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?