Costa del Sol and Costa de la Luz - white beaches, luxury and some hidden jewels
After eight days of driving around and an overflow of amazing cultural experiences we decided to take it more relaxed for the second part of our roadtrip and explore a bit the coastline of Andalusia.
Day 8 Marbella
After our Alhambra tour we headed down south in the afternoon and reached Marbella in the early evening. Marbella is one of the first places that click in mind when talking about a beach holiday in Andalusia. Mainly known as a jetset city where the millionaires of the world are docking their Yachts over summer, Marbella currently looses a bit of its former glory to other more trendy destinations as Ibiza or some newcomers in Croatia and Montenegro. But Port Banus still remains the playground of the rich and famous.
Our accommodation in Marbella was close to Port Banus, but far away from that glittering world and actually the most disappointing hotel of the whole route, the NH Marbella Hotel 4* (www.m.nh-hoteles.es). For our one night it was absolutely ok, but for any longer stay I would really not recommend it. It is one of these ugly concrete bunkers of the Spanish mass tourism area and don't let them fool you with their pretty nice pictures from the website. The pool is beside some construction wasteland (ok to be fair you have to say that they tried to cover that off with a hedge) but still the view from the rooms is ugly and because the building is U-shaped feels like you are imprisoned. Rooms are modern and friendly and breakfast was good apart from the basement terrace surrounded by concrete walls which are disturbing the morning Zen immensely. Reception staff was another disaster - it took them 20 minutes!!! to check in 2 simple rooms, I wonder what they are doing when they have a group to check in and as I just dared to ask if they could speed that a little up they got extremely arrogant and unfriendly - costumer care does look different.
As the Old Town of Marbella was not too far away from our hotel we chose to have our dinner there and we ate the best fish at the Bar Altamirano (www.baraltamirano.es) from our whole trip. The atmosphere was super lively and you really felt among Locals - which is rare in a tourist place like Marbella. For the seating on the nice outdoor terrace they had a waiting list so we chose to sit inside surrounded by merchandising items from various Spanish football clubs.
The Old Town of Marbella with its small pedestrian alleys and nice squares with many bars and restaurants is a very lovely place and completely different from the sea promenade with its ugly high rise apartment and hotel buildings, cheap eateries and bars.
Day 9 / 10 Barbate
After breakfast we wanted to smell a bit the air of luxury and drove down to Port Banus for some Yacht spotting. The harbor is pretty with the mountains in the backdrop and of course filled with the best boats of the Costa. Even if all that glamour is not yours it is nice to have a walk around and have at least a coffee in one of the bars. Shops of course are all on the expansive side. But anyway here it is all about to see and be seen.
We then left all that glamour and beaches filled with tourists to a more quiet region down south. On the way we passed by Gibraltar, the British enclave with its famous rock and even more famous monkeys. Later en route we already could have a glimpse on the mountains of the Moroccan mainland.
Shortly after passing Tarifa we stopped by at a real nice roadside restaurant which was full of tanned and good looking surfboys - as the beaches around Tarifa are very well known among the Surfing and Kiting community as winds are strong and steady. So we had some real good burgers and pizza at Pacha Mama (www.pachamamatarifa.com).
40 minutes later we reached our destination for the next two nights - Barbate. Recommended by a Spanish friend of mine - the village itself has nothing special and also hotels are rare and very basic there. But the big plus of Barbate and the coast around is its beautiful and clean stretches of white beaches with turquoise waters around. For me the best in Barbate was that we were really the only international tourists there. All beachgoers around us were either local families or sSpanish tourists on a long weekend or vacation. I always love this kind of places with a real local touch and no foreigners insight.
As I said our hotel Barbate Adiafa 3* (www.adiafahoteles.com) was very basic, but clean and directly at the public beach. The city beach in Barbate is wide and water is clean, however it is not the best in that area. If you want that real picture postcard ones you need to drive a bit outside of town. In the first section of Barbate beach sunbeds and umbrellas can be rented, but not too many as most of the local people bring their own together with half of their fridge for picnic :-)
Best thing to do in Barbate is to have a walk on the beach in the morning hours when it is still quiet and empty. And afterwards eat CHURROS con CHOCOLATE - that is one of the best inventions of Spain, you will get a sugar spike with that but it is so damn delicious to dip that deep fried Churros in a very thick pot of hot chocolate. And in Barbate they have a Churreria (beside the lighthouse) at the beach for this delicacy open only during morning hours.
If you are in Barbate it is very nice to explore the beaches and coastline around and you also have some nice typical white villages around there, most famous one in that area is Vejer de la Frontera, beautifully located on a steep rock. If you come by car do not park in the resident zones, they will give you immediately a heavy fine - at the main entrance to the village you find a public car park!
It is beautiful to have a walk through Vejer before sunset times to enjoy that magical Andalusian lights. Main meeting point for residents and tourists alike is the small, but picturesque village square. In the evening hours it is very lively around there with some musicians and in the bars and restaurants you can enjoy the village atmosphere.
