Costa No Soul

From the gloomy gray and freezing latitudes of northern Europe, the allure of a low-cost February flight to sun-drenched southern Spain must be hard to resist. To those that can’t endure the cold any longer, most fly to Málaga, the “Capital of the Costa del Sol”.

Sunbathers on beach

This couple has found their place in the sun on the Costa del Sol

The Costa del Sol is a series of beach resorts along the coast of Málaga province, branded by the Spanish government to help foreign vacationers find their place in the sun. To further aid the winter-weary holidaymaker, a frequent and economical train service links Málaga and its international airport with the renowned beaches of Fuengirola and Torremolinos.

Torremolinos boats

Torremolinos: From Fishing Village to Beach Resort

Torremolinos, just four miles (6.5 km) from the airport, was the first of the Costa del Sol resorts to be developed in the late 1950s. Formerly a poor fishing settlement, Torremolinos is now a jungle of concrete apartment blocks facing the mild-mannered Mediterranean Sea.

Terrace faces

Torremolinos Cafe Terrace: Are we still in Spain?

To see Torremolinos for ourselves, stroll its sweeping beachside promenade, and have lunch at one of its many restaurants, we made the 20-minute train trip from the center of Málaga city. Predictably, Torremolinos doesn’t look much like the rest of Spain.

Restaurant signage

English Home Cooking in Torremolinos

Stepping off the train, we were surprised by all the people speaking Germanic languages like us. If you don’t speak Spanish, there is no problema in Torremolinos. English, German, Scandinavian, and Dutch are all spoken here.

Souvinirs

Souvenir Shop, Torremolinos

Walking down from the train station to the beach, the narrow streets are a gauntlet of souvenir shops selling tee-shirts, trinkets, and trivialities. If you are looking for a cheap mass-produced memento to take home from Spain, there is an endless assortment in Torremolinos.

Man on promenade

Promenading Along the Seafront, Torremolinos

Once through the souvenir zone, the beach of Torremolinos is a repetitious five-mile (8 km) long swath of sand backed by a broad beachside promenade. On this brisk and breezy day, the seafront esplanade was a continuous stream flowing with “older” folks like us, out for a morning walk.

Es snacks

Returning to Nederland for Its Snacks, Torremolinos

All along the promenade we passed a never-ending string of northern European restaurants. Since Esther was born and raised in Holland, she insisted that we stop at a Dutch restaurant that served all of her beloved childhood snacks. After lunching on loempia, bitterballen, friet with peanut sauce, and appeltaart for dessert, we felt like we had left Spain and returned to Nederland.

Fuengirola apts

The Beach Resort of Fuengirola, Costa del Sol

In Torremolinos, the usual sights, sounds, and smells of Spain have been swapped with northern European niceties to help vacationers feel at home. As we boarded the train and returned to Málaga city, we had to admit that our day trip to Torremolinos and the congenial Costa del Sol was a welcome respite from the unceasing soul of southern Spain.

Fishermen lighthouse

 

Blogger’s Note: This past week, we had the very good fortune to make friends with Fiona and Con, a couple of intrepid fellow travelers from the Solway Firth, on the border between England and Scotland. We first met at a bus stop in the coastal town of Nerja, and later re-united for a fun and interesting night on-the-town in Málaga. Like us, they had come to southern Spain to escape the cold of winter and enjoy some outdoor activity and Spanish atmosphere. As we bounced between Spanish tapas bars, Esther and I agreed that sharing some laughs and getting to know our enjoyable new friends has been one of the highlights of our month in Málaga.

 

18 thoughts on “Costa No Soul

  1. Blue skies and blue water, what more do you need? Oh yes, new traveling buddies. Good for you!
    I was going to ask you what those things were in the final picture, but rather than wait for your answer I googled “concrete ocean three prongs” and learned they’re Tetrapods. I take it they can get some strong waves there?

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    • Sorry to keep you waiting, Christi. I didn’t know those Tetrapods had a name. Thanks for looking them up for me. I thought they looked like that ancient game of jacks that we used to play when we were bored as kids. The day we visited, Ken and Barbie were out surfing the miniature waves. The hefty Tetrapods had the day off, but they still looked like something interesting to photograph.

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  2. Hi Joe, here’s an Englishman’s perspective. Now, I’ll choose my words as carefully as you have. Here in England, Torremolinos, along with Benidorm, Magaluf and Los Cristianos on Tenerife, is renowned for attracting a certain type of Brit. How shall I say this? Perhaps not the poshest of the Brits… We haven’t actually visited Torremolinos, so can’t really comment, but its reputation over here leaves it fairly low on our wish list!

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    • Thank you very much for your perspective, Phil & Michaela. It didn’t take us long to realize that Torremolinos is really geared toward common folks in search of budget sunshine. As a result, it is quite monotonous and of limited interest. We wouldn’t go out of our way to stay there, but it was an easy and enjoyable getaway from Málaga. Our new friends from Solway stayed in the hillside Moorish town of Frigiliana and hiked for a week. Now, I would add that adventure to my wish list!

