La Rioja, a region of Spain a few hours north of Madrid. We visited it for 5 days in June 2018 and we were stunned at how beautiful this area is. The food, wine, people, scenery, villages and country side are just amazing and well worth a visit.Read More
It's great to be back in Spain again. For us it's really feels like being back home. This time we are not in Elviria though, but at the Marriott Playa Andaluza. It is a very nice resort near Estepona and very close to one of my favourite villages in the mountains Benahavis. But what also makes this a great week is being with our friends of some 30 years Margaret and Jim. It appears, also, that our timing has been perfect, because for the last 3 weeks the weather has been lousy, very wet. I was here in October and it was lovely then, but since it has been unusually wet, though I suppose after the summer fires that ruined the mountain forest and trees they could do with some moisture to help them sprout again.
So it's out and about for us visiting the local towns and villages while the sunshine lasts. Thursday we head to Granada to see the magnificent Alhambra well worth a visit for anyone out this way.
[singlepic id=348 w=320 h=240 mode=watermark float=right]Marbella is my favourite town on the Costa del Sol and we are fortunate to be only 8 kilometres down the road from the town, which means we can get there regularly and quickly. There is a lot to see in Marbella: the ports, the beaches, the squares and gardens, the shops, the restaurants and bars, the markets and my own favourite the Old Town.
The town itself is overlooked by the Sierra Blanca mountain range and gives Marbella a micro-climate meaning it's kept cooler in the summer and a bit warmer in the winters. The town was founded about 1600 BC by the Romans. The Muslims arrived in the area about 500AD and gave it its name Marbil-la. They built a fortress and a defensive wall to protect themselves from the Christians and their impact on the design of the town is still there to be seen in the Old Town. In the 16th Century the Christians finally managed to recapture Marbella and it started to grow slowly by developing the surrounding farmland for agricultural production. The San Luis fort was built in 1725 to defend itself from Mediterranean pirates. The town grew more rapidly in the 19th century and agriculture was the mainstay of the economy. In 1950 the port was completed. It was not until the 1940's after Prince Alfonso de Hohenlohe invested in hotels and apartment complexes that tourists started to come here in large numbers. It attracted the rich and famous who flocked to the town. So in the last 60 years Marbella has grown from a small fishing and farming village to one of the foremost international tourist resorts in the world.
Marbella though is not just a tourist attraction, it's a true Spanish town. The locals are friendly and helpful, particularly if you make an effort to speak a little bit of Spanish. As I said the Old Town (Ciudad Vieja) is my favourite place, I love to wander around the narrow streets looking at the houses, shops and looking for little tapas bars where mostly the locals only go. These are the places where you get the best food and the best prices. But there are also very good restaurants around Orange Square and the surrounding streets.
Some of my personal favourites: [singlepic id=347 w=320 h=240 mode=watermark float=right]
The Orange Tree just off Orange Square, it has wonderful food and very friendly service and it is owned by an Irish woman and her husband. They change their menu regularly and their early bird menu is good value.
Restaurante Messina. We were introduced to this gem by our neighbour and it's just that, a real gem, one of the best restaurants in Marbella. The food is truly outstanding and the attention to detail and presentation is amazing. A bit pricey but no-where as expensive as Dublin for anything similar, can't wait to get back!
For Tapas our favour bars are: La Venencia's and La Taberna Del Pinxto on Av Miguel Cano. In the Old Town is El Estrecho an award winning Tapas bar.
There is plenty of shops in the town itself and I like Baileys men's clothes shop. Just up the road is the really large mall La Canada which all my girls love as it has all the big shops and there are plenty of shops like FNAC that I can enjoy. On a Monday there is a large market. Normally I don't like markets but the one in Marbella is just big enough to have plenty in it but not so big that you can't get around it.
I just love to walk around the town, at any time of the day or night, and take in the atmosphere, to browse the shops or stop for a drink and to get a good meal. In fact if I had the chance I think I would love a place right in the middle of the Old Town. Just thinking about it makes me want to be there.
