Alhaurín de la Torre
Unlike its equally venerable neighbour, Alhaurín el Grande, which has managed to preserve and even modestly flaunt a little of its Roman and Moorish heritage, Alhaurín de la Torre has conspired to hide its past with such ruthless efficiency that it is now almost impossible to find. Even the tower which gave it its name is long gone.
Alhaurin is in a way a suburb of Malaga, many commute to work in Malaga.
It is a pretty city with great plantations everywhere, and it much more relaxed and quiet than Malaga.
As yet, the town is still set among large plantations of citrus and avocado, but as it continues to grow, and land becomes increasingly scarce and valuable, it may be that many of them will disappear.
The biggest attraction for visitors to Alhaurín de la Torre is undoubtedly the gardens of El Retiro. Founded in the 17th Century by Fray Alonso de Santo Tomás, Bishop of Málaga, and originally use by him as his retirement home (hence, El Retiro) the gardens display an impressive variety of plant and wild life. Each section attempts to recreate the natural habitat of the creatures housed in it, from semi-desert to tropical swamp. The manor house at its centre has also been impressively restored.
If you do visit Alhaurín de la Torre, be sure to visit the only golf course around, Lauro Golf, opened in 1992 and known for its breathtaking panoramic views.
Guzman has actually evolved into becoming a tourist attraction as well. Guzman is a huge garden center where you will find absolutely all kinds of flowers, plants and trees, and also all the accessories. They also sell full grown palm trees of all kinds. Their Christmas decorations in December are absolutely amazing, so take a trip there and the Christmas atmosphere is guaranteed. They also serve a good and affordable lunch there.
Alhaurín el Grande
Forming an imposing natural fortress, the traditional town of Alhaurín El Grande is steeped in history, soaked in classical Andalusian architecture and atmosphere throughout, and boasts beautiful views across the interior of the Costa del Sol. It also has a large expat population. With its easy access to Málaga Airport, homes in Alhaurín El Grande have been attracting British and Irish buyers for decades, as well as other nationalities.
The town's setting is dramatic rather than imposing. Nestled in the fertile Guadalhorce Valley, the lush green hills that give way to bare rock face create a magical backdrop that could only be Spain. Alhaurín sits at the heart of this landscape, snugly wedged into the hillside. There's a rich history here that goes back to Roman times and was shaped massively by the Moorish occupation in the 7th century. Remnants of Roman columns and Arabic arches sit nicely with the classically Andalusian architecture, which comprise a number of charming plazas, cube-like whitewashed houses and narrow alleys and streets.
Cafés, pizza parlours, bodegas, tapas bars and traditional Spanish restaurants abound throughout the centre of town. Alhaurín's authenticity has never been questioned. Unlike Mijas and Benahavís, Alhaurín El Grande doesn't bring out the bunting for anybody. What you see is what you get... and what you get is typically laid-back Spain: pet dogs take themselves for walks along the quiet streets; old men enjoy the shade, a strong espresso and a game of chess with friends on the plaza; tanned youngsters scoot about on their mopeds in a carefree fashion; and stylish señoritas saunter by, oblivious to the heads they turn.
Beyond the confines of the market town itself, much of Alhaurín's charm lies in its rural surroundings, where numerous hiking trails exist, taking you through stunning olive and citrus groves, challenging scrubland and fragrant pine forests. Whether by foot, cycle or horseback, the leafy countryside of Alhaurín El Grande is there to be explored, an especially rewarding experience during the blistering summer months.
Back in town, and the addictive atmosphere of Alhaurín will appeal to all ages. The Los Candiles and El Postillón plazas boast pretty fountains and come resplendent with charming cafés; the municipal sports hall has an open-air swimming pool and multi-use sports pitches, and the dusky tapas bars delight with their tempting menus and cool, air-conditioned interiors. In June, the Flamenco Festival shakes up the entire town and is a must-see, while August brings the El Portón Jazz Festival, which is an internationally-recognised celebration of all things jazz. Golf-lovers will enjoy the challenges posed by the excellent courses at Lauro Golf Club and Alhaurín Golf Club, and the intriguing open archaeological excavation sites will interest history buffs too.
Spaniards famously know how to party, and Alhaurín's residents most certainly live up to their reputation. Street festivals, shows and gatherings are commonplace, and the town boasts a surprisingly large number of funky late night bars and clubs. However, Spaniards also love to eat, and eat late. The streets of Alhaurín El Grande reverberate at night to the sounds of clinking glasses, rapid chatter and scraping cutlery.
Coín is situated in the fertile valley of the rio Grande and there is little doubt that a community of some kind existed on the spot long before the Roman conquest.
Nevertheless, it was the Romans who gave it the first name which has survived: Lacibis. It became a market town: a transition point for the minerals being quarried 5 kilometres or so to the south in the Sierra Blanca. Marble from these quarries was certainly used in the construction of the Roman town of Italica, which once stood close to Seville.
