Costa del Sol
My warped vision of the southern coast of Spain before setting off on my travels closely resembled that of a tourist trap – packed beaches, high-rise tower block hotels and British pub grub.
But as soon as I touched down in Malaga I knew my narrow-minded preconception couldn’t have been further from the truth thanks to the charm and beauty of the Costa Del Sol.
There’s so much on offer in the Costa Del Sol that I am now hatching a plan to return for a longer stay in this vibrant region.
It has a rich cultural heritage, a host of charming towns and villages, and stunning and diverse landscapes.
I was treated to rolling green hills, dramatic mountains dotting the horizon and the coast disappearing behind me on the taxi ride from Malaga Airport to my hotel in Antequera, known as the “heart of Andalusia”.
The main purpose of this press trip was to cover the Junior Team Golf Home Nations Inter- Club Championship held at Antequera Golf Club. Nestled in the mountains above the city, the course is simply breathtaking and proved to be the perfect setting for an action-packed tournament.
I wish I could have had more time to explore the city of Antequera. I studied history at university and Antequera is absolutely steeped in it. But I had a timetable to keep and my hosts had kindly arranged for me and two other members of the press to embark on a tour of the port city of Malaga.
Before we could explore Malaga we had the important matter of testing out one of the area’s other top golf courses. Parador de Malaga Golf is the oldest course in Andalusia, dating back to 1925. You will be hard pressed to find a course in a more stunning setting.
Views of the sea and surrounding mountains greet you and Parador contains elements of both parkland and links to keep you on your toes.
Cigar-chomping Miguel Angel Jimenez holds the course record of 63 at Parador but there was never any danger of me breaking the red-haired Spaniard’s impressive feat, although my erratic shots did afford me the chance to explore every nook and cranny of the beautiful landscape.
Our host, who I dubbed ‘Big Phil’ for his uncanny resemblance to former Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the course, spoke excellent English and wiped the floor with us on the fairways.
Manuel, Big Phil’s real name – you know, like from Fawlty Towers, he jokingly explains – then ferried us into Malaga city centre. Here we met up with local guides Monica and Nawal for a whistle-stop tour of the port city.
One of the oldest cities in the world, Malaga has a rich heritage. Various cultures have helped shape Malaga, including Roman, Arabic and Greek rulers, which can be seen in the beautiful buildings, monuments and ruins doted around the city.
Strolling round Malaga is a delight and I started drawing comparisons to some of Italy’s finest cities and hill towns. Monica, whose enthusiasm for her home city became infectious, led us down a side street and waited to see our expressions as a colossal cathedral suddenly appeared before our eyes.
Malaga Cathedral was built between 1528 and 1782 but remains unfinished. The original plans for the gorgeous building had included the creation of two towers, however a lack of funds meant only one was built, giving rise to the cathedral’s nickname, La Manquita, loosely interpreted as one-armed woman.
Next I was given a test on my Spanish art. Although I don’t particularly enjoy Pablo Picasso’s creations, it was great to get up close to some of the Malagaborn artist’s best pieces of work at the Museo Picasso Malaga.
Art and museum-goers could happily spend a week in Malaga and not get near to exploring all 35 of the city’s museums. All that culture had my stomach rumbling!
We headed to restaurant El Pimpi, one of the longest-standing eateries in Malaga. You know it’s good when signed photos of celebrities cover the wall, including Puss in Boots himself, aka Malaga’s very own Antonio Banderas.
After waddling out of El Pimpi, our ride home was filled with more questions about the beautiful Costa Del Sol for our host with the most, Manuel.
Any notion I once had that the southern Spanish coast is a tourist trap were long gone as I dreamily looked up at the colossal mountain range above as we wound our way along the road back to Antequera.