Escaping Off Season
In recent years, many tourist locales have noticed the traditional “tourist season” has been extending to both earlier and later than in the past. Though I’ve never considered myself a trend setter, I found myself on the Costa del Sol of Spain this spring, pre-tourist season. What I discovered made me a fan of off holiday booking.
First I found that I had not only managed to book a flat at a decent rate, but that it actually had a view. A feat unheard of during the summer months! The weather was pleasant. Not too hot, but warm enough to venture into the pool and even a dip in the inviting Mediterranean. Many of the shrubs and plants were in full bloom, including the Bird of Paradise flowers, which I had never seen in blue before. I will admit that I live in Maine and to me the upper 70’s and lower 80’s in early April with low humidity that Spain boasts this time of year is approaching nirvana. There have been springs in Maine when the ice out wasn’t until April 20th.
Our resort was located between Fuengirola and Marbella on a hillside overlooking Playa Marina and the Mediterranean. Within a short walking distance was a smattering of restaurants with a larger grouping two kilometers down the beach, which made for a pleasant evening walk even though we could have called a taxi. The first thing I discovered about Spain was that the food was incredible. Every dish was a new taste sensation and except for one night at an English pub styled restaurant, every meal was a true delight.
Even though we only spoke a modest amount of Spanish, we found no difficulties at any of the restaurants. The Spanish government recently enacted a scholarship program to help teach citizens English in order to boost tourism, and we found most of the people along the Costa del Sol spoke very good English. If not, the menus contained pictures as well as English sections (look for the British Flag). After that, all you needed to know was “buenos noches”, “vinos tintos”, “la cuenta por favor”, and of course “mucho gracias”.
Though we could easily have been content on the miles of nearly empty beaches surrounding our resort, one of the highlights of the Costa del Sol is its location so close to many fantastic towns and countries. Even off season as we were, the resort was running tours to Granada, Gibraltar, Morocco, Barcelona, Seville and many other locations in between. There were sailboat excursions and sunset cruises. We could easily rent a car to travel to some of the close picturesque towns scattered along the coast.
We took advantage of the bus system to travel for only 1 euro up and down the coastline, spending days in Fuengirola and Marbella. Both have lovely beach walks. Marbella’s connects it with the nearby town of Puerto Banus. The towns are well known for not only their scenic vistas, but also for the wealth, which leads to dramatic architecture and haute shops. Though the walk is long, it is well worth an afternoon. After all, between the scattering of ice cream stands and the inviting Mediterranean a few yards away, who can complain?
Fuengirola also boasts Castle Park, which is an old Moorish and later Spanish castle open to the public. We had the ramparts almost completely to ourselves and could see literally miles up and down the coast. In contract is the Alhambra, which is located in Granada. One of the best surviving examples of a medieval Moorish palace, it is not only beautiful but historical. Standing in the same room that held Christopher Columbus as he asked Queen Isabella for funding and ships to sail west is a fantastic way to find a connection to history and Spain.
Granada offers several other highlights as well as the Alhambra. A Cathedral built from a Moorish mosque, shops, and of course the amazing view of the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains. The journey from the Costa del Sol to Granada takes you through the olive fields of Andalucia, a startling contrast to the beautiful coastline of southern Spain.
In the opposite direction of Granada is Gibraltar. A day trip offers a chance to explore what feels like a little corner of Great Britain attached to the south of Spain. Shops, World War II tunnels, dolphin tours, a cable car to the top of the Rock, Saint Michael’s cave, and of course the apes create a busy day. For both the day trip to Granada and Gibraltar, I found that the tours were a great way to become familiar with the area, but that there was a great deal more I wanted to come back to.
I’m starting to think about a return visit to the Costa del Sol. This time with a rental car and no resort allowing me the freedom to drive along the winding coast to stop in the places I had only glimpsed before. With fall already in the air in Maine, I’m wondering just when tourist season winds down in Spain. The beaches will begin to empty even though the water stays warm and the daylight lingers into mild nights. I could really get used to being at least a little off season.
Day Excursions from the Costa del Sol
Most hotels and resorts arrange tours to a variety of locations. Check with your hotel for available times and destinations.
Gibraltar from 15.00 to 60.00 Euros depending on the number of excursions booked. Visit the famous rock, shop along the winding stone streets, search for dolphins in the Straights, and see caves, World War II tunnels, and historic ramparts.
Granada from 60.00 to 70.00 Euros (includes admission to the Alhambra and lunch). Visit the famous Alhambra. Though a day tour will not cover nearly half of the elaborate gardens and buildings, tickets to the Alhambra often sell out leaving the tour a sure admission. In town visit shops and the cathedral. If you have time to get out and walk, there are some trails including one between the Alhambra and Granada. Look for small houses built on the hillside in front of caves. The cave houses provide natural air conditioning and an interesting place to stop.
Tanger, Morocco from 60.00 to 70.00 Euros (includes lunch and ferry). A great way to enter Africa and visit a unique country. Morocco’s king is young and he is revitalizing much of this small African nation. See the Atlas Mountains rise from the Mediterranean. Visit the Caves of Hercules and a medieval souk including a spice bizarre and world class carpet store. Enjoy a traditional lunch all while safely escorted by knowledgeable guides.