The small town of Nerja is one of the few places on the Costa del Sol that has remained relatively untouched by mass tourism. Despite it’s beautiful sandy beaches and easy access from Malaga airport, it managed to escape the overpowering tower blocks that line the seafront of its close neighbours along that stretch of coastline, and retains the small cobbled streets and bright white houses of the true Spain.
~The Town ~
Once a small fishing village, Nerja now has a population of over 22,000 a fifth of which are foreign residents, including around 2,000 British expats. In the summer months, tourism swells the population but despite this, the town retains a sleepy and very Spanish atmosphere that defies its popularity. The mix of nationalities that both visit and live in Nerja prevent it from falling into the Costa de Sol stereotype, although British visitors do make a significant impact. This is not unspoilt Spain, but it is a lot better than most of this section of Spanish coast. The old quarter of the town gives Nerja its unique atmosphere, with narrow, winding streets, blindingly white houses, small shops and small cafes. The centre of the town is dominated by a large town square, where you can sit for hours in a cafe, watching the gleaming horse drawn carriages wait for passengers as the horses toss their heads in the sunshine.
Leading off the main square is the famous Balcon de Europa; a mirador or viewpoint which juts out into the sea like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, providing endless 180 degree views of the blue sea and the sky that seems to melt into it on the horizon. Walking along the Balcony is a beautiful experience – the promenade follows the edge of a precipitous cliff, and you can look down onto the tiny beaches below. Once the site of a great Moorish castle, the Balcony was once known as La Bateria after the gun battery and fortified tower that once existed.
~Things to Do ~
Although many visitors come to Nerja for the wonderful 16 kilometres of sandy beaches, there is much more to do than sunbathe and swim. The biggest and best beach is the famous Burriana Beach. Lined by palm covered restaurants and bars, this beach has provides a large choice of water sports, from calm pedalos to wild banana rides. In addition several beautiful smaller beaches and coves can be found closer to the town centre, with immediate access to central restaurants and bars.
Away from the beach life, walkers can enjoy dramatic mountain trails through the Sierra de Almijara and Sierra Tejeda. Nerja is becoming a significant centre for walkers, who appreciate the beauty of the mountains.
Within the town there is the 17th century Church of El Salvador to visit, with its mixture of Moorish and baroque art, as well as the beautiful Gardens of Capistrano, which provide welcome shade during the burning heat of high summer.
The beautiful city of Granada with its magnificent Alhambra is just over an hour away from Nerja, and organised bus trips leave the town for Granada almost every day from the Tourist Office. The round trip can easily be done in a day and is well worth taking time away from the beach.
Closer to home, Nerja has spectacular caves that are only a bus drive away, just three Kilometres from the centre of town. Cave paintings and the most enormous stalagmites make these caves just breath-taking and a definite tick on any itinerary. The caves themselves are surrounded by landscaped gardens and shady trees, and it is nice to spend the day there, eating in the restaurant which sits high on the hill and provides beautiful views across the mountains. Queues for the caves can be long, so try to avoid visiting in the heat of the day. One of the caverns is used as a concert hall, and it is advisable to ask the tourist information office about times and tickets as soon as you arrive, so that you can experience music in this unique venue.
~Places to Eat~
Luckily there is not the usual Costa del Sol preponderance of British Pubs and Fish and Chip shops in Nerja. There are around 400 bars and restaurants, with a variety of prices and menus on offer. Nerja specialities include La Doncella (red mullet) and pescaito frito (fried fish).
Although I have not experienced this myself, I understand from my younger travelling companions that Tutti Frutti Square is the place to be seen after dark, providing diverse entertainment from live music, to Flamenco, to an Irish bar. Although I think there is enough of a nightlife to entertain, I never experienced it intruding on the enjoyment of other holiday makers.
We stayed in one of the many self catering Edificio apartments that can be found in Nerja, but there are many hotels and other catered accommodation on offer. Staying right by the Burriana Beach provides easy access to water sports and a nightlife that centres around ice cream parlours and cocktail bars; staying closer to the centre of town takes you closer to cafes and smaller beaches, as well as the atmosphere of the old quarter.
~How to Get There~
Most visitors fly into Malaga, and travel by taxi or bus to Nerja town centre. The taxi journey takes about 30 minutes, while the bus journey (although cheaper) takes about an hour.