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Nerja – Best Town on the Costa del Sol?

Nerja, Spain, Spain - Thursday, March 24th, 2016

The Maritime Explorer Score:
8.5/10
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We’ve just spent four days exploring the amazing city of Granada, Spain and are now headed to our next destination – the town of Nerja on the Costa del Sol. Please read the six posts on this website to get a better understanding of why Granada should be on everyone’s bucket list. OK, so Granada’s justly famous, but what’s this about a town called Nerja? Never heard of it, most people would probably think. Read along and find out why we are headed to Nerja and what we found when we got there.

Why Visit Nerja?

This trip to Andalusia started as an unplanned lark when a couple of clients offered Alison and me an apartment in the Albaicin quarter of Granada, which we jumped at. However, we weren’t going to travel to Andalusia just to see Granada, so everything else is pretty well totally unplanned from hereon for the next week. With the help of the internet I do all of my own research in determining when and where to go on our travels, although a good up-to-date guidebook can come in very handy. For this trip I picked up a copy of Rick Steeve’s Spain. I’ve always enjoyed Rick’s PBS TV show on his travels in Europe and although he’s a bit too cheap for my tastes, Alison and I generally agree with his recommendations.

The one thing we knew in terms of where to go next was that we wanted to see the Mediterranean and it had to be warmer – Granada was downright cold in November. Well the Mediterranean in Spain basically means the Costa del Sol, certainly the most frequented sun destination in Spain and maybe all of Europe. Despite several previous visits to Spain we had never been to the Costa del Sol, so I opened up Rick’s book with anticipation – should we go to Malaga or maybe Marbella? Which was best? Guess what – Rick thinks the Costa del Sol is an overpriced, overhyped piece of shit destination; well not in those exact words, but for a guy who is usually pretty circumspect, he made it very clear that with one or two exceptions, the Costa del Sol should be avoided.

The most notable exception was the town of Nerja which is on the easternmost portion of the Costa del Sol. Aside from Rick I had a couple of other reasons for wanting to visit Nerja. My ex-wife’s parents had a place there for many years and my daughter Lenore got to visit it in utero, but I never did (in those days I actually worked pretty hard at my law practice). A second reason was that a couple of law student friends had gone to Europe after graduation and ended up spending a lot of time in Nerja. So I’d been hearing for many years what a great spot it was and now I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to spend a couple of days there.

So we rented a car at the Granada train station and were off. Coincidentally it was a VW product and this was only a few months after the huge VW scandal about falsified emission controls. It was a nice blue Polo with lot’s of pep and perfect for European driving conditions.

On the way to Nerja
Our VW Polo

From Granada to Nerja is just under 100 kms (60 miles) and we should get there in just over an hour. Spanish roads are among the best you will find anywhere in Europe and the fact that the country is so mountainous makes for very exciting driving. Also Spanish drivers are not speed crazy and generally you won’t find any problems caused by other drivers like in Greece or southern Italy. We pick up the A-7, the Autovia del Mediterraneo, just after Motril and soon the Mediterranean Sea in all its glory is visible hundreds of feet below. The A-7 runs all the way from Barcelona to Algeciras at the Straits of Gibraltar and is one of the great driving highways you’ll find anywhere.

Once we decided we were going to Nerja I went on TripAdvisor and looked for hotels. The #1 choice was the recently renovated MB Boutique Hotel which was getting rave reviews. I briefly considered the much older and more famous Hotel Balcón de Europa which is right beside the most famous landmark in Nerja, the Balcon de Europa, and on the beach. Since it was not beach weather, I opted for the less pricey MB. So much for calling Rick Steeves cheap.

Nerja's most famous hotel
Hotel Balcon de Europa

The bottom line was the MB was just fine – very comfortable, modern and clean with a great staff and nice continental breakfast, but it was a couple of blocks from the sea and really had no view. Next time I would opt for the room with a view, even if it wasn’t beach weather.

Nerja

Somehow Nerja has managed to avoid the mass commercialization and downright tawdriness of other Costa del Sol resorts that even the official Andalusian tourist site admits once had “a Monty Python spam and chips image”. Their words, not mine. After settling in at the MB Boutique Hotel we walked the short distance to the seashore and made our way down to the beach and then walked the entirety of the beaches of Nerja starting from the mouth of the bone dry Rio Chillar at the south end. All told I would say it was a distance of just under three kms. (2 miles). The reason I write beaches and not beach is that there are a couple of places where the rocks come right down to the shoreline and separate the playas as the Spanish call them. The most notable is the promontory upon which sits the Balcon de Europa. The Playa de la Torrecilla is the southernmost beach and from here you can get a view of the Balcon de Europa and the mountains in the background.

View of the coastline at Nerja
Looking north from Playa de la Torrecilla, Nerja with the Balcon of Europa on the left

This is the view looking south from the Balcon de Europa. As you can see there are a few brave souls trying to take advantage of the November afternoon sunshine.

Nerja Beach
Looking south from the Balcon de Europa, Nerja

The Playa de Burriana is the longest and allegedly sandiest beach in Nerja, but while it’s an improvement on the gravelly Playa de la Torrecilla, I still thought it left a bit to be desired if your definition of a good beach is fine sand.

The beach at Nerja
You call this sand?

However, Alison and I are beach walkers and not sun bunnies so we both found Playa de Burriana a very pleasant walk. As you can see in the background there are traditional Mediterranean fishing boats and upon approaching them, it was clear they were still in use and not just decorative props.

Nerja Beaches
Northernmost beach of Nerja

Near the north end of Playa de Burriana there were a number of restaurants including the thatched roof Chiringuito de Ayo which has become famous for its paella.  It is cooked in huge pans over wood fires and is available from morning to night. At 7.50€ for a heaping plate or 4.25€ for a more sane portion it’s a great bargain.

We walked back via the side streets of the town until coming to the pedestrianized area of around the Plaza de Cavana which is really the heart of Nerja. Here we found umpteen restaurants and tapas bars interspersed among various tourist shops, but nothing really tacky or off putting. I made note of a number of tapas bars and we headed back to the hotel to freshen up.

We returned to this area a few hours later and had a fabulous tapas crawl which I describe in this post. The real essence of Nerja seems to be the combination of the great location and the absolutely fabulous and cheap (Thanks Rick) food in the many authentic tapas bars. Don’t even think of sitting down at one restaurant when you can sample the best of many by making a tapas crawl.

After our last drink we walked out to the Balcon de Europa and had a look down at this scene. I know it’s a shitty picture, but the cliffs and the fishing boats looked magical under these lights.

Nerja from Balcon de Europa at night
Nerja at Night

Tomorrow we’re off to visit the other major attraction of the area, the nearby caves . Won’t you join us.


  • Spanish resort towns

    8.5/10
The Maritime Explorer Score:
8.5/10
“This is next on your list!”

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