A beach break with a difference in Southern Spain

The Costa del Sol may conjure up images of identikit beach resorts, with holiday apartments rising up behind the long, sun-soaked beaches the region is famous for. But look a little closer, and you’ll discover historic towns with Moorish roots and thriving local traditions. One such spot is Estepona, where a stay at some of the best luxury hotels in Spain comes with a side-order of authentic Andalusian culture.

STAY

Set just off the New Golden Mile, Healthouse las Dunas focuses on total wellbeing. This adult-only spa resort is laid out around Moorish style gardens, with a geometric swimming pool and fountains leading out to the waterfront. Rooms and suites are elegant and comfortable, with balconies and terraces looking out across the gardens or the sea. With two spas – one focused on health and the other on relaxation – you’re guaranteed to leave Estepona feeling utterly revitalised.

Did you know? It seems fitting that Estepona is still somewhere to focus on personal health and wellbeing. Around two thousand years ago, the Romans were doing exactly that. A short drive into the countryside outside Estepona brings you to the Baños de la Hadionda – a preserved Roman bathhouse where you can still bathe in the mineral (and sulphur) rich waters.

SEE

Although you could be tempted to spend all your time sampling the Healthouse las Dunas spas, Estepona and the surrounding area are well worth exploring.

The town itself dates back to the 4th century, but most of the archaeological sites are from the later Moorish period. Travel along the coast and you’re likely to see some of the seven watchtowers, which were built to protect the town from pirates. The most impressive site is Castillo de Nicio, with its ruined towers gazing out across a dramatic landscape of hills and valleys.

Back in contemporary Estepona, you can easily while away an hour or two strolling through the classic white-washed streets. But remember to look up – over 2o enormous murals turn everyday homes and buildings into open-air art galleries. You can pick up a guide to ‘La Ruta de Murales’, so that you don’t miss any.

Throughout the year, traditional festivals add even more colour to the streets. The biggest of them all is the Semana Santa processions. Throughout Easter Holy Week, the brotherhoods representing different churches parade through the streets with elaborate crosses, effigies and floats glittering with countless candles.  

DO

Estepona is home to the ‘New Golden Mile’ – a stretch of enticing beaches to rival nearby Marbella. Hop on a boat tour to explore more of the coast, and you might be lucky enough to spot dolphins. Or if you want to dive in yourself, make for Atalaya beach to surf Southern Spain’s best waves.

Away from the sand, those with an eye for beauty will love the Orchid House. With its glass-topped dome and roaring waterfall, it feels like a tropical world of its own – with delicate, colourful orchids everywhere you look.

Estepona-Orchard-House

EAT & DRINK

Andalusia’s waves of invaders, settlers, traders and travellers all added to the region’s rich and varied local cuisine. Here’s a few dishes to look out for:

  • Pescaito frito stands out on many menus in coastal Estepona. Said to have originated in the Jewish community, sole or cod is lightly dusted in flour and fried in ‘liquid gold’ olive oil.
  • Polvorones are a real treat for those with a sweet tooth. Both moreish and Moorish, these crumbly, nutty cakes are traditionally baked and eaten around religious holidays.
  • Huevos a la flamenca makes a perfect post night-out breakfast. Similar to north African shakshuka, eggs are baked with tomato and chorizo in an earthenware dish.

Speaking of flamenco, many of Estepona’s restaurants and tapas bars double as performance spaces. One of the standouts is Peña Flamenca, which hosts flamenco nights every other Saturday. Take a seat in this unassuming restaurant to watch the famous dance in its purest form – with plenty of cheering and singing along from the predominantly local crowd. It’s at times and places like this that you get a true feel for the fact that Estepona is more than just a beach resort, but a living, breathing town.