We know, with 320 sunny days, it is tempting to never leave your beach chair on the Costa del Sol. And especially not when you have a chilled drink by your side. And yet, the sunniest of all Spanish regions is more than sea, beach and parties that only end when the moon becomes a sun. The possibilities for excursions on the Costa del Sol are endless.
Here even the biggest beach hater does not get bored! Charming villages where – so the cliché always goes – time stands still, natural landscapes that would convince even Joke Schauvliege to radically ban concrete, mountains that invite long walks, good food and a fascinating history. In short, much more than the average beach vacation brochure would have you believe.
So make the effort to hoist yourself out of your comfortable folding seat anyway. Leave the sangria for once and explore the following Andalusian gems.
(You made a mistake of region? Don’t panic, here you will find the best day trips on the Costa Blanca).
We are not going to claim that Estepona is a well-kept secret on the Costa del Sol, or that the masses have not yet found their way to this old fishing village. What it does is that despite tourism, it has been able to perfectly retain its ancient Spanish charm. In fact, the village center of Estepona is one of the most authentic on the Costa del Sol.
Cobbled alleys with whitewashed houses from the 18th and 19th centuries, with charming flower pots in front of the facade and lots of color in the streetscape – a walk through Estepona is a time travel to another – older – Spain, a land where siesta is still sacred and neighbors talk to each other from their doorways. Everywhere you will see sympathetic balconies, murals and mosaic art. Settle down in a picture-perfect square with a tapa and a beer and enjoy. Yes, Estepona is truly a fairy tale.
Not only the city center enchants visitors. There is also the weekly market, every Wednesday, where market vendors sell you everything you need, from fruits and vegetables to clothes and cosmetics. Besides the city’s two beaches and an endless traffic-free promenade, there are a host of smaller, quieter stretches of sand and inlets nearby where it’s great to relax. If you can’t find a beach to your liking here, where can you?
In the old fishing port, you can find a willing captain who can show you the most beautiful spots by sailboat. On a trip you can spot not only the Rock of Gibraltar, but also the northern coast of Africa! So that’s how close you are to the black continent here.
>>Where? About 30 kilometers west of Marbella
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The entire region of Andalusia is known for its picture-perfect white villages, or pueblos blancos, but Acebuchal is perhaps the most special of all. Not least because of the sinister history of this village situated against a mountainside on the edge of the nature reserve – take a breath – Sierra de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama. General Franco, the dictator who held Spain in an iron grip for decades, forced the 200 residents to leave their hometown in the 1940s. He suspected they were in collusion with the guerrillas who were holed up in the dramatic mountains of the region.
For half a century Acebuchal was a ghost village, even though Franco had been under the sod for a long time. It wasn’t until 1998 that the son of an original resident pumped new life into the abandoned streets and dusted buildings. He restored one and all and now Acebuchal is a favorite day trip of tourists in Nerja. During the Franco regime this was not the nicest place to hang out, now all the more so. Its photogenic whitewashed facades and colorful furnishings make this petite village an attraction for photographers. Although they can only plop their photos on Instagram afterwards, because there is neither wifi nor phone coverage here.
If you want to escape the busy coasts for a while, in other words, this is the ideal destination. You step right back in time half a century. And the surrounding area, with its pine and olive trees, its streams, its ravines and its rocks, is an amusement park for hikers and mountain bikers.
>>Where? A good ten kilometers north of Nerja, just past Frigiliana.
Caminito del Rey
Is this what Lou Reed meant when he sang, “Hey babe, let’s take a walk on the wild side”? No, El Caminito del Rey, or the King’s Trail, is not for hikers afraid of heights. This was once the “most dangerous trail in the world,” a path along steep cliffs with a fearsome deep 100 meters below. The trail came after a government idea to generate electricity using the waterfalls of nearby Choro and Gaitanejo. Donkeys used the path to transport construction materials for the hydraulic power plants. And yes, the then King Alfons XIII also walked the path. We don’t see Filip doing it yet.
Today el Caminito del Rey is secured and equipped with railings. That said, the adrenaline will still be pumping through your veins as you walk along this three-kilometer trail. It is definitely something different from a stroll on the Kalmthoutse Heide. But the unique experience is well worth the excitement. You can enjoy unparalleled scenery and views of a turquoise reservoir. Royal!
>>Where? About 65 kilometers northwest of Malaga.
This is the favorite beach destination of many a Malaga resident. No wonder: the beaches there are magnificent. Here you are far away from the noisy and crowded beaches of Malaga and Marbella. This is why Nerja attracts many families. Do like the Spaniards and pull out all day to do nothing. Rent an umbrella, find a nice spot and enjoy. Are you getting hungry? Lunch can be had at a chiringuito, a shack on the beach where the seafood is at its freshest and where you can usually score a drink as well. Lunch should be followed by a siesta, of course, and where better to snooze than on a beach?
Those who like it more active can rent kayaks or take an adventurous hike along the Rio Chillar. In the latter, you cross the river several times. For a dose of stalagmites and stalactites, head to the Nerja Caves, one of the largest cave complexes in Europe. Scientists here discovered the oldest cave paintings of Neanderthals in the world – more than 42,000 years old. And you who thought Picasso, born some 70 kilometers away in Malaga, was the greatest Spanish painter!
>>Where? About 70 kilometers east of Malaga.
El Torcal de Antequera
Speaking of Picasso, his works cannot match the sculptures at El Torcal de Antequera. Which proves once again that nature is the most fabulous sculptor. Walking around among these formations of karst, eroded by weather and wind, is an almost surreal experience. Especially if you also see Spanish ibex clambering over the rocks and golden eagles soaring over the landscape. By the way: archaeologists also found cave paintings and dolmens here. The prehistoric Spaniards could do something. If you have grown tired of all the scrambling over trails, pause under one of the grandiose montpellieres maples.
>>Where? Just under 60 kilometers north of Malaga.
The Costa de Sol is 300 kilometers of heaven on earth, we hardly dispute that. But perhaps after reading the above you already realize that the interior has a lot to offer as well. From the moment you leave the coast behind, you enter a very different Andalusia. It is an Andalusia of misty sierras, cork oak forests and almond orchards. You will discover spectacular canyons and gorges, hiking trails where you will only meet a shepherd and small Moorish villages with bodegas where iberian hams hang on the wall and where the bottle of Rioja is always waiting for you.
Deep in that hinterland you will find Lake Bermejales, a chrome-blue reservoir surrounded by cypress and pine trees that would definitely not look out of place on a postcard. Here you can swim, kayak or float down slides with the kiddies. Sunbathing, soaking in hot tubs or picnicking are also among the options. Cars and motorcycles are not allowed around the lake – so you get the peace and quiet for free.
Where? About 85 kilometers from both Motril and Nerja, 50 kilometers from Granada.
Ronda and Alhama de Granada
When it comes to spectacular gorges, Ronda in particular is world famous. With good reason, because this white village sits on a rock 800 meters high, skillfully split in two by a deep gorge. You can walk yourself from one part of the city to another along the Puento Nuevo, but be sure not to peer into the depths.
Less touristy, but almost as beautiful: Alhama de Granada. You guessed it, here too a gulf gapes at the edges of the village. Not far away is the Sierra de Tejedo, Almijara y Alhama – a nature reserve that invites you to lace up your hiking boots for a trek through olive and almond trees. You can also feast on roast pork with sherry and raisins here, or enjoy the ancient thermal baths whose salvation was already discovered and recognized by the Romans.
Where? Ronda is about 65 kilometers northwest of Marbella, Alhama de Granada about 70 kilometers from Nerja and 60 kilometers from Granada.