One of the most picturesque, yet sombre places in Coín is the shrine of Nuestra Señora de Fuensanta, a beautifully preserved chapel which stands on top of a hill beside the ground which is used for the annual fair.
Coín is a town which has only lately woken up to the realisation that it has a story to tell. In early 1999 the local Department of Culture embarked on a project to decorate some of the town walls with illustrated tiles depicting episodes in its history.
Coín tends to be overlooked by most tourists that visit the Costa del Sol, disembarking at Málaga airport and making straight for the bright lights of the coastal resorts. The Spaniards and expats who call the Costa del Sol home know better, of course.
A day trip to Coín is always something to be savoured. The town's traditional beauty, Andalusian authenticity and breathtaking location make it extremely easy on the eye, and the wallet. But suggest living there to those expats who are accustomed to a fast-paced lifestyle and the chances are they’ll dismiss it as being ‘too quiet’.
No smoke without fire and all that, but Coín is really not the sleepy little backwater that it is sometimes made out to be and has a large and thriving expat community living there.
On the outskirts of Coín, there are several highly sought-after residential estates comprising large detached villas – most with their own private pool – attractive semi-detached properties, modern townhouses and well-appointed apartments, all surrounded by the beautiful countryside for which this idyllic corner of Andalucía is renowned. In the centre of town itself, there are not too many new-build homes to choose from, although traditional townhouses and flats are beginning to attract the attention of British and other foreign buyers.
Dining in Coín is memorable thanks to its excellent selection of restaurants, many serving a range of regional dishes that will not be found anywhere else on the coast, while pretty much every drinking establishment has an intriguing selection of tapas, making Coín a surprisingly rich destination for a tapas tour.
While tradition abounds throughout Coín, the La Trocha shopping centre on the outskirts has a number of large chain stores and a garden centre; there are car dealerships lining the main road entrance into the town, and internet cafés populate pretty much every street in the centre of town. Additional amenities include a number of grocery stores, banks, several veterinary clinics and a gymnasium and sports centre. On the outskirts of Coín, some of the region's finest hiking and mountaineering trails can be found, including the La Fuente and El Charco del Infierno forests. For those seeking more rigorous activity, the Costa del Sol's only recognised paintball centre is just a few kilometres away.
Ojén is one of the largest of the whitewashed villages that lie in the valleys immediately inland from the coast on the Costa del Sol. It is approximately 200 metres above sea level, and so is not the most dramatically situated of all the villages, but then what it lacks in spectacular vistas it more than makes up for with its character.
Despite its size and excellent location just behind Marbella, Ojén has clung on to its 'unspoilt' tag. When compared to the artisan beauty and glowing reputation that has befallen Benahavís, this seems a bit of a shame. But when you think of what Ojén could have become - a barely recognisable commuter overspill town of the coast, or a second home hideaway with all its character stripped away, you quickly understand how great it is that the village has remained largely untouched.
Despite its proximity to the highway, there are deserted cobbled streets, clean squares and appealing fountains to enjoy. Ojén's history is rich and extensive, and the village is famous for its production of aguardiente, an anise liqueur that became extremely popular in 19th century New Orleans, and made Ojén relatively wealthy as a result. The village's affluence is apparent in its architecture: there are more large villas and townhouses here than in neighbouring Coín or Monda, and Ojén's unrivalled transport links mean the bustle of the Coast is never too far away.
Drinking fountains spurting refreshing local water dot the numerous squares of Ojén, and are just one of the many welcoming sights the newly arrived local will relish seeing as they find their bearings. In the old part of town, it's the usual maze of tightly knitted alleys and streets, where the winding narrowness soon gives way to the open expanse of the plazas. Locals barely need motorised transport here; everything can be reached on foot, which adds to Ojén's community atmosphere and will no doubt delight expats grown weary of faceless town centres.
There's a good offering of restaurants in the village, serving almost exclusively Andalusian fare. Prices are excellent, as is the service, and there are few simpler pleasures than enjoying a hearty, well-prepared meal with friends and family under the stars. This is what Ojén excels at - nothing fancy, a pleasant atmosphere and just enough choice and liveliness to keep all ages happy and entertained, day or night.
Ojén has roughly the same population as Benahavis, 2000, but it has not attracted the attention of wealthy expatriates as the latter village has done and, like Istán, has somehow remained relatively unspoiled in spite of its accessibility and closeness to Marbella.
Ojén is not the most beautiful of the mountain villages, nor the most historic, but it is peaceful and pleasant and well worth a visit.
Monda is a tiny town (or large village) in the mountains just inland from the Costa del Sol.
Situated past Ojén on the A-355, it lies in a mountain valley at 365 metres above the sea and has a population of less than 2 000. It is well-linked by road with Marbella, just 15km away, as well as Coin and Cartama. Thanks to development on the nearby coast over the last few decades, the town has enjoyed new prosperity.
The village's dominant feature, which stands out for miles around, is the large stone building which stands atop the tree-covered hill above the village. Although this resembles a fortification, it is in fact a superbly-located and traditionally-styled modern hotel, Castillo de Monda, built on the site of the Moorish Castillo de Al-Mundat.
