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Read what the Costa del Sol looks like to a first-time visitor

A Fresh Look at the Costa del Sol

costa del sol puerto banusI’ve lived in Spain on and off since the 1990s. Right now I am based in the UK and visit twice a month on average. But living or visiting is always work-related and makes it difficult to think of it as a holiday destination. So when a friend asked me to house sit for her in the high season months I hesitated.  I wanted a rest but my first reaction was that Marbella and the Costa del Sol wouldn’t do the trick. However,  a quick look in the diary showed I needed to be there anyway for the completion of a client’s purchase.   So, off I set to have a holiday in Spain. Marbella in August, who would have thought it?

For part of my stay I had a visitor who had never set foot anywhere in Andalucía.  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 have done a thorough hatchet job on all things Spanish since the property crash.  As a result, 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,  Nevertheless, in spite of that, they hold very strong opinions about it!

Thumbs Up

For any first time visitor there are certain things to do.  Marbella and Puerto Banús, check out the beaches and take a look at somewhere historic away from the coast. To tick this box I chose Ronda.  First, a stroll around town and then on to lunch with former clients of mine.  Full-time residents, they live in traditional Andalucían cortijo I found for them a couple of years ago. Ronda got a big thumbs up from my tourist and rated a ‘must see’.  In addition, the lunch, which in true Spanish fashion didn’t get going until late afternoon, was also a hit.

As regards beaches I chose the east side of Marbella as the best examples.  I knew my tourist expected blocks of high rise apartments and hotels as far as the eye can see.  Think Benidorm or Torremolinos for example.  However, the grassy sand dunes with hardly a building in sight got 5 stars. Totally unexpected. Marbella itself went down well. The promenade, marina, Old Town and shops all got a high rating.  No surprise to me. 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 in the media.  As a result, they are surprised to find they like almost 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.

Thumbs Down

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. They don’t stay on the street but come right into the restaurants and go round the tables.  This can happen repeatedly during one meal. My visitor was amazed that this is allowed.  Hated it.

Another surprise was the fact that many shops 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 that Spain still doesn’t seem interested in giving the consumer the service they 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.  Particularly when the competition around the world offers six or seven days as the norm.

Loved the prices

With the euro/GBP exchange rate at near parity my tourist was expecting to spend serious money.  However, it was easy to find restaurants with 3-course menus at €20 for dinner and €12 for lunch in Marbella. And tapas at €2.50 – €4.00 went down very well..  Of course, these are coastal prices.  However, I regularly eat at  restaurants a bit off the coast and never expect to pay more than around €10.  Supermarket prices were another revelation for my first-time visitor. Fruit, vegetables, fish, wine and many other essential items were all significantly below UK prices.  My visitor 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.

The 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.