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A fresh look at the Costa del Sol

"For beaches we took in those on the east side of Marbella. The sand dunes with hardly a building in sight got a 5* rating. Definitely not what was expected."

I’ve lived in Spain, on and off, since the 1990s. Since founding The Property Finders in 2003 I split my time between Spain and the U.K.  But living or visiting has always been to do with work and that makes it difficult to think of it as a holiday destination.  So when a friend asked me to house sit for her in August  a few years ago I hesitated at first. But a quick look in the diary showed I needed to be there at the end of August anyway for the completion of a client’s purchase so I took off for the second half of the month to have a holiday in Spain – Marbella in August, would’ve thought it?

For part of my stay I had a visitor who had never set foot anywhere in Andalucía, could hardly point to Málaga on a map and it was really interesting to see the reaction of a ‘newbie’ tourist to things that are so familiar to me.  Of course, there were preconceptions; the British media in particular have done such a thorough hatchet job on all things Spanish since the property crash that you would have to have been living in a hole in the ground not to have picked up a few ideas, or should that be prejudices.  I have long suspected that many Brits who are so snooty about Marbella and the Costa del Sol have never actually been there but in spite of that they hold very strong opinions about it!

For any first time visitor there are certain things that have to be done; see Marbella and Puerto Banús, check out the beaches and take a look at somewhere historical away from the coast.  To tick this box I chose Ronda – a stroll around town and then on to lunch with former clients of mine who live in traditional Andalucían cortijo I found for them a while of back.  Ronda got a big thumbs up from my tourist and was rated a ‘must see’ and the lunch, which in true Spanish fashion didn’t get going until late afternoon, was also a hit. 

For beaches I chose those on the east side of Marbella as the best examples and to someone who was expecting block after block of high rise apartments and hotels, as in Benidorm or Torremolinos for example, the sand dunes with hardly a building in sight got a 5* rating.  Definitely not what he expected.  

Marbella itself went down well; the promenade, marina, Old Town and shops all got a high rating. Over the years I have introduced lots of first timers to Marbella and the reaction is always the same. They come with very low expectations, based on what they have seen and heard in the media, and are surprised to find they like everything they see.  And as a contrast to Marbella I like to walk first timers around San Pedro – they are always surprised to find a real Spanish town just 3kms from the glitz of Puerto Banús.

With the current euro/GBP exchange rate my tourist was expecting to spend serious money to eat well but it was easy to find restaurants with 3-course menus at €20 for dinner and €12 for lunch in Marbella and Puerto Banús and €2.50 was the start price in most tapas bars.  Of course, these are coastal prices but further inland I never expect to pay more than around €10 for a few tapas at lunchtime. Supermarket prices were another revelation. In season fruit and vegetables, fish, wine and many other essential items were all significantly below UK prices and we decided that with more daylight and short, mild winters, plus some solar panels to lower energy bills, it is impossible not to live much more cheaply and to a better standard than in most of Europe and certainly the UK.

So what’s not to like?  Well, there were a couple of things that got a thumbs down. The biggest irritant were the street hawkers peddling counterfeit tat, mainly because they don’t stay on the street but come right in to the restaurants and go round the tables, often repeatedly during one meal. My visitor was really amazed that this is allowed.  And it was a real surprise to discover that many shops still choose to close on Saturday afternoon, even at the height of the tourist season.  My tourist wanted to spend some money but it was tough to find someone interested in taking it.  Disappointing to find Spain still doesn’t seem interested in giving the consumer the service they have come to expect in a 5* resort.  With tourism such a massive part of GDP a five and a half day trading week just isn’t good enough when around the world six or seven days is the norm. 

Nevertheless, he end of stay report card was very complimentary about most aspects of Marbella and the Costa del Sol as a holiday destination and only a few things were rated as "must do better"

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About the author

Barbara Wood

Barbara founded The Property Finders in 2003. More than two decades of experience and her in-depth knowledge of the Spanish property market help buyers get the knowledge they need to find the right property for them.

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