Fuengirola Travel Review
Life’s a beach in Fuengirola
BY SALLY HARDING
Fuengirola is famous for its 5 km stretch of sandy, well-kept beaches, myriads of seafood eateries and a stunning mountain village. Whilst this town is every sun worshiper’s paradise it also exudes a unique Spanish authenticity like nowhere else on the Costa Del Sol.
I have to start this off by being honest and saying that Fuengirola would not have been my first choice for a holiday destination. Having visited nearby Marbella on a number of occasions, I had my heart set on booking the more upscale city for our family getaway. My bank balance, however, had other ideas as we had left it until the last minute to book a holiday in peak season.
When Fuengirola was suggested as another option I didn’t exactly jump for joy. Images of loud boozed up hen and stag parties, hooligans causing chaos in hotel rooms and thugs being a menace to tourists and locals alike raced through my mind.
I tarred this Costa town with the same bad reputation that Torremolimos up the road gained in the late 80s for rowdy drunken behaviour and cheap and tacky venues. I am delighted to say that Fuengirola proved me wrong and did it in style.
We stayed in Los Boliches, a quiet and beautiful area on the beach, a handy 15-minute drive from the airport. Due to some bad experiences in Spanish hotels, my expectation of The Ilunion Hotel being remotely reminiscent of the 4 star it claimed to be was low, however I was about to get the first pleasant surprise of many on this trip. Our room was modern, clean and spacious with had a spectacular sea view and a large balcony. And a big deal breaker of modern life – free, fast unlimited Wi-Fi was available!
Los Boliches is ideally located beside some outstanding restaurants, tapas bars and shops. The area has retained much of its original charm as a fishing village and is not dominated by high apartment blocks, as in some other parts of Fuengirola and the coast. It has one of the cleanest beaches and is a lot less crowded than its counterparts. It costs €5 for a sunbed for the day and service to your bed is available.
Between the main street and the sea there are lovely little narrow streets buzzing with the lively Andalusian atmosphere and with wonderful local seafood and fresh fish dishes to choose from. There is nothing more symbolic of a Spanish summer than the smell of sardines being slowly grilled over an open wood fire on the beach. Maybe it’s the novelty of watching freshly caught fish, grilled in front of your eyes on an old fishing boat berthed in the sand that is so appealing. Whatever the reason, I made the most of being on the Mediterranean coastline and tucked into this delicacy and lots of other seafood on more than one occasion at a nearby restaurant.
The Parish Church of Carmen y Santa Fé is the centre of the neighbourhood in Los Boliches. It lies on a quaint and pretty little square surrounded by orange trees and the whole place has a unique village feel unlike anywhere I’ve ever visited in Spain.
We arrived late on a Friday night and having done my research I was eyeing up the possibility of visiting the local flea market only five minutes from our hotel. I have quite the reputation for shopping and could foresee the instant eye rolling that announcing my plans for bargain hunting would result in with my family especially given that it would be in the first few hours of landing on Spanish soil. But I did manage to steal some time to view and barter.
To market, to market
As I got out of the taxi at the town fairground home to the collection of stalls I came face to face with a giant of a market. It was hard to know where to look or where to go to first as I got to grip with the huge array of sprawling stalls offering many weird and wonderful goods. Being a magnet for anything old or interesting one of the first vendors to catch my eye was a vintage stall owned by a very glamorous and eccentric Italian lady who was giving a fellow traveler a very theatrical account of the story behind a necklace his wife was admiring.
Her wares included a snakeskin 1950s handbag, pearls, antique brooches, 19th century perfume bottles and a stunning intricately designed jewelry box. I felt like child left in my granny’s attic to look through all of the memories she had collected throughout the years. This place was the stuff that dreams are made of, for me anyway.
Staying with the vintage theme and further into this little world was a collection of fascinating Spanish fashion magazines from the 1960s. I got two for an unbelievable price of £3 as well as a collection of specialist boxing newspapers from the 1960s/1970s (my dad is a big boxing fan)
Other stalls included Moroccan leather bags and shoes, antiques, vinyl, old radios, cameras and local produce. Some of the more unusual items for sale included army helmets, mannequins and eerie old collectable dolls! If you’ve ever heard the term, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure then this place is the living, breathing form of the phrase.
As I made my way through the copious stalls I stumbled upon an elderly lady selling the most amazing antique Spanish lace scarf. It was out of my price range but even if you don’t buy, this flea market is just as much a cultural experience as much as a retail one. The electric atmosphere and buzz is palpable as vendors bargain with punters all trying to do a deal and go home happy.
The weekly Saturday market from 9am – 2pm is immense and walking around in the heat of the midday sun is not for the faint hearted as most of the stalls are uncovered. Thankfully, there were vendors walking around selling cold drinks to keep you cool. Also adorning the eclectic mix of goods on offer was the noisy hustle and bustle of marketers with wheelbarrows full of delicious fresh cherries, watermelons, asparagus and avocados all trying to outdo each other on price and get rid of the stock before the market came to an end.
Along the way I spotted an original 1970s Spanish football bag and bargained down the price from €30 to €10. And so I made my way back to the hotel with a mix of goods I could never have predicted I’d find when I walked in and that’s what is so magical about flea markets.
