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?
In a beautiful fall morning, my parents and I left the Spanish Riviera, known as "Costa del Sol" and set on a new adventure to Ronda, one of the oldest strongholds of Moorish Spain. Our dramatic, windy- road ascent in Sierra de las Nieves Mountains (over 2400 meters!) suddenly ended on a plateau, and the outskirts of the town started to appear on the horizon.
Our first stop in the Andalusian countryside was a tour of a bullfighting and horse-breeding farm. After paying a visit to the happily roaming animals -- we were told that one bull enjoys the attention of 10 cows(!), we met with Rafael Tejado, the farm's owner. Presently a real matador in his early 40s, after starting out with an engineering degree, he realized that his life's passion was actually bullfighting. ...Did you know that Ronda is the oldest center of bullfighting in Spain? It was a surprise for us too.
After such an immersive encounter with daily Andalusian life, we made our way to Ronda.
The moment we entered the city we felt an excitement in the air. It was the last day of "Feria Goyesca de Pedro Romeo"- An annual festival that starts with a procession of colorful horse-drawn carriages and culminates to bullfighting spectacle. Locals & visitors alike were in a celebratory mood & all dressed in exquisite costumes for the fest. We snapped a couple of pictures and then slowly made our way towards the Old Town.
Overlooking the "El Tajo" Gorge is Puente Nuevo (the "New Bridge"), one of the most spectacular bridges in Spain. It was built in the 18th Century to connect the New & Old Town parts of Ronda, which dates all the way back to the Moorish period between the 8th & 15th Centuries.
Once there, our local guide took us to a hidden architectural treasure, one of the wealthiest homes in the Old Town, which is now converted into a unofficial museum. The highlight was the house's expansive terrace overlooking the gorge & the bridge. The views were mesmerizing!
After a short walk through narrow cobblestone streets and passing white-washed buildings, we were welcomed by another fascinating visit to one of Ronda's wineries. Here, I have to confess that we extended our wine tasting which was on a self-service basis... All the wines were delicious, but my favorite was a sweet, sherry wine. We learned that winemaking is one of the prime sources for Ronda's prosperity compare to other small Andalusian towns. ...A very pleasant surprise -- who knew?
After getting happily tipsy, we were ready to explore further. In our search for a good restaurant, we kind of stumbled into "King Moro's Water Mine" (one of the main points of interest in the Old Town). Carved into the cliffs of "El Tajo" gorge, the mine and the fortress date back to the Moorish Era when the constant wars in Al-Andalus requiring the city government to protect the water supplies to the city and its defenders. Within the mine are 231 steps carved into the rock that leads to the river below, a total distance of 60 meters. After our rapid descend and ascent, my parents and I were totally famished and speedily made our way back to the New Town, where the dining options were plenty. The main street was brimming with activities. the Goyesca festivities were over, and all the participants were enjoying a lazy afternoon with their families. After a delightful late lunch, sadly it was time to say "goodbye" to the mountainous town and make our way back to Costa del Sol. However, we will keep Ronda in our hearts forever.
Has this short read inspired you to visit Ronda yourself?