The village of Benahavís is one of my favourite pueblos along the Costa, it is about 8 kms inland between Peurto Banus and Estepona. It is about 160m above sea level and nestled in the foothills of one of the most mountainous areas of the Western Costa. The landscape is diverse and shaped by three rivers each forming their own valleys. The village is overlooked by the ruins of the Castillo de Montemayor and the narrow streets wind their way up the slopes of a valley. It is home to about 4,000 residents. When you enter the village you are best to park at the many free parking spaces that have been provided along the fairly long drive up to the village, as the streets get narrower and more difficult to negotiate in your car particularly in the summer when the streets are full of visitors. It is a lovely village to roam around. Nearly every trip we take to the Costa we try to get to visit Benahavís. The only disappointment for me is that over the years there has been more and more development which threatens to ruin the charm of this small village. Two things will hopefully save Benahavís from over-development, the recession and the fact that 70 percent of the municipality has been declared an “Environmentally Significant Mountain Complex”, which hopefully will protect the surrounding area from too much development.
One of the attractions of Benahavís is the number and quality of good restaurants from which it gets its nickname "The dining room of that Costa del Sol". In this regard it reminds me of Kinsale with it's "Good Food Circle". There are a number of good bars for that before dinner Gin & Tonic (the last one we went to it was more like a bucket than a glass). The restaurant staff are friendly, the food is usually excellent and they are good value. It's always a good night out in Benahavís but off season tends to be a little less packed.
Last year I ventured up during the day on my own as I had heard that there are a number of rivers that run though the valleys. The landscape is lush and therefore unlike the more usually barren surroundings of Spain so I thought I would explore a bit more to see if I could find these rivers. As you get close to Benahavís the road narrows into a steep valley before you turn the corner and the village reveals itself. It was just here I found a few cars parked by the side of the road and decided to explore. Right below the road side I found a stretch of the Guadalmina river and a number of large rock pools. There were a small number of families that had set up a picnic and the kids were having great fun jumping into and swimming in the clear and cool pools. A couple of days later I brought along my wife and two youngest children and they had a great afternoon splashing around in the pools. The locals, who were also using the pool, were very friendly and although we couldn't communicate they didn't seem to mind that we had invaded their little rock pool. I understand that there are a number of companies that offer adventure sports life rafting or descending down the Guadalmina river but I expect that this must be further up the river. For us this was just a perfects afternoon's enjoyment followed by Tapas in the village.
[singlepic id=131 w=250 h=150 float=right]I love Spain, so we bought an apartment there in 2002 and go there as much as we possibly can. I love the sun, the people, the lifestyle, the food, the little villages and I love to explore as much of it as I can. There are some great cities like: Granada, Jerez, Ronda, Cadiz, my personal favourite Seville and the old town of Malaga is a gem. But close to us is Marbella and I love just to wonder around the streets of the old town, drop in to Tapas bars and the little cafes and just watch life go by. We were fortunate to have bought on such a lovely spot along the Costa Del Sol called Elviria about 8 kilometres from Marbella. I have to thank Ger, with whom I worked, who put us on to this little village. Although I'm not a great beach lover, I have to admit we have the nicest beach along the coast. The beach is wide and gently sloping with lovely fine sand, good Chiringuitos (bars/restaurants on the beach) and right beside us we have the famous Nikki Beach Club, where the very rich and famous strut their stuff.
[singlepic id=129 w=250 h=150 float=left]Our apartment is a pleasant 3 bedroom with 2 swimming pools right next to the Santa Maria Golf Course. We have made some very good friends with the other owners. We also have friends from home who spend time on the coast, so together with these and family and friends that visit there is always company to enjoy the good life that Spain and the Costa has to offer. As my wife Sharon always says it's the best decision we ever made.
Here are some holiday snaps I took this year when we were in Spain for 6 weeks.