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Sunny side up

india Updated: Oct 09, 2009 20:07 IST
Anushree Chatterjee

Driving by the coast of a European country sure makes for a dream holiday. Combining the grandest and the simplest, mixing luxury with languor, my journey through parts of Spain’s Costa Del Sol (Coast of the Sun) was a trip of a lifetime.
In the beautiful city of Seville on the southern coast, the Spanish skies were at their bluest best, and the sun peeped through a few large, silvery clouds. On either side, were farmlands — tilled, trimmed and dotted with olive trees — and ancient castles.

Birthplace of bullfighting
The first stop was at Ronda. An old and significant city of the Malaga province in Andalusia, Ronda sits about 2,500 feet above the sea, atop the El Tajo canyon. Overlooking the Guadelevin river, it commands picturesque views of plunging cliffs and chasms.

Three famous bridges — Puente Romano, Puente Viejo and Puente Arab — stretch across the canyon, and the buildings reflect the culture of its Moorish rulers.

Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway were known to have paid homage to this city. Ronda is also known for being the place of origin of modern-day bullfighting, pioneered by the legendary matador, Pedro Romero. The Plaza de Torros or bull ring at Ronda is now a museum and is worth a visit. Along the streets are innumerable shops selling local handicrafts like colourful ceramics, carvings in walnut and chestnut wood and baskets woven with Esparto grass. After picking up a lovely painted bowl and nibbling at some goat cheese, I set off southwards to Marbella.

Spain’s Monte Carlo
Called Spain’s very own Monte Carlo, Marbella is one of the most popular beach resorts by the Mediterranean Sea and is second home to the elite. The likes of Sean Connery and Antonio Banderas have owned villas here.

Interestingly, the value of real estate ascends as one moves away from the sea towards the slopes. This is because the views from atop, as I noticed, are truly worth a million bucks. The sea is a pristine blue and the white villas that dazzle in the sunlight. This was just the beginning of my soujourn through the White Villages (Pueblo Blanco) of Spain.

While going through the narrow streets, I discovered the cutest houses and shops lined elbow-to-elbow. It felt more like a village rather than the glamorous town it’s reputed to be. But when I finally went to Puerto Banus, I figured what the hullabaloo was all about. In the water, the fanciest private yachts stand smug whilst the road is lined with the very latest Aston Martins, Maseratis, Ferraris and boutiques of the most renowned fashion houses. The piano bars, cafés and restaurants, each stylish and very upmarket, are places for the best food and drinks.

Scrumptious seafood
I was solicited by a treat-of-a-display of tiger prawns at Red Pepper where I had lunch. I got to eat some scrumptious sea food — succulent prawns, crisp crab cutlets and divine fish in fresh lemon sauce. With my mind as well as pocket much lighter, I left Marbella, vowing to return.

There was a clear distinction between my visit to the next town, Mijas (pronounced Mee-ghas) and the previous one. While Marbella oozed buzz and lavishness, Mijas was more about sleepiness, ease and rustic charm. Very characteristic of the Pueblo Blancos of Malaga, Mijas is a charming little village. I walked in sheer awe on San Sebastian street, which is said to be the most photographed street in this region. Its white houses with colourful flowers in window boxes have a simple, endearing quality.

The people reflect the passion they have for their village in their warmth towards visitors. Mijas also has a cave house from the ancient days. Yet another interesting aspect of Mijas is its donkey taxis. They’re used to ferry the locals and their goods. I made it a point to pick up a miniature donkey as a souvenir.

Brilliant Benalmadena
My final destination in Costa Del Sol was the very exciting Benalmadena. My three days here were a collective blast as I relaxed at Benalmadena Costa, the major coastal section of this town. On the way to the hotel, I passed the huge Buddhist Enlightenment Stupa, the largest in the west.

Another eye-catching feature is a tall modern-day windmill sculpture created by children at a major roundabout. Its colourful blades spinning in the sea breeze create quite a stunning effect. After parking my bags in my sea-facing room at Hotel San Fermin, I went straight to the beach. Hordes of people were out to swim, drink and relax in the morning. It’s perfectly safe to leave your belongings here when you head for a dip. It wasn’t safe, however, to assume that the sea feels as inviting as it looks, for the first touch of that chilly water made me shriek. After a while, hungered by the sight of the eateries lining the promenade, I coaxed myself out of the water.

Every eatery here has its individual barbecue set up outside with luscious meats, fish and vegetables being grilled. I stop at a small native-owned café, order some delicious paella and down it with a fantastic Sangria. In the evening, I set out to explore the nightlife here. At Newz bar, I was made to try out several shots gratis by one Olivier till my drink of choice arrived. Post a great dinner of grilled meat and peppers, I strolled along the palm-lined promenade by a sea calmed by the evening breeze. Such was the lovely routine for all my time on the Spanish coast.

Anushree Chatterjee is a freelance writer who gave up a corporate life to pursue writing.