Monda has a small central village square, Plaza de la Ermita, with the Monument to the Miner. Just outside the square is the preserved Fuente Lavadero de la Jaula. There is small museum Casa Museo Marigloria near the Iglesia de Santiago Apostol. Castillo de Monda overlooks the village.
Monda can often get overlooked or passed by, which is a mistake. Sure, those that appreciate picture postcard-perfect, sugar-cube settlements plonked in the middle of peaceful valleys will indeed love Monda, but its appeal stretches much wider than that.
Sure the pace is slow, but what Monda lacks in a rush hour it more than makes up for with its idling ways. You can enjoy a delicious breakfast in the sun for a couple of Euros while watching the world go slowly by, take a walk around the entire village in less than an hour, catch up on your siesta and then face the afternoon with renewed relish.
The afternoons could be spent trekking in the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park, taking the short car journey down to the swish La Cañada shopping mall on the edge of Marbella, or even spent conversing with the locals on one of the many squares that buzz with activity throughout the day.
Istán is one of a number of villages of Moorish origin which owes its survival to its distance from the coast. After the Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula in the 15th Century, Arabs were barred from living within a league of the shoreline in order to prevent them from communicating with their kinsmen across the straits in Morocco. Istán, 15 kilometres inland, was allowed to remain while the coastal Arab settlements were depopulated and frequently destroyed.
As with so many mountain villages, creations of a time and place in which the only practical means of transport was the mule and the packhorse, Istán's streets are narrow and unsuited to the motor car. The only sensible way to experience it is on foot.
There are four à la carte restaurants in Istán, Troyano, El Baron, Rincon de Curro, Entresierras and the new Las Harales in the Rural Hotel at the entrance of the village. There are also bars that serve an excellent selection of tapas. It does boast one hotel, though it had to wait until 1998 to acquire it. Whether that heralds an influx of foreign visitors who may become the nucleus of a large expatriate community remains to be seen, but for the time being Istán remains closer to its roots than many of its cousins.
The village aptly echoes night and day to the sound of water running constantly from its drinking fountains. Aptly, because it stands close to the huge reservoir created by the Presa de la Concepción dam, which was built in 1972 and provides drinking water to towns all along the coast. The water feeding Istán's fountains, however, is the pure, unprocessed mountain variety which was much prized long before the coming of the dam. Just outside the village, where it cascades freely from the rocks, motorists often stop to fill their jugs and cans.
Gaucin is a charming whitewashed mountain village, just half an hour's drive from the Costa del Sol. Gaucin is a spectacularly beautiful mountain village commanding sweeping views to Gibraltar and North Africa. The village is a gateway to the Serranía de Ronda where, depending on the time of year, you can enjoy an impressionist palette of colour: brilliant brush strokes of red poppies, yellow mimosa, purple wild orchids, tempered by the cool green of olive groves and occasional splash of pale pink almond blossom. Indeed, Gaucin is famous for its international artists' community.
The town has a population of less than 2 000, and its narrow medieval streets and tall, narrow houses are sprawled picturesquely over two hills and the adjoining land between them. Perched high above the deep River Genal valley, Gaucin is overlooked by the imposing the Sierra del Hacho mountain. The village is 626 metres above sea level.
As you would expect from the name, it is not unusual to see eagles circling the towers here, and kestrels nest in the walls of the convent. Gaucin, like many other birding sites in this part of Andalucia, has plaques around the town showing both native and migrating birds which can be seen in the vicinity.
The Gaucin bull run, better known locally as the Toro de Cuerda, takes place every year on Easter Sunday. With the first bull released at around 10:30am, an early arrival is strongly encouraged to find your bearings, and more importantly, some good spots to see the run from. Parking can be found on the outskirts of the town and be careful with taking your car into the town as the streets can get very narrow. Walking around the town, you will see a number of big, metal barriers and gates dotted around the town. These are for your protection, so make sure you are standing on the right side of them when the bull comes!
At 10:30 in the main square, shown below, the first bull is released after the Mayor makes a speech and signs the release by setting off a firework. There are usually three bulls released over the course of the day, with the runners all wearing special t-shirts. The bulls are tethered by a long rope tied to the horns, sometimes used to anger them even more. Locals dance around the bull, teasing it, running, jumping and grabbing onto nearby windows and doors to hide themselves or escape from the bull. Once the bull has left the main square, it does a route of the town - being chased by locals and chasing after the runners. If you are scared of getting caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, don´t be, as you just need to follow the crowds and there are a number of security personnel dotted around the town ready to help and answer any questions.
It is a village version of the San Fermines in Pamplona - the visitor is probably in more danger from being trampled by the running crowd than the bull itself. At 13.00 the bull is corralled into a patio where it is auctioned.
This version of a bull run seems relatively humane compared to bull runs elsewhere as the bull apparently is not much bothered or hurt.