The Costa del Sol lazily stretches out along the southern Mediterranean coast of Spain. Not really committing to the industrious ambitions of Barcelona or Madrid, the coast is a land of perpetual siesta, where work orders are responded to with a simple “manana,” and beaches gradually disappear into salty azure waters. It is the kind of place that convertibles were invented for.
To tackle it in 3 days would be a shame, but better than having not visited at all. To really cover the ground necessary along the Costa del Sol, an automobile is necessary. Luckily, car rentals in Spain are very affordable, as cheap as 15 Euros per day. Inexpensive flights also abound from all over Europe on Easyjet and Ryanair. It is possible to fly to Malaga for under 20 U.S. dollars from Barcelona round-trip. Once you have arrived along this golden coast of white villages and luxurious beaches, there is much to do and see. Read on…
If you are arriving by plane or train, then your adventure will likely begin in Malaga – birthplace of Picasso and one of the oldest cities in Europe. Start with a climb up to the Moorish castle of Castillo de Gibralfaro for a history lesson and a stunning view out across Malaga and the Mediterranean. It is tough to miss the attraction as it looms high over the city. If it is bullfighting season (Spring-Autumn, with August being the busiest month in Malaga), then check out a fight at the nearby Plaza La Malagueta after your climb.
Dropping by Picasso’s childhood home in the Plaza de la Merced is another top attraction and rewards the visitor with childhood paintings by the master himself. A day in Malaga is not complete without feasting upon a table of tapas. The undisputed top spot for tapas in Malaga is Tapeo de Cervantes. Be sure to get there early, and follow it with a Flamenco show if you have the energy at Kelipe Centro de Arte Flamenco. They have shows on Friday and Saturday nights at 9pm, but be sure to reserve in advance by email. If on a serious budget, then check out Melting Pot Hostel for a room. For a proper hotel, I prefer the modern, bright, and charming Petit Palace Plaza, which is also quite a bargain.
Day 2 – The Alhambra and Nerja
For the best Islamic architecture in the world, it is not necessary to travel to the middle east or northern Africa. The Alhambra is an ideal and is located in Granada, Spain. Wake up early and head east from Malaga on Spain’s excellent highway system. The Alhambra rests in the hills overlooking old Granada, and is the type of scene that reminds you why you travel. Take your time with the Alhambra. It is a spellbinding palace awash in the stories of Moorish times. When you are done wandering its storied halls, head down to Nerja, known as the balcony of Europe. Take in the beach, check out the lazy white washed town, or even explore the nearby cave system. Spain is filled with little towns that are extremely difficult to leave. Nerja is such a place. Stay the night at the Puerta del Mar, and feast on fresh seafood at Calabaza.
Day 3 – Gibraltar
It is a long drive to Gibraltar, but if you have the energy, and are not hypnotized into lounging around Nerja for the remainder of your days, then start heading west towards The Rock. Gibraltar has a strange and colorful history as the northern pillar of Hercules. Once thought to be the marker for the end of the western world, it has been a battleground, a British enclave, and even the last refuge for the Neanderthals. To reach Gibraltar, you must drive to La Linea de la Concepcion, park, and walk across the Gibraltar Airport runway. This is an interesting passage as any, especially if you must contend with a commercial plane descending on the narrow strip of cement. The island has a decidedly British feel, and is filled with pubs and schoolchildren in British academy uniforms. While Spain has repeatedly requested the return of Gibraltar from the United Kingdom, the Brits do not intend to part with the territory. It has become a small tropical Britain at the southern tip of Spain.
The real attraction is the Rock of Gibraltar, which has repeatedly served as a natural fortress throughout history. Its storied past of battles is written with holes for cannons and caves that served as barracks. Everyone from the Phoenicians to the Moors to the Brits have used this rock as a strategic stronghold at the end of the world. The Rock is also home to the only wild monkeys in continental Europe – Barnaby Macaques. They occupy the upper rock, and have separated into many rival gangs that compete for resources. They are cheeky creatures, and are well known for snatching ice cream cones from unsuspecting rubes for an easy snack. One can either climb the rock on foot or take a van up to the top. Finish the day with dinner at one of Gibraltar’s excellent restaurants, and stay the night in the ape infested Rock Hotel Gibraltar.
Extra – Tarifa or Morocco
If you find yourself with some extra time, then check out Tarifa, where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic. With golden beaches and a fast ferry to Morocco, Tarifa is both a lazy place to lounge and a gateway to Africa. Tarifa is one of Europe’s, and the world’s, top beaches.