Exploring the "Old World" in September is my favorite way to embrace the changing seasons and this fall, my heart was set on Southern Spain. Since growing up in Eastern Europe, I remember people talking about Costa del Sol & Marbella, but wasn't quite sure what all the fuss was about.
Costa del Sol (the "Sun Coast"), is your Mediterranean escape to the Spanish Riviera. The region is steeped into the traditional culture as much as any other part of Andalusia. From Picasso to bullfighting, to flamenco, and colorful ferias, Costa del Col has an immense cultural offering.
The region is comprised of small resort towns along the coastline of the province of Malaga, as far south as Gibraltar, and if your time allows, you can even take a day trip to Morocco! As the largest city in the area, Malaga is the main gateway, and from the airport, you can either rent a car or rely on the well-connected local bus companies such as Avanza Portillo to travel up & down the coast.
Travel Tip: The easily-recognizable, red-labeled Avanza Bus ticket counter & the bus stop are located right outside of Malaga Airport Arrivals Exit
Although there are plenty of charming towns along the Costa del Sol such as Fuengirola, Mijas, Estepona, etc., we chose Marbella as a home-base for our one-week, car-free vacation. With a population of over 140,000, the town was larger than we imagined it and is spread out to different neighborhoods. Also, situated just four miles south of the main town, the affluential "Puerto Banus" enclave and its marina is a popular playground for the rich and famous and a quick ride by public bus or ferry service from Marbella. Notably, many of the higher-end hotels are nested on the so-called "Golden Mile" strip (Marbella Club Hotel, Nobu Hotel, Puente Romano), between Puerto Banus and Marbella's center. My family and I stayed in the Town Centre, in a complex located a block from the beach, the sea promenade and 10 min. walk from the historical center.
Travel Tip: The location of your hotel is key if you wish to get around on foot to the main points of interest, alternatively there are regular buses & taxi services to the "Golden Mile" & Puerto Banus.
Marbella's sea promenade is a walker's paradise dotted with hotels, restaurants, bars & shopping that ends in Puerto Banus. It's a lively place until the wee hours. In near proximity with Marbella's Marina is "Avenida del Mar"- a small, palm-fringed square that connects the beach walk with the Old Town. Take the time to study the Mediterranean inspired bronze sculptures of the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali -- a real treat for art-aficionados!
Just a short walk from the sea promenade, the Historical Town of Marbella is a cultural treasure and a favorite gathering place for locals & travelers alike. The labyrinth of pedestrian streets is lined up with Castilian Renaissance period buildings, today meticulously restored and converted into boutiques, cafes & trendy alfresco restaurants. Start with leisurely strolling along the spotless, cobblestone streets and slowly taking in the vibrant scene unfolding in front of your eyes. At the moment you might think that you are lost, the streets suddenly emerge into small plazas, home to churches and romantic fountains.
Right in the middle of this whole maze is the iconic "Plaza de Los Naranjos"(plaza with the orange trees), which dates back to the 15th Century, right after the Christian re-conquest of the city from the Moors), and the historic Town Hall. Dominating the square is the most important building in town, the Church of St Mary, constructed at the beginning of the 17th Century. Go ahead and stay in at one of the plazas for a late-night, live local performance while sipping a glass of Spanish wine.
Between the endless sea promenade, Puerto Banus & the Old Town, combined with the easy day trips to the heart of Andalusia & Gibraltar, Marbella captured our hearts and left long-lasting memories. Are you ready to start planning your vacation to the Spanish Riviera?
Most travelers outside of Europe have heard about the famous Santorini and Mykonos and might wonder what to see and do in Crete. After visiting Crete for a week, I just like to share with you why should you put this island on your travel list.
Crete is the southernmost and largest island in the Greek Archipelago, 3206 sq miles and actually, the fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. The best way to explore the island is either to rent a car or using the well-developed Public Bus Services Ktel. In general, renting a car will be lower cost than using the Crete public buses. The local currency is Euro, No visa requirements for US Citizens.
A cradle of the Ancient Minoan Civilization, the island offers the unique combination of romantic, beach and cultural/history immersive vacation. In addition, the hotel rates and dining out/shopping is more affordable than the neighboring and popular Santorini. Crete has a Mediterranean climate, with long summer season until October and milder winter in the 50s (Fahrenheit).
Where to stay in Crete?
My parents and I stayed in magical Chania, built on the top of the ancient Minoan town of Kydonia, and known for its well-preserved old Venetian Harbor, dating back to the Venetian (13-17th Century) and the Turkish rule (17-19th Century), located northwest of Heraklion, the capital of Crete. Chania has an international airport with daily direct flights from Athens via Ryan Air, Aegean, & Olympic Air. A number of boutique hotels offer memorable experience such as Querini & Porto Del Colombo. As an alternative, Rethymno is a smaller town, an hour east of Chania, with intense Medieval architecture and lovely Venetian Port. With its busy industrial vibe, the capital of Crete, Heraklion not suitable for a longer vacation.
What to see in Crete?
Wonder around in Chania's Old Town
If you choose to stay in Chania, start from the Old Venetian Harbor and explore the Venetian Lighthouse, the Turkish Mosque or get lost in the expansive labyrinth of small romantic streets. The Old Town is brimming with boutique hotels, lively, locally run restaurants and fantastic shopping! Have a memorable dinner in Mesostrato restaurant, situated in 16 Century Venetian building or get a cocktail at one of the waterfront cafes. If time permits, visit Archaeological Museum of Chania or the Maritime Museum of Crete or take a day trip to Rethymno. When you are ready to work on your tan, Chania's beach is always an option- although not the best beach in the area, it is walking distance from majority of accommodations.
Visit Knossos Palace, Heraklion
If you have even a remote interest in ancient history, visit Knossos Palace, the capital of Minoan Crete and the mythical King Minos is a must, combined with a visit to the recently-renovated Archaeological Museum in Heraklion where the original finds from the Palace are on display.
Travel Tip: If you are staying in Chania, a day trip (88 miles one way) to Knossos can be arranged with local tour agencies, book in advance.
Explore Crete's pristine beaches
One of the best beaches in Crete can be found in Chania's region. Most of them are easily accessible via car rental(1-1.30 hrs drive). Gorgeous beaches such as Falassarna and Elafonissi, known for their pink sand beaches can be even accessed via Crete's local bus system known as KTEL Public Bus Services. My parents and I decided on taking an organized day cruise to Balos Lagoon & Gramvousa Fortress (dating back to the Venetian Period Rule) with Cretan Daily Cruises- highly recommended!
Are you ready to plan your Mediterranean escape?