So often, the ill-informed scoff that the Costa del Sol – located to the left and right of Malaga (Andalucía’s second city) – it is not “Real Spain”.
Let’s not forget that this is the Spain – part of then Hispania Ulterior – the birth place of Hadrian and governed by Julius Ceasar - which nearly 2000 years ago was extensively colonised by the Romans, who built thermal baths at Manilva, a basilica on the beach at San Pedro de Alcantara and villas with magnificent mosaics in Rio Verde (Marbella). How much more “Real” do you want to get!
This is the part of Spain that I know best but I am not blind to the over development of poorly designed apartment blocks thrown up over the last ten years; some of which, let’s be honest, have irreparably bruised parts of this beautiful region.
Nor am I immune to the observation that the influx of expats, who have chosen to make their home here, has led, by way of example, to the arrival of the dubious delights of the UK’s “Iceland” and Germany’s “Lidl” supermarkets, curiously aimed at satisfying an insatiable appetite for anything “from home”. A notion that I always find rather endearingly confusing as I cannot recall being in the UK and hankering after a frozen Eccles Cake!
In some rather snobbish way the Costa del Sol is seen as falling short. Whether this is because it’s not regarded by the readers of Vogue as quite as “cool” as its French Mediterranean cousin, the Cote d’Azur, or because it isn’t perceived as delivering the “age” of Italy’s Amalfi coast, no one has yet been able to explain to me. Having the requisite depth of history – being old enough - to have Sunday supplement appeal is simply no longer sufficient. What counts is the endorsement of a style guru whose taste barometer is no doubt as faulty as his features editor’s patience.
Yes, but are these the real concerns of those who knock the Costa del Sol. I am as inquisitive as the next man, to understand the prejudice and the perceived shortcomings of this jewel of the Spanish Costas and happy to speak in its defence.
In the 1970’s it was given the cheeky and most pejorative moniker as the “Costa del Crime”. Coined back then when the lack of an extradition treaty between the UK and Spain meant that it was regarded as a safe haven for gangland members fleeing the UK police. True they came and drenched themselves in cheap booze and sunshine but I am told many returned home “for a nice cuppa tea” when the delights paled.
Let’s not forget that prejudice, the exclusive preserve of no particular era, enjoyed some vintage years in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” and “Love Thy Neighbour” as their nadir.
This gingham table clothed view of Spain, with recollections of Dictatorship, Donkeys and Thursday night Paellas – accompanied by flamenco with Raul and Carmen – is now as out dated as those pictures of white Seat 600 cars on the dusty ”Englishman’s Graveyard” coastal road, the N340.
The suggestion that the Spain as depicted in “South from Granada” or “Driving Over Lemons”- interestingly both being centred on Andalucía - is the only Spain that we should aspire to visit is just as blinkered as the tourist visiting the Parthenon with the singular purpose of picking up a set of worry beads.
What is certain is that the Costa del Sol occupies some prime European real estate. It presides over the shimmering and often turquoise Mediterranean whilst busily reconciling the cosmopolitan Marbella, with its brash neighbour, Puerto Banus, and the picture perfectness of Nerja. Marbella is at the heart of the Costa del Sol and was established by, and used to be, the playground of the privileged few. With improved communications and Spain’s integration into the wider community its role within the new Europe is much more proletarian – it’s just a really nice place to spend some time.
Whilst living in London a radius of about an hour and a half – M25 permitting - by car was considered as sufficient distance to travel on a Friday evening to have a weekend away. I will continue adopt this measure as my journey along and away from the Costa del Sol to discover yet more Real Spain.