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12 FUENGIROLA


March 2017 Travel News Panoramic view of sunny Fuengirola


FIVE REASONS TO VISIT FUENGIROLA


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MICHAEL BEATTIE explains why he returns each year to his favourite Spanish resort... 2 The Location


OR over 30 years I’ve been visiting Fuengirola and the area around it. I’ve gone back at least once every 12 months, sometimes even making it three or four times in a single year! Yet it still draws me as much as it did the first time.


It all began back in 1985. It was the first time we’d taken our three small children on an overseas holiday. We rented a villa on the beach in Estepona, then an unspoilt fishing village showing little sign of the imminent developments that would make it such a popular tourist destination in the years to come. Today, along with nearby Puerto Banus and Marbella, the area attracts up to seven million visitors each year, including a host of celebrities. In fact Estepona was such a sleepy little town back then that we found ourselves driving along the coast most days to the bigger town of Fuengirola for activities to keep the children amused. And that’s where we decided to go next time.


Since then we’ve returned year after year, sometimes with the children, sometimes just the two of us. We’ve been with other families, other couples, and for a boys’ or girls’ weekend. We’ve seen Fuengirola in every season, and now our grandchildren are coming with us. So what’s the particular draw of this area? How is it different from lots of other Spanish resorts boasting sunshine, beaches and competitive prices? I suppose I have to admit that many of its attractions are similar to elsewhere. But it does have a few USPs, unique selling points, that set it apart.


1 The Weather


In August 2016 Spain’s National Meteorological Agency confirmed what I’ve always believed…that the Costa del Sol (literally the Sunshine Coast) has more sunny days than anywhere else in Spain. On average 320 days, to be precise, with a total of 2,905 sunny hours. That’s nearly 100 hours more than its nearest rival, the Canary Islands. The sunniest city is Malaga, just 20 miles east of Fuengirola.


To be fair we have seen heavy rain and the palms trees bending forty-five degrees in the wind. But almost always over the years, whether late or early in the year, at Easter, Hallowe’en or the middle of summer, we’ve been more than pleased with the weather.


For me Fuengirola sits in the most appealing part of the Costa del Sol. If you don’t know exactly where it is, all you have to do is remember that Gibraltar sits in the middle of Spain’s southern coastline, and Fuengirola is roughly 70 miles east. It has a beautiful setting, its seafront facing southeast for daylong sunshine, and behind the flat coastal strip lie the picturesque hills of the Sierra de Mijas. The highest point is 1,100 metres, roughly one and a half times as high as Slieve Donard, and equally as dramatic.


It’s also perfectly located to visit a host of other picturesque and historic towns and villages. Mijas is just a short bus trip into the hills, and historic Ronda higher up in the mountains is best accessed by a spectacular train ride. Other ‘pueblos blancos’, white villages, like Banalmadena Pueblo and Casares are well worth a visit.


3 Getting There


One of the joys of travelling to the Costa del Sol is the range of flights from Belfast. Over the years I’ve travelled to Malaga with Ryanair, Jet2 and Aer Lingus but mostly with Easyjet.


The flight takes less than three hours and I always get a little buzz at take off from Belfast International knowing that after I have a little doze, or read or have a drink, I’ll be stepping off at the Picasso Terminal of Malaga airport and generally into temperatures at least 10 degrees higher than Belfast. (As I write, it’s 8 degrees in Belfast and 19 degrees there.)


4 The Train


The dedicated train linking Malaga city, its airport, and Fuengirola, along with a dozen stations in between including the popular resorts of Torremolinos and Benalmadena, makes a huge difference to many visitors.


This is definitely a key selling point many other areas don’t benefit from. First of all, it means holidaymakers don’t need to hire a car if their accommodation is within walking distance or a taxi ride of the train line. This can be a particular boon for parents with children, since it means they can avoid the extra hassle of finding/fitting/paying for childseats in a hire care.


