April 5th, 2012
A perennial question asked of me is: “why should i go to… what for… what’s there?”
If i had a Euro for every time i have been asked such a question, well, i wouldn’t be writing this now. I would be on the beach. And, more likely than not, somewhere along the Costa Tropical. The most appropriately named stretch of coastline in all of Spain.
For so much of the year it feels positively tropical anywhere between the quaint La Herradura in the west – where time has stood still, despite the worst efforts of local politicians – and the so overlooked city of Motril in the east.
I have been known to have breakfast in one place, lunch in the next and, finally, an end of tour drink on the beach.
La Herradura reminds me of coastal holidays as a child. Not in Spain, i hasten to add. But in the then smaller holiday resorts of the UK. The places where you could stroll on boardwalks, as you can today in La Herradura. The places where small, individual shops offer the visitor what they want. Not a seafront full of big supermarkets and chain boutiques.
La Herradura, also known as ‘the horseshoe’, is such a place. It reminds me of charming coastal town of the nineteen sixties.
So far the plan by the former mayor to remove the wooden boards that you can stroll on has not been taken up by his successors. It would be madness to remove something that makes this place different from elsewhere. You can walk on pavement lined seafronts anywhere. So why make La Herradura the same when it has something unique?
For much of the year this location is warm. Better still, for most of the year it is quiet. Not so at the height of summer, obviously. Then it is a heaving mass of sweating human flesh. Yuck!
But for ten months of the year you can choose where you want to sit on the beach. For some of the year you can even park on the seafront without charge. Though i feel sure the local politicians will change that sooner or later.
The chiringuitos on the beach are well spaced out and serve good fish caught locally. Some are more basic than others and, therefore, you can dine at the one that more suits your budget and tastebuds.
But whether you are dining out, having a drink or bring your own picnic to the beach; La Herradura offers good views from the beach and a taste of what coastal holidays were like when i was a lad.
There is even an excellent garden centre just behind the coastal road, within a two minute walk from the beach itself, for those of you who want to take plants, not pebbles back you the holiday home you have rented in La Herradura.
Further along the Costa Tropical heading east you arrive in the bigger, brasher town of Almuñécar. A place that has changed greatly since the author Laurie Lee lived here and later wrote about the then small fishing village.
I recall when i first turned up in Almuñécar ten years ago and, as can happen, i didn’t see the heart of the place on that premiere visit. I foolishy thought there was little worth seeing.
Seven years on my thinking is very different. I now know Almuñécar well and I like how diverse the place is. I also take my hat off to the locals for somehow managing to keep the old part of the town full of character. A sight that always amuses me in the summer months is the contrast between the view of red hot tourist flesh walking around, set against a backdrop of senior citizens of the town sat down on benches watching on in annual amazement.
I sat down with them once. Their conversations about the scantily dressed male and female holidaymakers was hilarious. I am willing to bet they have that conversation every July and August. They seem baffled as to why anyone wants to fly thousands of miles to burn themselves. They also don’t understand why foreign families come to Spain only, to their eyes at least, to argue with each other.
I know what they mean. Again, that is why i tend to enjoy the Costa Tropical outside of the height of summer. Almuñécar is so enjoyable in winter. Warm by northern European standards, but without the crowds. I suggest you wander the avenues and alleyways of the old town. The sun shines, most of the bars and restaurants are open all year round and time passes slowly here.
It is a real, workmanlike town where life goes on 365 days of the year. Not a seaside destination created purely for tourism.
Martin Bright has worked there for many years and knows every crevice of the place. He says: “Friday is market day and it is a good day to see the town at its liveliest. Since our office is well situated in Almuñécar this is the day we get most enquiries through the door. Queries such as: “Where is the market?” or “Where can I buy a stamp?”
Nicolas and Louisa Manousakis have lived in Almuñécar eight years and run the Zen II Internet shop in the old part of town, just a five minute walk from the beach.
Louisa says: “We continue to cherish the awesome sunrises and star filled nights. We awaken in time to greet the morning sun, something we have done since the first day we arrived, summer or winter.”
I am not a beach person but i think the increase in the quantity and variety of exercise machines that have been erected on the vast expanse of beaches along this coast are a great addition. Only the fittest should work out on these when summer temperatures touch 40 celsius, but for the rest of the year these are a splendid diversion from the boredom – for me at least – of sitting on the beach.
For my part i sit outside the excellent international restaurant Iguana Playa at Playa del Pozuelo. Here i can satisfy my love for Thai, French, Greek or Spanish cooking while watching families enjoy the peaceful pleasures of the little sheltered bay in front of me.
For afters i go travel further east to the likes of Salobreña and Motril. The first named is another place that is a very different one outside of July and August. For those two months it welcomes visitors from all over the world. For the rest of the year it is simply an everyday Spanish town going about its business.
Do climb up to the top of Salobreña. Do not make the mistake i made when showing someone around for the first time. I was by then used to the steep climb towards the castle and thought little of walking ever upwards in 36 degree of humidity. But my companion struggled, so best you do this at cooler times.
But it is worth the effort. Like so many castles in Spain, this one is worth a visit. Close your eyes and mentally step back in time to the era when this operated as a prison. Look down and imagine the horror faced by those thrown from the rocks into the sea below. Back then Salobreña was one almighty sugar plantation. Sadly little of that industry survives today.
Nightime is a good time to savour the delights of upper Salobreña. A drink perhaps at the welcoming Taberna Alhaja, where Claudio serves up good food and wine and has a superb taste in music. His CD collection is one i covet. He only opens in the evenings and there is a nice shady patio area outside.
His bar is located close to the castle, museum and church. Do not go to the top of Salobreña without seeing all three and do admire the 360 degree views.
And admiring the views is something i do at my last stop on my journey along the Costa Tropical. I have the permitted one alcoholic drink at Bar Sumo on the beach of Playa Granada, Motril. I sink into their deep whicker chairs, revel in the playing of what i call ‘proper music’ and polish off the plate full of crisps, nuts and sweets served up with my drink.
I look upon the port of Motril and those who arrive on cruise liners only to be shipped off immediately to see the Alhambra Palace in Granada. I admire the athleticism of those sporty types, the magnificent men in their flying machines. What great views they must have not just of the coastline but of the Sierra Nevada mountains which are, for so much of the year, covered in snow.
I recall hearing a child ask her mother if she could “go play in the snow.” Well it is a bit of a journey but i do know many people who really do split their day between the beaches of Motril and the ski resort.
I sit outside bar Sumo and watch the sun setting off in the west. The best sunset sky i ever saw was in Benidorm on the Costa Blanca. But those viewable from Motril are also memorable.
But don’t leave Motril without a stroll around town. Be it for the shops, lively bars or to walk up a little into the older and more characterful old part of town near the football ground.
If you travel further east you are leaving the Costa Tropical behind. Soon you will be well and truly on the coastal road to Almeria. If you are a heat seeker then the warmth you will feel in Almeria will be a much drier one than the more humid heat of the Costa Tropical.
Too much has changed in Spain over the past three decades. But the one thing not even the misguided local authorities can mess up is the weather. And they cannot charge you for the year round warm temperatures.