July 27th, 2012
You can think you know a place in Spain, but later discover you didn’t really know it at all.
I have known of Nerja for several years. Maybe i have been there only twice a year for the past ten years.
But i did not truly get to know Nerja until much more recently. When i spent three days there in the space of one week. And, more and more, i liked what i saw.
In truth I have always liked Nerja. But from a distance. Silly really when it is only a one hour drive away. I should go more often. To see how the other half live. I speak of those enjoying a holiday there by renting one of the exquisite holiday homes available for rent in and around the town.
When you work indoors, inland, day after day; it comes as a bit of a culture shock when you see people sunbathing at breakfast time. By a pool or on the beach. They are in the same country as me, but walking in different shoes. Flip flops usually!
While the idea of being down by the coast three times in one week at the height of summer would have once had me running for the hills; i coped admirably with the busy town. It was actually the heat that wore me down. I can usually be found hiding indoors away from the very hot summer temperatures.
I have never had that snobby attitude towards Nerja favoured by some. In the past ten years i may not have been there as often as i would have liked, but i had been there enough to know that the Spanish identity of this resort on the Costa del Sol had not been lost under the sea of development and mass summer tourism.
Many people go there to see the famous Nerja caves, and that is a must see attraction. But there is much more to Nerja than cavemen.
I had not realised how big the place was until i found myself visiting holidaying friends at opposite ends of the town. Only then did i see that there was much more to Nerja than the famous landmark, the Balcon de Europa.
I have been there previously in winter. When the warming sunshine is a joy and at a time when the streets are much quieter. Take a look at my two photographs of the quaint little beach that sits below the Balcon de Europa, The photo above was taken in July. The one below in December. Same beach but a very different sight. Much flesh and sun lotion on show in summer. And not a prostrate body to be seen in winter.
Yes, you must go to the Balcon de Europa and enjoy the views. But there is much more to see. Sample the wide array of shops and restaurants that are in the centre of Nerja. I like the place. Yes i know it is international. It is a shock for someone living in the country of inland Spain to discover you can have fish and chips for lunch and a curry for dinner; but if that is what many people want on holiday, what’s wrong with that? Each to their own when it comes to holiday time.
The fact that Nerja provides so well what holidaymakers from northern Europe want is the very reason the town has been such a success and, crucially, attracts people back time and time again. Nerja has done much better for itself than some other Spanish coastal locations during the recession. And i see why. The people there try to make a holiday memorable for all the right reasons. They go the extra mile in sending people home from their holiday in a happy and satisfied mood.
Considering how much Nerja has changed over the years, i think the place has done very well to retain so very much of its Spanish charm. Among the sea of flesh on the beach the majority of the sunbathers i saw were from other parts of Spain.
They travel far and wide to come to Nerja. I met holidaymakers from Madrid and Barcelona. They come here every year for the southern sun and sardines. That is what they told me.
I asked Esteban from Alicante why he was not simply sunbathing on the beaches of the Costa Blanca.
He told me: “I can be on a beach there all year long and walk to a beach within two minutes of my home. But, at this time of the year, the beaches there are very busy. I like to come to Andalusia, catch up with friends and i like Nerja. It is here i first ate Thai food, and it is lovely. I come back each year to Nerja and I like to go the beaches near Malaga.
I go to a different museum in Malaga every time, always in the morning. Or to the market. And then we go for sardines on the beach at El Palo just outside the city centre. Then we come back to Nerja for siesta and a good night out – as you British say.”
On a Sunday, the day the Spanish clock to the beach, I found myself slightly outside of the town a five minute walk downhill from the Playa de Burriana. What a nice beach. Not overdeveloped. Not lined with ugly apartment blocks. Shops and restaurants, for sure. But not too many of them.
And the choice is yours when it comes to what you eat. You can have a full English breakfast, should you be missing such food. Or for lunch you can eat true Spanish food, such as grilled sardines or paella, at one of the more traditional restaurants that offer great views of the beach and the sea.
And then, of course, you have the mountains that beckon you inland to come and see a little of the local life beyond the sea. Perhaps to go walking along the lovely Rio Chillar. The surrounding countryside is beautiful and there is terrain to suit all types of walkers. Those who simply like a short stroll and those who are serious walkers in Spain and who, it is advised, come suitably prepared for the terrain.
There is so much more to the area around Nerja than sandy beaches and a lively town centre. Go inland to Frigiliana or further, to the ever popular Competa. Take a drive through stunning scenery to Bermejales, just one of many blindingly blue lakes in Spain. Go on to the lovely town of Alhama de Granada and splash around in the warm waters that are located just outside the Balenario there.
One of the best aspects of getting in your car in Spain is that, within half an hour, you can be in an area so very different from your base on the coast. Life in Alhama de Granada is much slower than in Nerja. But just so long as Antonio continues to serve up mind blowing tapas at his bar El Tigre, in the main plaza of Alhama de Granada; there really is no rush to leave.
But most visitors are in Nerja for the sun, sea and sand. And there is no shortage of fun to be had on the usually calm waters along this coastline. Sail on the Med, fly above it, test your ability to balance by windsurfing. The options are plentiful. Out of high season there may be less going on down on the beach but the upside is that you will have more of the Med to yourself.
Last year business forced a friend of mine to move back to Nerja, having spent many years further along the coastline, at La Herradura on the Costa Tropical.
Alex tells me she was concerned about returning to what she and her husband, chef Kevin, had once labelled ‘the dark side.’
The nickname was created many years ago and was more about some of the local characters, rather than the ever popular Nerja itself.
Like me, Alex has been pleasantly surprised by how Nerja has moved with the times. Even the local characters are full of fun.
It’s that sort of place. There is much more light than shade in Nerja. It put a smile on my face. And you can’t ask for more than that.