June 15th, 2012
I was asked recently to name my favourite five coastal destinations in Spain.
One each from the Costa Blanca, Costa Brava, Costa de La Luz, Costa del Sol and the Costa Tropical.
A tough challenge. But here goes. My famous and favourite five.
On the Costa Blanca there is no shortage of choice. It is a touch unfair to pick one location from the many excellent places along this vast and varied stretch of coastline.
This is not about the best beach. I have tried to take all factors into account and it is a personal choice.
After much deliberation my vote goes to the city of Alicante, with the much smaller but ever popular Moraira coming a close second.
Alicante is a great city that is often ignored by those holidaying in famous resorts further along the coast. But in Alicante you have everything on your doorstep. Excellent wide beaches, superb shopping, authentic Spanish bars and restaurants, lots of attractions for the children and a great central location for travelling east and west along the coast. Or, a favourite of mine, going inland and visiting some traditional villages and towns that are within a twenty minute or so drive of the city.
There are some well known places to go for day or half day trips. Places like Altea have been high on the holidaymaker list for decades.
In the direction of Elche, famous for its glorious garden, I also liked the coastal resort of Santa Pola. A very authentic destination that has dealt with the march of time without losing its core appeal. Then there are inland locations such as Sax, Elda and Petrer – Spanish towns that go about their business as though tourism never arrived in Spain.
If you are looking to buy shoes, then Elche and the surrounding villages are the place to go. This is the capital of shoe making in Spain.
Back in Alicante my feet do all the walking. You neither require nor want wheels in this city. Alicante is best seen on foot. Walk to lively bars such as Lizarran and experience tapas Basque style.
Walk to visit the town hall. Now a town hall is not somewhere you will usually find in the tourist guide books. But the town hall (Ayuntamiento) in Alicante, which faces the seafront, is one worth going to.
In the reception area there is a statue of Salvador Dali. On the very first step of the grand staircase is the ‘cota cero’. This is a brass stud used to measure the height of the sea level of all the towns and cities in Spain. You are allowed to go up those stairs where you can walk into the stand out ‘Blue Room’ and a small chapel.
The Mubag museum is located in an 18th century mansion, the Palacio Gravina. The Museo de la Asegurada, in Plaza Santa María, is directly next to the oldest church in Alicante. Both museums display art by Dali, Picasso and Miró.
Then there is the unmissable castle of Santa Bárbara which sits high above you on the top of Monte Benacantil and offers you superb views of the Costa Blanca.
Further north, my favourite destination on the Costa Brava has to be Sa Riera and the very close by town of Begur. Already there is a theme developing here. I need to have something more available than just a beach. I need for there to be a town or city close by. Some life, some culture and some restaurants.
I found the beach at Sa Riera to be charming and the surrounding housing to feel very homely. There are probably more popular beach locations nearby. Those at Llafranc and Tamariu. But i prefer Sa Riera for how relatively quiet it is and how it only has what anyone would need and no more.
And the splendidly sophisticated Begur is so close to hand, you don’t need to stray further for fine food and the feel of life in what is effectively a laid back small city. I love it in Begur and I’d happily stay in this area for a long time.
Another tough choice is when it comes to picking one place along the Costa de la Luz. Simply for there being more to do I have to choose the city of Cadiz over the much smaller but, in its own way equally delightful, Sanlucar de Barrameda.
Cadiz is, as with Alicante, is one of those Spanish cities by the sea that entice me. To be able to walk from the city to the beach, and vice versa, is a big plus for me. I tend to get bored on the beach very quickly so I want to be able to know there is more to the place I am visiting than just endless sand.
Though the sandy beaches along the Costa de la Luz are among the very best in the country. For me a beach is not truly a beach unless it is sandy. And Cadiz offers no shortage of sand in your shoes.
But the city itself is a delight to walk around. Many a cobbled street. Avenues and alleyways to discover. It would be like Granada if you moved that great city 45 minutes south to the Costa Tropical.
Which brings me to that coastline. I cannot really have the best of both worlds along this coastline as the vastly underrated city of Motril is a bus ride or short drive from the beaches, including Playa Granada. So city life is not exactly within walking distance.
Instead i opt for the sheltered location of La Herradura. Not too big for its own good. Almost a seaside location where time has stood still. Quaint and quirky. For ten months of the year a haven of peace with a village feel to it.
Not lots to do here so this is a place to stay purely for relaxation. Rent a property for a couple of weeks and you can chill out here while also visiting the neighbouring towns of Almuñécar and Salobrena.
La Herradura has some nice restaurants and bars on the beach and along the first line. For much of the year you can park on the edge of the beach and there are no shortage of water sports available. Or you could take to the air. From high above the Costa Tropical you will be able to see for many miles along the more famous Costa del Sol.
Now to pick one destination from this very long stretch of coastline is faintly ridiculous. There is so much to choose from. And your choice should be based on how much commercialisation you want to have at your fingertips. Families may want big beaches and food on offer that they are more used to in their home countries.
I would rather be on the stretch of coastline at Pedregalejo outside the marvellous city of Malaga. I love strolling along the walkway between here and El Palo. A pleasant flat walk that is enjoyed by those who like to take their time and those for whom this has to be one of the most scenic of locations for speed walking. The fitness folk who can walk at a fast pace, cycle or work out on the delightful sandy beach.
The Spanish love these beaches for the very fact that the area retains a very Spanish feel to it. And the beaches are so child friendly.
There are plenty of restaurants and cool cafes in this superb setting. You can walk into the city of Malaga from here if you wish, though best not at the height of a summers day. Malaga itself has lots of attractions. Some well known, such as the Picasso Museum. Others that are less well known but waiting for you to discover them. Malaga is a marvellous city.
Back on the coastline between Pedregalejo and El Palo those who enjoy savouring seafood are in seventh heaven. Sardines cooked in front of you on the beach is special. But there are a few places where carnivores can satisfy there appetite for meat.
I tend to start at one end of the strip with orange juice and coffee for breakfast and end up at the other end, at El Palo, experiencing the joys of the much celebrated restaurant, El Tintero II.
And, whichever coastline of Spain you find yourself visiting, dining out with a view of the sea is one of the most memorable highlights of being in the country.