This Alboran Sea – the westernmost arm of the Mediterranean – enjoys and suffers the mixed blessings of development. The setting is simultaneously majestic, bucolic and benign, with castled crags, bountiful flora, warm sun and waveless cool waters seducing vacationers and pensioners south from dreary northern rat races. But atop nature’s seaside glory lies a fish’s face. The Costa del Sol is siren’s song, a developers’ deceit of me-too towers and a purgatory of soulless beachfront restaurants and shops.
We fell for it. The beachside community of Rincon de la Victoria is better suited to an escaping urbanite than a true tourist. Rincon is sunny, friendly and funky and – like many SoCal beach towns – devoid of history and culture. Our freebie HomeExchange lodging is a few steps from the beach and clean as a whistle, but furnished to retiring Spanish standards, with unreliable wifi, vintage bedding and confident mozzies. One advantage to off-season arrival at this mid-range Brit sun-haven… competitive eats. We enjoyed some surprisingly good and cheap Thai food for an arrival dinner.
Tuesday we slipped into Malaga to see the nicely curated Picasso museum. Our boys are at an age where Picasso’s modern creativity twists their mind like a Dora Mar painting… I can’t wait to show them Gaudi’s work. We strolled lovely old town Malaga, skipping the Alcazaba (could it compare to Seville’s Alcazar or Granada’s Alhambra?) and finding a hip tapas spot for lunch. I split off to preview our upcoming rental car drop-off and train transfer. Malaga is manageable, but not worth a lot of touring time, so meeting back up with Sue and the boys after their harborside stroll we drove home to Rincon for in-flat noshes and an a breezy evening stroll. Here the fry sardines on spits in beach-boat BBQs; late-night locals are out for their 10PM jog… and it’s still light outside. OK, ok, I admit it’s closer to paradise than purgatory, and far from the waterside hells of Lima or Guayaquil. We’re spoiled by Spain.
Further from the airport it gets better. Wednesday we drove east on the coast’s sleek new expressway to Nerja, strolling the old town and scouting beaches from it’s lovely Balcony de Europa. Nerja is a cut above the Costa del Sol competition, so with some local counsel we found our way to broad Burriana beach, where the boys and I enjoyed a cool Mediterranean dip and fun in the sand. We were a bit late for pit paella, but enjoyed the place so planned to return. Feeling trapped in our modest Rincon digs I negotiated to transfer into our next HomeExchange early, so Sue and I made a last evening stroll of the local beach, turned some laundry, cleaned up and prepared for an early departure.
Thursday we returned to Nerja and made the famous Cuevas de Nerja our first stop. We’ve seen a lot of caves and aren’t inclined to go out of our way to crawl around under ground, but all the guide books have Nerja’s caverns on their must see list, so down we went. Worth it – these caverns are so large and beautiful that they hold concerts and ballets inside. Max and Ben enjoyed the tour… what kid wouldn’t want to see the Columns of Hercules and the Cataclysm Chamber? After the cool caves we headed to the hot beach. They were stirring the big paella pot so we introduced the boys to the Spanish gumbo before hitting the sand. The wind was up so we stayed only for a pleasant hour of waterside “chaos tag” before continuing our journey east.