A real Spanish experience
My parents had holidayed in nearby Torre Blanca just the week before we set off and recommended a visit to Mijas Pueblo, a mountain top village over looking the Mediterranean Sea about 7km from Los Boliches. As we travelled up the steep and winding roads we started to get a glimpse of this typically Moorish and exceptionally beautiful white-washed village. The vibrant plant pots brimming with bougainvillea, lavender and jasmine all added an extra dash of colour to the enchanting scene of Mijas. Although only five minutes away, this was like a different world, leaving a tourist hub for a real Spanish town or at least that’s how it felt.
We got dropped off at the main square where a host of horse and carriages surrounding a beautiful cultivated green area welcomed us. My son Caleb quickly spotted a group of Donkeys dressed ornately in colourful garments on the other side of the road offering the same service but perhaps offering a little more novelty and intrigue. The donkey taxis are a popular aspect of local life that has its origins in the early 60s, when tourists arriving in Mijas felt so drawn to these animals that transported the “Mijeños”, that they would ask to have their picture taken on the donkeys. The locals decided to make donkeys their new business, which is why they have become one of the town’s main tourist attractions today.
Travelling through the meandering cobbled streets of this quaint white village we became mesmerized as we veered in and out of the narrow winding shopping streets leading to more narrow streets and I began to lose hope that I’d ever grasp my bearings to return to the abundance of local handmade craft, art galleries, boutiques, wine bars and all sorts of artisan stores nestled along the way. The alluring smell of handmade leather was pungent from the boutiques stationed between the shabby white buildings, and the exquisite architecture and blaze of colours from the wide variety of plants that trailed from the flower filled patios over the streets added to the awe of the experience.
All roads seemed to lead back to the main square no matter what route you took and after a captivating tour of the town we returned to our starting point. As well as catching ride on horse or donkey you could also avail of a photo opportunity on top of a bull, albeit a metal sculpture! A huge tourist attraction is the Mijas bullring made famous because of of its unusual oval shape rather than the normal circle – making it unique in Spain. If you want breath-taking views over the Costa del Sol, there’s no better spot than the Mijas Pueblo viewpoint close by, called The Mirador. Definitely one for the photo album.
Another site grabbing attention was what looked like an old ruin or cave. It was actually the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the rock, a chapel excavated out of rock by a Carmelita monk in the 17th century. The interior is very small but is so interesting as it is carved in the dirt and rocks of a hillside. It is beautifully maintained with gilded metal pews. Also on view is the image of the Virgin of the Rock, Patron Saint of Mijas. According to the legend, she was discovered in 1586 by two child shepherds who were guided to the place by a dove. The outside has fabulous views of the ocean, beaches, and city of Mijas. During festivals, the whole town gathers in this mystical place.
We dined in a little bistro called Alboka Gastro Tapas in the town centre. Its style, contemporary décor and a showcase of local art on the walls instantly made it feel very different to any other restaurant we had been to on our stay. Alboka offer a quirky and unique selection of tapas as well as a carefully curated wine menu with many organic and unique bottles on offer. We tucked into mini burgers in tomato bread with sweet onion and wasabi, patata bravas, homemade meatballs and octopus in honey sauce.
I can take or leave high street shops and commercial centres, trawling through local craft and independent stores is the real shopping experience for me and I couldn’t leave without browsing in a couple of local stores. Hidden at the back of one selling all sorts of souvenirs and curios was a nook filled with handmade wicker and linen goods, traditional Spanish lace, as well as a selection of vintage clothing and leather bags. I was glad that I hadn’t spend money on mass produced tat in the many beachside shops now and came away with some beautiful rare finds.
Later in the week my son, Caleb, a keen swimmer had his sights set on going to a water park in Fuengirola. We had been to the same park three years previously and I admit the thoughts of crowds, queues and nowhere to sit didn’t thrill me. Thankfully travelling in May, we didn’t have to worry and enjoyed the day in comfort. Mijas Water Park is a great way to spend a day in the sun. With many water rides, slides and pools for every age it will keep the smallies entertained while you catch some rays on a sun lounger (or if you are like me recover on it after the trauma of a water ride I reluctantly agreed to go on due to intense nagging from my 9-year-old). You can partake in a fun aqua Zumba class or even sip a cocktail by the water. Make sure you book online for a considerable discount. A family pass will cost you €54.40 and note that lockers and sunbeds are extra. I’d recommend that you come armed with snacks and drinks otherwise it could turn into an expensive day!
Another exciting discovery for me on this trip was The Organic Cafe, quirky little eatery on the main strip offering a clean, healthy menu consisting of cold pressed juices, vegan dishes, salads and basically anything that is good for you! The trendy décor has a hippie/Moroccan style vibe and it is a breath of fresh air to the area. I made a quick pit stop for one of their delicious smoothies before returning the next day for breakfast. I opted for their version of eggs benedict consisting of two poached eggs with smoked salmon on squid ink brioche and an unusual curry type sauce! Caleb had vegan pancakes, well everything is going to taste good covered in syrup right?
As our wonderful week came to an end, Marbella was a distant memory and stood firmly in the ha’penny place as Fuengirola proved to be a perfect holiday destination no matter what type of break you desire. We will definitely be back.
We booked our trip with Clickandgo.ie which included flights, hotel and transfers.