The other side of the Costa del Sol: A rustic, quiet, cultural paradise

Riogordo in the Costa del Sol. Megan McEachern
Riogordo in the Costa del Sol. Megan McEachern

FOR many, the first thing that springs to mind with the words ‘Costa del Sol’ are high rise hotels scarring the landscape, faux-British and Irish bars with drunken louts spilling out into busy streets and overly crowded city beaches awash with British and German package holiday revellers. 

The Andalusian region however, is one that I recently found to be a far cry from the images I’d previously conjured in my head of this beach fringed, expat heavy part of Spain.

A short drive into the mountains from Malaga and a host of small, quaint and rustic Spanish villages sprawl across the Sierra, teaming with rural, whitewashed buildings, and rustic streets lined with orange and lime trees.

To the east of Malaga, smaller coves and more hidden beaches give holiday makers a sense of the tropical, as palm fringed beaches sandwiched by rocky outcrops allow a more peaceful experience.

With the option of cheaper flights with the likes of Ryanair to Costa del Sol capital, Malaga, easily available, the lure of the area is one which attracts sun seekers on a budget. But budget doesn’t have to mean a lack of quality and the true Spanish experience as these cultural, rustic, more peaceful Costa del Sol locations prove:

Located a 35 minute drive north-west of Malaga, Riogordo is a paradisal haven of winding streets, characterful locals and the true rural Spanish experience. It’s not too quiet however, with a number of delightful restaurants and bars to choose from – all extremely reasonably priced thanks to its less touristy location. Views across the sierra at sunset can’t be missed, as the whole village winds up to a summit point – the vistas are spectacular. This whole area is teeming with quaint mountain villages – the mountain top village of Comares glistens like a snow capped peak, and Setenil de las Bodegas to the north west is a unique little place built into the rocks of the mountain.

While Nerja remains one of the more popular tourist destinations for Brits and Germans, its retro vibes and Mediterranean beaches with rocks for leaping into the choppy turquoise waves make this a unique destination. The Balcon D’Europa offers magnificent views across the cliffs of the Andalusian coastline and on to the beaches below. Quaint, narrow streets and clifftop restaurants also add to the charm of this previously sparsely populated fishing village.

Situated just a little further east than Nerja itself, Playa de la Cala el Canuelo is a hidden gem, located a 25 minute walk down a small windy road. The walk isn’t an issue if you don’t want it to be however, as a shuttle bus service is provided up and down to the beach. Once you’ve reached the cove, the beach feels more like one you’d find in Thailand, with palm trees, lapping turquoise waves and a small beach shack serving drinks, paella and fresh seafood. Thanks to its location, the beach is far quieter than those further west, and is a great spot to spend the entire day away from roads and crowds.

Find the cathedral and you come to the heart of Malaga’s old town – a rustic, cultural area steeped in history. The Picasso museum is just one of the places a far cry from the screeching tourist areas, and stepping down one of many of the city’s beautiful shutter covered streets, history and culture can be lapped up in bountiful quantities. Beside the cathedral is El Jardin Cafeteria – a gem of a restaurant where Flamenco Shows are prevalent and the interior and exterior seem not to have changed since they came into being.

All images by Megan McEachern