact there are two or them, and a Roman amphitheatre.
The upper, massive 10th century castle Castillo de Gibralfaro overlooks the city, port and bullfight ring while the other, Alcazaba hides lower down the slope. The castle walk is hard in a hot weather y but worth the sweat!
Malaga: view from the way to the castle
To learn more about the treasures of Malaga check out the Visit Costa del Sol and the City of Malaga websites.
Then, the second old town we want present is Marbella:
Marbella Old Town
The pretty Costa del Sol: Old Town Marbella
Plaza de los Naranjos, the main square of Marbella old town
The busy resort town Marbella has 28 km of pristine coastline where beaches and marinas alternate. Yet what especially attracts us about Marbella is the super pretty, well-preserved old town.
In the old days Marbella was a walled city and remains of the ancient wall still exist. The layout and streets are from the 16th century, and originally this was an old Medina with Arab infrastructure. Before the Spanish took over Marbella had seen both Islamic and Roman rulers.
Old Town Marbella in Photos:
The heart of the historic quarters is a large square full of orange trees, Plaza de los Naranjos. The pretty square is lined with old buildings like the historic town hall and the middle area filled with outdoor dining areas.
Within a hectic resort, the old part of Marbella is a little oasis away from it all, birdsong, church bells and narrow lanes not far away from our Costa del Sol hideaway.
Check out what more to see in Marbella on the Turismo de Marbella website.
Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Encarnacion, Marbella
In all, these the two old towns were just an example of what you can find and you can look for more. Now we will move to a historic seaside village, La Cala de Mijas.
This is one of the Cala de Mijas watch towers:
La Cala de Mijas, Historic Village
Watch tower by the sea: Torreon de la Cala de Mijas
Ayuntamiento de Mijas, Costa del Sol
Located half-way between Marbella and Fuengirola the old fishing village La Cala de Mijas is a nice one. La Cala has a lot that appeals to visitors.
Long rows of old Moorish houses and other old buildings, traditional local shops for all needs, and for the tourists a super long sandy beach with good facilities and chirinquitos, beach-front bars. All this in a relaxed village atmosphere.
No wonder both locals and tourists tend to gather in this village.
La Cala de Mijas in Photos:
The massive Torreon de La Cala de Mijas proudly stands there, to protect the village from all enemies, as do the other watchtowers nearby, there’s a network of them.
Read more about the historic Mijas watchtowers.
To make it clear, Mijas, Costa del Sol is a municipality that contains two villages with almost the same name. The hidden fishing village La Cala de Mijas down by the sea and the famous mountain village higher up (we will show it soon).
And all the beautiful Mediterranean landscape in between and along the coast.
Sun shades in La Cala de Mijas
Now about the pretty Costa del Sol nature.
From La Cala de Mijas begins Senda Litoral, a coastal walkway along the seashore. All the way to Calahonda and on to the border of Marbella.
So the second way to explore the pretty Costa is to walk.
2. Walk, Jog and Hike!
Walk the Costa del Sol Coast: Senda Litoral Mijas
Senda Litoral Mijas and Restaurante San Antonio, Costa del Sol
This is what the Senda Litoral coastal walkway looks like. Most of it is elevated boardwalk, accessible and easy to walk.
We love walking and breathing fresh, salty sea air in this stunning scenery where sandy beaches alternate with rockier sections. Part of the rocky stretches are protected areas and contain abundant sea life from fish and mussels to corals:
The Senda Litoral website lists all plants and animals existing along the coastal path.
So, take a sunhat, swimsuit and water bottle and walk! The fresh sea breeze will make you hungry, and even more the seafood restaurants grilling fish along the way.
If walking and seafood makes you tired, walk back or take a bus from the upper road. Signs along the path tell where the bus stops are.
El Bombo Beach, Senda Litoral, Mijas
Sea and boats, Senda Litoral in Mijas
After 6 km at the Marbella border the good walkway ends. But you can walk on, in the sand or in the forest.
Senda Litoral Mijas: Part of the Malaga Coastal Path
In fact you can walk a lot longer if you like. Senda Litoral Mijas is part of a project to connect all coastal communities between Nerja and Manilva by a long path along the entire coast.
When ready the path will be 200 km long. So the Mijas coastal path is just a part of the whole and you will get to Marbella later.
Learn more about the Malaga Coastal Path (Senda Litoral de Malaga) on the official Senda Litoral website.
Then, our other walk is very different. It’s up in the Sierra del Torcal mountains at an altitude of 1000 m:
Walk in the Mountains: Torcal de Antequera
Torcal de Antequera is a nature wonder
Torcal de Antequera autumn foliage
To get to Torcal you will need a car and drive about an hour from the coast. When the road winds up you will enter a fairytale landscape you have never known exists. Huge piles of rocks almost like heaped pancakes.
This unique place and has been taken on the UNESCO World Heritage list and visiting is free. The landscape is all karstic limestone from the Jurassic age when the whole region still was a sea bottom.
Photos of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Torcal de Antequera:
There is an accessible viewing platform where you can see a lot, but to see what it really is like you will need to hike.
There are hikes of different lengths to choose from, more in the summer and less in winter, of which we have walked the 3 km yellow route.
