Who else has “more travel” on their goals for 2018? *raises hand* me me me! When you spend so many years spending your hard earned cash on renovating, sometimes – perhaps ironically – you’ve just got to get away, in order to really appreciate coming home.
Last summer, we made a family decision to take Luna on her first holiday. It was declared that Spain would be the country and Malaga the airport. I imagine just like so many other Brits, with the flights being a mere 3 hours – absolutely perfect for a toddler.
We’re not much of a ‘stay in a resort’ kinda group, and opted for a beautiful villa in a little town called Manilva, about an hour’s drive from Malaga airport down the southern coast. The drive itself is stunning and hiring a car for this part of Spain is, in my opinion, the absolute best way to explore. It just gives you a freedom that guided tours and public transport can’t always offer you.
We spent 7 days adventuring up and down the coast, visiting each marina and community we could squeeze in. This is my shortlist; The 3 hidden gems that took my breathe away without me expecting it. This coastline is full to the brim of similar towns and I’d love to hear if you’ve been to any!
1. Sotogrande Harbour
Sotogrande Harbour was once a gated community, which should tell you a little bit about its status. Offering holiday homes to some of the most rich and powerful in Spain, this little Andalucian gem is blessed with a view of the Rock of Gibraltar as well as Northern Africa on a clear day across the water. It is landscaped in what I can only describe as golf-course-chic style (think neat grass and preened palms) with a mix of architectural styles all absolutely layered in colours.
My jaw dropped when we arrived and I think it got to the point where my family were getting a wee bit impatient for ice cream “Enough pictures of buildings already, Karen!”
Sotogrande is the only place I’ve visited in Spain where I could hunt down an interiors shop which wasn’t selling terracotta pots and souvenirs (think Ghost chairs and hide rugs). The area caters for the wealthy but the cafe we visited for lunch was reasonably priced (€7 for avo on toast) – so it’s not a town to make you feel out of place.
The buildings were just to die for, giving me all of the Edward Scissorhands/Wes Anderson realness I could ask for. That blue building below was a Santander by the way. Have you ever seen a more beautiful bank?
We passed through Sotogrande for a quick bite and remained solely on the harbour but from my research, they also have an incredible market in the week, beautiful sports facilities and no shortage of nature reserves. Pretty impressive for what appears to be a small town. Highly recommend a visit.
How to get to Sotogrande
By car: 1 hours 15 minutes to drive from Malaga down the coast. Follow highway directions for Cadiz.
By bus: Public buses and shuttle buses go directly down the coast around 8 times a day from either the airport or Vialia Centro
2. Sabinillas Beach & Puerto De La Duquesa
Sabinillas beach was a mere 5 minute drive from our villa in Manilva – and yes this is technically two locations but they’re so close that if you’re visiting one you might as well visit the other with only a ten minute walk between the two.
Multicoloured playgrounds and beautiful tile murals give a brilliant family vibe to this area. The port of Duquesa was unexpectedly vibrant, with your typical promenade adorned with places to get a refreshment (bonus that it’s quiet due to being mostly untapped by tourists) A quick look closer and it doesn’t take long to discover that colour surrounds every corner; from street names, to road bollards, to water fountains to benches. They’ve made the items of the everyday into works of art. Many homes have abstract work instead of a house number and I’d wonder what my piece of art might look like if I had a house here?
Like so much of Spain, and Andalucia in particular, they’ve placed great emphases on coloured tile, to great effect. (So much so, I wrote a post about Spanish tiles here). Just down the road at Sabinillas beach, a similar theme occurs especially on beach shower facilities and changing huts, layered in mosaic. Don’t miss Los Corcelles de Neptuno, “The Horses of Neptune”, an enormous Greek Mythology mural right on the beach promenade made from ceramic. It’s stunning.
How to get to Sabinillas or Duquesa
By car: 1 hours 5 minutes to drive from Malaga down the AP7 highway along the coast. Take the toll roads if you want to do it in under an hour.
By bus: Public buses and shuttle buses go directly down the coast regularly but more often stop at Duquesa than Sabinillas.
Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory on the coast of Southern Spain so whilst it might feel like you’re in sunny España still, you’ll need your passport to get back “into Britain”.
Gibraltar is a place I knew nothing about before visiting and it was certainly a mish-mash of Britain and Spain. Although only 20 minutes away from Manilva by car, advice overwhelmingly steered us towards joining a coach into Gibraltar to get through customs quicker.
Upon entering Gibraltar’s Main Street, it feels like you’re walking right back into the UK, only sunnier, with all of your high street favourites and red telephone boxes lining the streets. Many tourists flock there for the duty-free but if you’re like us and aren’t interested in a shopping holiday, it’s still worth a walk-through Main Street on your way to other areas as the architecture is stunning.
We winded down side streets, admiring the intricate metro tiles of the buildings, framed beautifully with colour-poppin’ shutters. I took an enormous amount of pictures of tile on this trip, and I’m just so sad I didn’t stumble across a supplier. Bringing back a piece of holiday is one of my favourite parts of travel, many of the designs I spotted would be very welcome in our bathroom.
After a quick bite in town, we headed to the mountains. Gibraltar is essentially one large rock and the higher you go, the less like Britain it feels (in a good way – I personally travel for new experiences).
Our best find was St. Michael’s Cave, a network of limestone caves within the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. I was nervous about taking a toddler but it was amazing. Lots of steps and rails made it safe for excitable little ladies (aka me) as you wandered through the open space and water dripping crystals. What’s fascinating is that some of the chambers are now being used as music venues, meaning it is equipped with coloured lights and a sound system. For everyday visitors, lights gently change colour as you wander around which help the rock formations sparkle in a way you’d never expect.
Luna danced in little humid cave puddles and it will always be the holiday of the underground disco for our little family. Oh, and did I mention that wild monkeys roam the mountains which surround it? So beautiful to see them wander freely but a word of caution, they will attack if you have food, so leave it behind. Police are really strict on this for your own safety.
How to get to Gibraltar:
By car: You can drive into the country but be aware that there will be queues to pass customs. It is often faster on a coach as the authorities will come to you in the comfort of your air conditioning.
By plane: You might be surprised to hear that Gibraltar has its own airport! It’s small but they do welcome major airlines so if you want to skip mainland Spain, go direct.