Fuengirola has beautiful sandy, palm tree-lined beaches


LEFT: The writer, Michael Beattie, re- turns to his favourite Spanish resort of Fuengirola year after year - in fact he’s been holidaying there for over 30 years! He first visited in 1985, when the small fishing village showed little sign of the tourist boom to come


Another benefit is that you can quickly whizz between resorts to explore different areas or visit the various town markets each week.


If it’s a dull day and you don’t fancy the beach, or if you want the cultural and civic amenities of Malaga itself, it’s only 45 minutes from Fuengirola. Trains run every 20 minutes from 5.30 a.m. to midnight and the fares are very reasonable - €3.60 for the full journey, €1.80 for shorter trips. And if, like me, you’re over 60, you qualify for a Tarjeta Dorada, a ‘gold card’, which gives a 20% discount.


Malaga is a wonderful city to explore with its Alcabaza hilltop citadel, Picasso’s childhood home and gallery, its fabulous port area, shops and galleries. If you’re there at Easter keep an eye out for movie star Antonio Banderas, who returns to his hometown every year.


5 The Paseo


The Paseo Maritimo is a wonderful promenade and a wonderful attraction. Perfectly flat for easy walking, stretching for seven kilometres along the seafront from the first-century Sohail Castle, beside the marina and beaches of Fuengirola and Los Boliches, ending at Carvajal.


It’s wide enough to cope with large numbers of visitors in the peak season, and parts of it include a cycle lane. It has lots of benches and passes a huge range of bars and restaurants.


The seafront has been continually upgraded over the years and these days has lifeguards at busy periods, sections with sunbeds (hamacas) and parasols for hire and other sections open to anyone with a towel or blanket. Children can enjoy a series of play stations on the sand and there is well-maintained exercise equipment for anyone wanting to do their stretches and lifts.


My Recommendations Fuengirola has become a popular tourist hotspot for British and Irish holidaymakers


My very favourite part of the area is Los Boliches. Once a separate town, it’s now become incorporated into Fuengirola but still has it’s own town square, market and fishing community. While there are plenty of tourists – Irish, English, Scandinavian and Spanish – it still feels like a real Spanish town.


Other friends have been drawn here too – in fact


one has bought an apartment in nearby Torreblanca, in the very block we first stayed in 30 years ago. His daughter’s now bought there as well.


From friends like this and from my own family have come other reasons why this is their favourite resort. Value for money - €2 for a pint of beer, €1 for a glass of wine, inexpensive two and three course ‘menu del dia’.


Organic and gluten-fee products readily


available. An award-winning and internationally respected zoo the children love visiting. Tivoli World fun park at Benalmadena, and a cable car to the top of Mt. Calamorro. A great selection of bars and restaurants.


And a few of my own recommendations based on years of travel to Fuengirola… we’ve stayed in the Ronda 4 apartments more than any other, and find them to be terrific value. The location is unbeatable, right on the beach at Los Boliches and while certainly not in the luxury category, they provide all the basic amenities.


Supermercado Paco adjacent to the Ronda is a particularly friendly, family-run business with several hard-working brothers always full of fun, charm and with helpful advice on everything Spanish. On the beach across the road, ‘Paco’ at Playa Ronda Paco will make sure you have a comfortable spot on the beach. There are lots of tapas bars here, but I rate the Hole in the Wall among the best. Sisters Larissa and Nicoletta too over the bar last year, and along with chef Anna make some of the tastiest and best value tapas on the seafront. Evening meals are also freshly prepared and delicious.


Other dining favourites are Vegetalia with superb veggie meals including a hugely varied lunchtime buffet. The Argentian Restaurant Cosquin provides superb barbecued steaks at a relatively modest price. For morning churros dipped in hot chocolate, you can’t beat Churreria Jerez in a little ‘secret’ square off Calle Palangreros.


And a final recommendation for anyone who, like my apartment-owning friend, loves to karaoke. His favourite spot is the Cavern at Los Boliches run by Steve and Nicola. We’ve been many times and always have the best of craic. Churchill’s Fun Pub is another great karaoke location.


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