Not an insider tip anymore but very recommendable for dinner is the El Jardin de Califa (www.califavejer.com). Here you can experience Moroccan and Middle Eastern Fine Dining which has been also recommended by the Michelin Guide and is always ranking No. 1 on Tripadvisor. It is situated in a 16th century building with a beautiful Interior Design, but best is the outside atmosphere in the palm filled courtyard - like a fairy tale from 1001 nights and cuisine is really superb. It is absolutely necessary to do an advanced reservation, otherwise you have to wait like us long time for a table. However waiting is also not that bad there as they have a lovely rooftop terrace with great views and drinks. If you are planning to stay for the night in Vejer they also offer rooms in their Boutique Hotel.
A bit further away from Barbate, but easy to reach over the main highway lies the port city of Cadiz. It is built on a narrow strip of land surrounded by the sea. As home of the Spanish navy the port boomed in the 16th century as a base for exploration and trade. It has more than 100 watchtowers and a 18th century cathedral. Cadiz is actually the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain and one of the oldest in Western Europe, it is sometimes counted as the most ancient city still standing in Western Europe. However nowadays not too much is left from that old glory - in some parts of the Old Town with its narrow winding alleys and wide plazas the city seems a bit runned down and somehow you have a feeling here that this city is rougher than its charming Andalusian neighbors. But still it has a very eclectic feel and attraction. The new part of Cadiz has wider avenues and modern buildings and with its surfboys on the beach promenade reminds me in some ways a bit of Rio de Janeiro.
It is nice to take a walk through the Old Town to explore its plazas and alleys. A visit to the Torre Tavira (www.torretavira.com), the highest watchtower of the city, offers great views and once you have climbed the stairs to the top you can also have a 360 degree look in the Camara Oscura - which projects real time views on a white screen. The Old Town also has a small but popular city beach, La Caleta, and you can take a walk out to the Old Fortress - The Castle San Sebastian, which is located on a small island separated from the city but connected through a bridge.
Fish of course is best eaten in a city like Cadiz and the region is very well known for its delicious tuna and also other seafood. We had some real nice dinner - cooked mama style at Meson la Cartuja, c. Abreu 7 (www.meson-la-cartuja.business.site).
Day 11 Tarifa and Malaga
So today was our last full day of our trip and after a nice final beach walk in Barbate we packed up to return to Malaga. On the way back we stopped at Tarifa which we only have passed when we came and which is located across the street of Gibraltar facing Morocco to which you can also take the ferries from here. As mentioned earlier Tarifa is mainly known as one of the world's most popular destination for wind sports. The strong winds you can even feel in the narrow streets of the Old Town. Most of the shops cater for the surfer crowd and you can find some real nice beach wear and accessories here, especially in some shops of the new town in the main street going towards the Puerta de Jerez. Through this ancient portal you enter the Old City with its many bars, restaurants, bakeries and shops. A perfect place to relax, eat and shop around. You can also find smaller hostels for lower budget travelers or Boutique Hotels like for example the Posada La Sacristia (www.lasacristia.net). And of course you have plenty of surfboard and kite rentals/schools around the beaches, check out for example www.3sixtykiteschooltarifa.com
Then in the late afternoon we reached our final destination Malaga, We checked in at the centrally located Malaga Eurostars Astoria 3* (www.eurostarshotels.com), which is a simple city hotel with actually super small rooms, but for one night it was totally fine. They also have a garage near by for a paid parking and you can walk from there easily to the pedestrian area.
For our last night we wanted to have seafood by the sea and I heard that Malaga has some great places where fish is grilled fresh on the beach. The hotel reception recommended us to take a taxi for that to go to one of the city beaches called Playa de La Caleta located at the neighborhood of Pedregalejo, where you have one restaurant after the other. Here you can find the famous grilled sardines called Espetos, which are best done here in Malaga. Due to the huge variety it is hard to choose a restaurant, but I can recommend Andres Maricuchi (www.andreasmaricuchi.com), where we ate super fresh and delicious prepared seafood dishes and of course also the grilled sardines. Almost perfect - only the waiters were unfortunately pretty unfriendly which is a shame for such a nice place.
Day 12 Malaga and departure
As our flight was only in the early evening we had enough time to explore Malaga and I was really positively surprised about this city and wished we would have one more night there due to its urban but relaxed vibe.
Malaga is probably the Andalusian city that has undergone the most impressive transformation in recent times, giving it a fresh and airy feel. The new pedestrian esplanade running parallel to the Guadalmedina river invites to take a stroll through the city and is popular with residents and tourists alike. The large number of art galleries and the opening of the Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) have turned the city in one of the most active and restless places in Andalusia.
It is nice to take a walk through the bustling streets of the Old Town and have some local food and wine during lunch time at the Market Halls (Mercado de Atarazanas). All the streets around the Plaza de la Constituicion are full of shops, bars, cafes and restaurants, so you can easily spend a full afternoon there. For culture and art lovers is also plenty to see like the Alcazaba Citadel, the Cathedral or the Pablo Picasso Museum just to name a few. Nice also to have a drink on the rooftop bar of the Alcazaba Premium Hotel right beside the Citadel (www.alcazabapremiumhotels.com)
So this was really an amazing trip, arranged by an excellent agency and I really can recommend to everybody to go and explore this beautiful part of Spain it basically has everything - nature, interesting cities, a rich culture and heritage, friendly people, beautiful beaches and excellent food and wines - what you need more for a perfect vacation!
Adios Andalusia hasta muy pronto!