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    • You are so right, Deb. Whether it is tackling an arduous ascent of Mt. Whitney or just waiting for a bus, the journey is greatly enhanced by the people we share the experience with. Most of the time, we fail to get to know our fellow travelers, but when we do, it is a real bonus. All the best to you and Jeff!

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    • For sure, Dave. Esther has really made my world interesting and amusing. Without her, I never would have selected a Dutch restaurant for lunch, or had any idea what to order. I had a lot of fun just watching her excitement as she tried to narrow down her menu selection. For her, besides the beaches and shopping, which we didn’t really participate in, Torremolinos will always be a great place to get some good home cooking.

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  3. Yes, finding “tourist friendly” spots on our travels can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it is nice to encounter something so familiar. On the other hand, we miss the authentic experience of the real local culture. Maybe a brief trip to such a place, as you and your wife experienced, is the best answer!

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    • Ann, You have really encapsulated our experiences and feelings in Torremolinos. One of the reasons we like to stay a month in a place is the immersion effect. We normally don’t seek out the familiar (e.g., American movies, Starbucks, expat gatherings, etc.), but it is always a pleasure when we do. Of all its wonderful benefits, traveling in foreign lands can sometimes leave us craving the familiar or a little taste from home. Torremolinos is an ideal place for such a brief respite from everything Spanish.

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  4. Sounds like my kind of place; I’m a sucker for touristy “traps” that appeal to accidental travelers, as I often tend to be (and certainly my wife falls into that category too). Looks like it worked out for you guys, as you met two friends. Enjoy that beautiful weather! – Marty

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    • Hi Marty, There is really nothing wrong with the Costa del Sol and Torremolinos in particular. It is clean, safe, friendly, and easy to navigate for the foreign tourist. The beaches are long and pleasant and the weather is spectacular. Room rates and restaurant prices are reasonable, and English is spoken in most places. I just found it very uninspiring. The never-ending beach bars, souvenir shops, and “foreign” restaurants were just too repetitious and monotonous. Not a drop of rain yet this month…no complaint there!

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  5. I have not been to Torremolinos, but I know what you mean by “Costa no soul “. Some of the Costa have became a bit of a concrete jungle, no charm at all. But people do flock there to escape the gloomy British winter and or other parts of Europe with hard winters. My mother and father -in-law used to have an apartment in Fuengerola and we visited them there few times. It never felt very Spanish to us, but rather Britain in the sun. We did enjoy being there with family and friends. Lovely to see Esther getting a taste of her childhood home 🙂

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    • Bonjour Gilda, I like your apt description of Costa del Sol as “Britain in the sun”. We did see quite a few English pubs and fish and chips shops, and heard a lot of British accents. I visited Fuengirola and found it to be more of a real city and more “Spanish” than Torremolinos. We are looking forward to visiting Gibraltar in a couple of months, where I expect even more British culture and food. Back home, Esther can only get Dutch food by mail order. She really enjoyed this chance for some real home cooking.

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  6. Hi there Joe (and Esther). I’m just catching up on your recent travels and was interested to read your impressions of the Costa del Sol. We can really relate as several parts of the Algarve are quite similar along the beach strips of the tourist havens. The mass of concrete can certainly detract from the natural beauty of the area, and the tends to push the local culture aside. However the numbers of tourists visiting from Northern Europe (and North America) these days bring in a lot of revenue and the demand is clearly there. Fortunately as long term residents we can easily find more laid back and local experiences. Looking forward to hearing more. P.S. Going back to reread your Basque blogs from last year as we’re hoping for a trip up that way soon. All the ebst. Tim

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    • It is great to hear from you, Tim. I was thinking of you the other day while birdwatching just outside Málaga. Around here, these type of local and natural experiences are out there but can be hard to find and access without a car. The economy in this part of Spain is still struggling with high unemployment, low wages, and stagnant industry. Tourism is really the money-maker. The Basque Country is much better situated financially. So far, it has been our favorite place in Spain. The people are the friendliest we have met, and the food and coastal walking trails really stood out. Take care, Joe

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  7. On our trip to Cuba a few years ago, one of our stops (unfortunately we were required to be on a “sanctioned” tour to we were with a small group) was at an all-inclusive resort. Although a few people in our group enjoyed the experience, most of us were anxious to get back to the real Cuba. My husband and I feel the same way when we travel to Mexico. The beaches and sun look glorious, but we have that here in SoCal. Give me authenticity (or, at least as much as possible I this global travel world).

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    • I can only imagine how fascinating it must have been to visit Cuba. It would be interesting to experience the time warp and go back to see what the world looked like in the 1950s. Coincidently, the Costa del Sol also looks much like it did in the 1950s too. The only difference today is that some of the concrete jungle is crumbling around the edges. Fortunately, multifaceted Málaga includes many other areas and features that are much more authentic.

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