The Costa del Sol is typically disparaged in guide books as an over-developed concrete jungle to be avoided by discriminating travellers at all costs. While large parts of the Mediterranean coast between Malaga and Marbella are lined with high-rise hotels and apartment buildings, there are also stretches of nice beaches and seaside promenades with casual restaurants. Sometimes, though, it is hard to remember that you're in Spain, given the large number of bars, restaurants and shops with signs in English and the hordes of tourists from the U.K., Ireland and northern Europe (not to mention us Yanks).
There is, however, plenty of authentic Andalucian atmosphere and charm to be found on the Costa del Sol, just a short distance away in the hill towns located inland from the coastal resorts. One such town is Benalmadena Pueblo, situated a few miles north of the seaside high-rises of Benalmadena Costa. Benaldadena Pueblo is a true Andalucian 'white town,' a term which refers to all of the houses being whitewashed. The white towns of Andalucia, of which the best-known are Mijas, Ronda, and Arcos de la Frontera, have winding, narrow streets, and with their white buildings and red tile roofs are striking when seen from a distance.
At the center of Benalmadena Pueblo is the Plaza de Espana, highlighted by the lovely statue of La Niña de Benalmadena at the center of a fountain. Located on the Plaza are several casual restaurants with outdoor seating, where one night we enjoyed a dinner of paella and sangria. A leisurely stroll through the town offers spectacular vistas overlooking the Mediterranean.
One of our best meals in Spain was lunch at Restaurante el Balcon, operated by the Escuela de Hosteleria, the Andalucian government's hospitality industry school. The restaurant and school are located in the Hotel La Fonda just two blocks from Plaza de Espana. Restaurante el Balcon is open for lunch only from 1:30 - 3:30 p.m. on Monday to Friday. The service at the restaurant is provided by students, overseen by instructors who keep a close watch and step in to provide assistance when needed. Many of the meals are prepared at table-side, including my veal scallopine sauteed in a caper and pimiento sauce. Maureen enjoyed roast rack of lamb with a dijon mustard coating that was out of this world. It was a unique first-rate dining experience, enhanced by an excellent bottle of Rioja.
After our meal we received a tour of the school from the very gracious Benito de la Ossa Moreno, one of the instructors at the school. The students go through a year-long program of instruction in languages, serving and cooking techniques to prepare them for jobs in Spain's growing hospitality industry.
RESTAURANTE EL BALCON
Another fine spot for lunch is Restaurante Julio, located on a cliff above the coastline near the Playa Las Yucas at the western edge of Benalmadena Costa. This casual restaurant has a commanding view of the Mediterranean, which can be enjoyed from an outdoor deck if the wind is not too strong. One of the house specialties is fresh seafood, and we enjoyed mariscada, a delicious platter of mussels, baby clams, shrimp, and various filets of fish broiled in garlic and oil.
RESTAURANTE JULIO, CARRETERA NACIONAL 340, KM. 219.8, BENALMADENA COSTA
Travellers looking for a real Andalucian experience can also stay in Benalmadena Pueblo at the Hotel La Fonda, a charming small hotel with 26 rooms, many with terraces. The hotel is modern and tastefully appointed, and has a small pool on the premises. In addition to the Restaurante el Balcon, there are several other fine restaurants in town. The town is also conveniently located for visiting the many beaches and golf courses on the Costa del Sol.
HOTEL LA FONDA DE BENALMADENA
The Costa del Sol has gained an international reputation as a golf resort area, particularly since the playing of the Ryder Cup at Valderrama in September 1997. We played at two courses, Mijas Golf Club in Mijas and Torrequebrada Golf Club in Benalmadena Costa. Of the two, we highly recommend Torrequebrada, which is more challenging and has scenic views overlooking the Mediterranean. This club also has a great 19th hole, a restaurant and bar with a patio that overlooks the coast. Prices for golf are fairly reasonable, and Torrequebrada also has reduced prices for late afternoon teeoffs.
TORREQUEBRADA GOLF CLUB, CARRETERA CADIZ KM. 220, BENALMADENA COSTA