Torrox, Andalusia, January 24, 2015
Our next stop was a complete contrast to anywhere else we've stayed in Spain – a tiny campsite called Finca de la Piedra, approached down a rough unpaved country lane between fields near Villafranco del Guadalhorce,
about 30 km inland from Marbella. The owners, Geoff and Irene, live on site in a large static caravan, and have room for up to 5 visiting caravans or motorhomes, plus space on a lower terrace for storage. (For the uninitiated – lots of people who
stay regularly in Spain or France prefer to avoid having to tow their caravans all the way, so they choose to keep them in storage abroad, ready to use).
There was only one other couple there at the time, so it was very quiet, and seemed a million miles away from the frenetic atmosphere of the coastal resorts. Best of all, there was a small, heated toilet/shower room. We had lovely views towards the mountains of the Sierra de las Nieves which, true to their name, did indeed have a covering of snow. (The highest peak, Torrecilla, is an impressive 1,919 metres, over 6.000 feet.)
To be honest, the Costa del Sol isn’t our favourite part of Spain, as the coast is rather over-developed. It stretches from Gibraltar to Malaga and is a result of the development drive started by Franco to lift Andalucia out of poverty. In the 50’s it was just a few fishing villages, now it’s virtually wall-to-wall resorts, with rumours of dodgy property deals and organised crime. But despite all this there are some attractive places and it’s still enormously popular as a holiday destination. Inland, the fertile countryside is given over to growing oranges and vegetables, mainly in moderate-sized farms and smallholdings. Some of the inland towns and villages have communities of ex-pats, but this has its advantages for travellers like us -the occasional shop selling English food or newspapers, larger shops like Dunnes which are useful for clothes and household items, and above all charity shops. These are usually devoted to animal welfare and are often staffed by chatty English ladies, and are a treasure trove of jigsaws and paperbacks to keep us occupied!
We spent a relaxing ten days at La Finca, which included catching up with a mountain of washing – always a satisfying achievement! The weather was variable – we had some sunny days, but the air was quite cool and there was some quite heavy rain (which fell as snow on the mountains.)
However we managed to do a fair bit of sightseeing, as we were only a 30 or 40 minute drive from the coast. We gave Torremolinos a miss, but spent a pleasant afternoon in Benalmadena, walking round the smart marina and along the promenade. All the shops, bars and restaurants were open and there were plenty of visitors. The sun was warm, but I didn’t feel it was quite warm enough to wear as little as some people – shorts and bare chests for men, sundresses and sandals for women. Maybe we’re getting old, but we were much more comfortable in jeans and sweatshirts, although we certainly enjoyed sitting by the sea and eating ice creams – especially as we’d heard there was snow in the UK!
Another trip was to Fuengirola, with its rather tacky seafront, but just a few kilometres inland is Mijas, a whitewashed village of Moorish origin. Perched high above the coast at 1,391 feet, it has spectacular views and is still very pretty despite being chock-full of souvenir shops and restaurants.
We’d read somewhere that El Dorado, the famously awful BBC soap opera of the early 90’s, had been filmed not far from where we were staying, at Monda, on the way to Marbella. We used to be keen fans – it was so bad it was addictive – so we set out to find it. Nowadays it’s a hotel of some kind, but a very strange one. It wasn’t well sign-posted, but when we found it the car park was full. We saw a man in camouflage gear with a rifle getting out of one of the cars, but as Spaniards are keen hunters we thought nothing of it. Inside the entrance we saw a jeep, also painted in camouflage colours and with the hotel’s name on it. As we entered there was a gruff shout, in Spanish, followed by "not open!" in English. So we hurriedly left, intrigued and mystified, and continued on our way to Marbella.
The drive, through the dramatic Sierra Blanca, was spectacular. We found somewhere to park – expensive, like most things in Marbella – and explored the well-preserved Old Town.
I was keen to visit the Museum of Contemporary Spanish Engravings, not everyone’s cup of tea, admittedly, and not really mine either, but there were a few interesting works by Picasso, Miro and Dali. The museum was housed in the lovely sixteenth-century Palacio Bazan, which has been tastefully converted into a small gallery. We had a walk along the seafront and then went in search of an affordable lunch. The basic menu del dia, which we’ve often found for 8 or 9 euros elsewhere, was 15 in Marbella! However we found a cheap and cheerful American bistro where we enjoyed a reasonable lunch, sitting in the sun and chatting to our waitress, a young Polish woman. She was quite impressed that we’d visited her native country with our caravan!
I have to confess that I can’t see what Marbella has that makes it special. The beach isn’t particularly impressive and the Old Town is no more picturesque than many others. There are lots of designer shops, of course, some posh restaurants, and wealthy Russians are much in evidence (some estate agents had signs in Cyrillic only.) However, it was a nice day out, helped by the little avenue of Dali sculptures just off the promenade.
There were plenty of pleasant little inland towns and villages within easy reach of the campsite, the most interesting one being Alora, a pueblo blanco on a hill with a ruined Moorish castle and a church at the top. We went to the tourist information office for a map – I doubt they get many English visitors, as they only had a leaflet in Spanish. From this we learnt that the town’s main claim to fame is its Festival of Soup in October, featuring a soup which used to be the staple diet of agricultural labourers. It consists of stale bread, tomatoes, onions, peppers and potatoes – filling and cheap.
We made our way up to the ruined castle which was not particularly well preserved, although the views from it were impressive. Back in the town centre we had lunch – not soup, but meatballs in almond sauce, with chips. Actually, this is what John had ordered. I’d ordered calamares, but the waitress spoke no English and our pidgin Spanish was obviously inadequate! She brought me a plate of chips, but no calamares. Attempts to explain were unsuccessful so I stole a couple of meatballs (albondigos in Spanish) to eat with my chips!
During the week we’d had a pleasant surprise. Helen had managed to get some time off and decided to fly out and stay with us for a few days. She will be arriving on my birthday! We’d been intending to move on soon, and this gave us the impetus to look into possible campsites further up the coast. There was one near Motril which sounded nice, and would be ideally placed for a day trip to Granada with Helen. However, things rarely go according to plan, and two problems arose in quick succession – Helen got shingles, and the proposed campsite turned out to be very disappointing (we made a quick visit to have a recce.)
We’ve found an alternative campsite, one which we had enjoyed a few years ago and are hoping that Helen feels better soon. Tune in to our next instalment to see how things turn out!