Sounds short but takes time, not among the easiest paths we have seen and definitely no elevated boardwalk like the coastal path. Good hiking shoes are a must when you jump and climb between all rocks of different sizes. For all nature lovers we highly recommend el Torcal!
To learn more about this amazing nature reserve, check out these links:
Paraje Natural Torcal de Antequera
Torcal de Antequera hiking maps
Hiking in Torcal de Antequera, Andalucia
Yet the Andalucian mountains have more to offer than nature sights: many pueblos blancos, everywhere. Like Mijas Pueblo right above Fuengirola and Ronda a short drive from the coast. Both absolutely worth to visit!
3. Visit Andalucia’s Pueblos Blancos
White walls and flower pots belong to every pueblo blanco
Andalucia is dotted with pueblos blancos, villages with whitewashed Moorish style houses. They typically exist in mountain regions behind curves and bends. So hit the road, the sierras are waiting!
However, one of the many white villages exists just a short way up from Fuengirola, easy to reach by public transport. From that perfect location Mijas Pueblo overlooks the whole coast.
Close to the Coast: Mijas Pueblo
The pretty Costa del Sol: Mijas Pueblo
Mijas Pueblo is a gem, but not a hidden one, quite touristic at times. But as we all know, tourists will find the prettiest places.
For us this pueblo has become one of the favourites. Each time friends and family arrive to visit us we bring them here, trying to avoid the most touristic hours. We walk the lanes, take in the fine coastal views, have a meal or drink and enjoy the lovely Spain!
Mijas Pueblo in Photos:
To be honest there’s another white village equally close to the coast, Frigiliana east of Malaga close to Nerja.
A nice little corner in the lovely Mijas Pueblo:
Blue chairs in the main street of Mijas Pueblo, Costa del Sol
If you wish to learn more about Mijas, the Pueblo, check out the Turismo de Mijas website.
The other pueblo blanco we chose to show you is Ronda. Located beyond the mountain chain Serrania de Ronda the historic town needs an hour’s drive from the main resorts. First through forest areas and then across open sierras.
Behind the Sierras: Ronda
Can you see what makes Ronda so famous? The Puente Nuevo, the new bridge
Ronda bravely stands at the very edge of a crater, it has done that for the last hundreds of years.
Split in two parts by the deep gorge of Rio Guadalevin this mountain town was an Iberian settlement, then came the Romans and Moors and left their traces. That’s why the old part of the town contains many Arab constructions.
Three Bridges across a Gorge
However, most prominent about Ronda are the bridges across the gorge. The most impressive is the new bridge Puente Nuevo (from 1793!). Behind it are the two others, Puente Viejo and the oldest bridge Puente Arabe.
Consequently Ronda is filled with history, today a living Spanish town and home of 35 000 people.
Historic sights are many: Banos Arabes, Casa del Rey del Moro and many other palaces, museums, churches and one of Spain’s oldest bullrings, the Plaza de Toros.
To see most of the sights take one bridge across the gorge, walk round the old town and maybe down the stairs to the crater bottom, then take another bridge back to the new town to see the gorge even better.
What they call the new town is a sight as well, busy, local and not really new.
For all this beauty, Ronda is very popular but if you can, go off-season and there are no crowds, no buses at all.
Looking into the Serrania de Ronda
Bye bye from Ronda, Spain
We will leave Ronda now. You will find more information on Ronda, Spain here:
Then, one more thing to do. In Andalucia you can even go abroad, take a ferry to Morocco or why not just go to Gibraltar? As a part of Britain it’s a most unusual place off the Spanish coast.
4. Meet Monkeys on the Rock of Gibraltar
Day trip from Costa del Sol: see the Gibraltar monkeys
Provided your car rental company agrees you can drive to Gibraltar from your resort which makes a nice day trip. Through the border town La Linea, the customs and the airport runway that separates the British colony from Spain.
In Gibraltar take the cable car up to the Rock (almost 500 m) and there is a nature reserve. Huge black birds floating in the wind up in the clear skies, loads of different native plants, and native monkeys! The monkey colony living on the Rock is the only one in Europe.
The first monkeys probably are at the top cable car station and more will be hanging around when walking on. Friendly and busy with their monkey babies these monkeys are nice to watch but don’t trust them, they might attack to take your bag or phone.
The Rock of Gibraltar in Photos:
As Gibraltar is a small area, just 5 km long and 1 km wide, you can well see it all from the Rock, and in clear weather you can see Morocco and long ways back to the Costa del Sol coastline as well.
One side of the Rock is very steep and the city is on the less steep side. In the city everything is like in Britain: building style, street signs, mail boxes, iron gates and fences.
Red buses, pubs, beers and fish and chips. And of course they have a British high street and you pay in pounds. It looks like in a Mediterranean Britain everything needs to be extra British.
Street view of Gibraltar, a colony of Great Britain
To learn more about this exceptional place and its monkeys check out their official travel website: Welcome to Gibraltar
Here we are, Liisa and Clas on the Rock of Gibraltar, ready to head back to the Sun Coast! We have seen the Rock and the monkeys.
Goodbye from the pretty Costa del Sol and the Rock of Gibraltar!
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