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Looking for the real Spain?

Looking for the real Spain?

Now that the clocks have changed and our evenings are lighter once more, many of us will be thinking of an Easter get away. And if it’s the sun you’re after then Spain has to be high on the list. After this week’s blog about the FEVE railway, we thought we’d continue on our journey off the beaten track. So we’re heading for the hills above the Costa del Sol, where you’ll find plenty of places to enjoy an authentic Spanish experience.

The Costa del Sol is still a massively popular destination. North Africa is only twenty miles away and the weather is hot and glorious for most of the year. Local infrastructure has been well developed over the last two decades with good road, air and rail connections. Cheap flights arrive from all over Europe with a clientele ranging from those seeking cut price simple family packages to the glitz and glamour of yachts and million pound villas in the environs of Marbella. Millions know about this stretch of coast and arrive by the thousands from Easter to late October to enjoy the long season of sun and beaches.

The area might have a reputation for crime but the truth is that the region has had a strong but fair police presence for many years and street crime is now minimal. Mind you, anyone would be wise to be vigilant and take the usual precautions in public places. As usual getting a good travel insurance policy can and will make all the difference. There is nothing worse than having your holiday ruined by a sneak thief in a busy market or open café. Of course, with a World First Travel Insurance policy you’ll have access to our 23 hour emergency helpline – as well as 5 million medical cover - if the worst happens.

The well organised holiday metropolis of the Costa Del Sol stretches west almost a hundred miles from Malaga. However, away from the coastal zone there are plenty of undiscovered gems. A few minutes drive inland will take you into a world of old Spain that is has almost been left unchanged. This is Andalusia, a collection of old-as-time white villages, sometimes fortified, hidden away in the mountains. For those who venture up, the restaurants are good, rustic, full of strong flavours and popular with Spanish and visitors alike. Cafes and bars are the same as they ever were: unspoilt by loud music and English pints. Whether you take a day trip or decide to stay longer you won't be disappointed in the old streets and orange groves that characterise these beautiful villages.

Here’s our guide to the best:

Istan – paradise in the hills above Marbella

This delightful old town is behind Marbella on the road west towards Puerto Banus. Follow the Istan road up into the hills opposite the Hotel Puento Romanus. It is a pleasant half hour drive into the Sierra Blanca and Istan and you can continue into the Sierra de La Nieves if you have a 4wd. Park in the municipal car park by the municipal swimming pool. There are several natural springs and water features within a few minutes walk for a lovely cool-down on a hot summers day. Have a look at the old washing area where, for centuries families have washed their clothes in the cool waters. There are several good restaurants as well as some simple café style eateries. For those who like hiking it is possible to trek both east and west among some stunning scenery high above the coast. For those with a four wheel drive you can cross the mountain pass to the delightful villages of Sierra Nieve- Tolox, Monda or continue on to Ronda. The Sierra Nieve is a national park and world heritage site with soaring eagles above and wild Ibex in the valleys.

Ronda – a beautiful and historic bullfighting town

A few minutes to the west of Marbella is San Pedro de Alcantara and the road inland to the famous bullfighting town of Ronda with its huge gorge separating the centre of town. It is about an hour’s drive from the coast but well worth it. There are some excellent restaurants and hotels to suit most budgets, the old streets and squares are great to lose yourself in and the cool air is a welcome respite from the coastal summer. A gentle stroll among the orange groves in the fields below the town is a great way to see the old bridge and gorge. Close to the bridge is the awful spot where villagers on the wrong side in the civil war were forced to 'run the gauntlet' into the river far below.  Ronda’s bullring is the oldest in Spain and you’ll see images of Hemingway in every restaurant. For those wishing to travel further on, one of the great driving roads of Europe will take you to Jerez or Cadiz by way of the hilltop white towns of Gaucin and Castellar de la Frontera.

Ojen – an Andalucian oasis moments from the coast

To the East of Marbella is the village of Ojen. It is just a few minutes from the coast yet it has escaped the expat invasion that other villagers have endured. It remains quintessentially Andalucian with some lovely drinking fountains, bars and restaurants among the whitewashed streets.

Not far from Ojen is a mountain 'refugio' that is very popular with Spanish families. Here you’ll find a path that takes you to a viewpoint high above the coast. You can see Malaga to the east, Gibraltar to the west and Africa to the south. A further two hour trek through oak, cork and juniper forest will bring you to the mountain peak above Marbella, it is not for the faint hearted but an excellent adventure nonetheless.

Benehavis – a wining and dining heaven

For fine dining in beautiful surroundings minutes from the Costa, take a drive up to Benehavis. Now more of a community of expats than Spanish, it is still full of charming architecture. The streets overhang with flowers and many of its restaurants enjoy fine views. The menus might be pricey but it’s worth it. This is a great place to dress for dinner and enjoy an evening stroll in the fading light of a summer evening, surrounded by the sweet smells of night scented flowers and orange trees whilst far below you the lights and sounds of the coast, get ready for another evening on the town.

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