Beaches: The Good, the Bad & the Nude
We'd like to report that the Costa del Sol is a paradise for swimmers and sunbathers. Surprisingly, it isn't, although it was the allure of beaches that originally put the "sol" in the Costa del Sol in the 1950s.
The worst beaches -- mainly pebbles and shingles -- are at Nerja, Málaga, and Almuñécar. Moving westward, you encounter the gritty, grayish sands of Torremolinos. The best beaches here are at El Bajondillo and La Carihuela (which borders an old fishing village). Another good stretch of beach is along the meandering strip between Carvajal, Los Boliches, and Fuengirola. In addition, two good beaches -- El Fuerte and La Fontanilla -- are on either side of Marbella. However, all these beaches tend to be overcrowded, especially in July and August. Crowding is worst on Sunday from May to October when beaches are overrun with family picnickers and sunbathers.
All public beaches in Spain are free, and you shouldn't expect changing facilities. There might be a cold shower available on the major beaches -- but that's it.
Although it's not sanctioned or technically allowed by the government, many women go topless on the beaches. Nudity is common on some of the less frequented beaches, although it is against the law. If you take off your suit, you could be arrested by the civil guard. Many bathers flout the law and go nude anyway, but it's not advised. If you want to bare it all, head for the Costa Natura, about 3km (2 miles) west of Estepona. This is the site of the only official nudist colony along the Costa del Sol.
Teeing Off: A Golden Triangle of Golf
Faced with more than 40 places to take a swing on the Costa del Sol, golfers are often overwhelmed by the choice of courses, many of which are championship venues. Here's a trio of courses that rank among the greatest in Europe -- no apologies to Scotland.
- San Roque Golf & Country Club, Urbanización San Roque, Carretera A-7 Km 127, Sotogrande-San Roque (tel. 95-661-30-30; www.sanroqueclub.com), was created by two Englishmen, former Ryder Cup players Tony Jacklin and Dave Thomas, on the grounds of the summer palace of the Domecq sherry dynasty. The back 9 features 2 of the finest holes along the coast.
- Club de Golf Valderrama, Av. de los Cortijos s/n, Sotogrande-San Roque (tel. 95-679-12-00; www.valderrama.com), is in our view número uno among the golf courses of continental Europe. Golf World called it "daring, dramatic, demanding" and we agree. The course was first designed by the grand old man himself, Robert Trent Jones, Sr. Steve Ballesteros (the "Arnold Palmer of Spain") designed the notorious 17th hole, which Ryder Cup players describe as "one of the most strategically challenging holes in the world." Pines and cork trees keep this par-72 course wickedly challenging.
- Real Club de Golf Sotogrande, Paseo del Parque, Sotogrande (tel. 95-277-77-77; www.golfsotogrande.com), is a par-72 course also laid out originally by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. Its 11th hole is buffeted by two prevailing winds blowing in different directions. Many of the fairways are 40 to 50 yards long, and the course is riddled with shimmering lakes evocative of Florida.
The Costa del Sol may have one of the hottest nightlife scenes in Spain, but it is also a great destination for families. When you and the kids need a break from the beach, there are plenty of attractions to keep everyone happy. Not surprisingly, many of them concentrate on marine life. Sea Life Benalmádena (tel. 95-256-01-50; www.visitsealife.com) at Malapesquera Beach features a tunnel-like aquarium, a rock pool, and habitats for sharks, giant turtles, and rays. It is open daily from 10am to 6pm. Discounted admission, purchased online, is 10€. Treat the kids to a round of minigolf for only 2.50€ more. Also in Benalmádena, Selwo Marina Delfinarium (tel. 90-219-04-82; www.selwomarina.es), Parque de la Paloma, s/n, features dolphin and sea lion shows and an exotic bird exhibition. Its Penguinarium has one of the most notable collections of penguins in Europe. The Delfinarium is open mid-February through October daily from at 10am to at least 6pm with later hours in summer. It is open weekends only in November. Adults 19€, seniors and children 15€; significant discounts for online advance purchases.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.