IF THE phrase ‘no carbs before Marbs’ delivered with a TOWIE twang is what you think of when you hear Costa del Sol, then maybe you should think again.
Leave the bling and the boisterous nightlife behind and take a 30-mile drive west of Malaga airport instead to discover the charming fishing town of Nerja.
Known as the hidden gem of Andalucia, the town is a picture postcard come to life and it’s easy to see how its breathtaking scenery inspired one of Picasso’s paintings.
Despite enjoying a healthy tourist trade it manages to remain relatively untouched by the hustle and bustle typical of other resorts along Spain’s southern coastline.
Wandering through Nerja’s twisting cobbled streets it’s tempting to stop at every pretty restaurant and friendly tapas bar.
Nerja is one of the best places in Spain to go on a tapas crawl. Start off in El Nino – where two glasses of house red and a selection of tapas will set you back the princely sum of €4!
Next it’s on to La Tasquita – an impressive looking establishment in a triangular building at the junction of Calle Gloria and Calle Cristo.
Further down Calle Gloria is Redondo – named after the circular bar at which there are no less than 24 different tapas laid out.
Finish the evening off in Cerveceria El Pulguilla – which has a reputation for serving what are possibly the best seafood tapas in all of Spain.
The view from atop the Parador Hotel has only one rival – the Balcon de Europe. The vantage point was so named by King Alfonso and a bronze statue of him still stares out to sea alongside cannons recalling the balcony’s earlier use as a defence during the Peninsular Wars.
The Balcon takes on a vibrancy all of its own after dark as tourists and locals linger under the palm trees and take in the street entertainment – from the couple performing the Argentine Tango to the artists creating caricature portraits in charcoal.
Burriana Beach is a mecca for sun lovers – and lovers of Spanish cuisine should check out Ayo. The beachside restaurant where paella is cooked and served straight from a gigantic fire-scorched pan is always packed to the rafters with locals and tourists alike – always a good sign.
Take a day trip to the magnificent Cuevas de Nerja, just five miles up the coast. The massive caverns of stalagmites and stalactites is believed to be the largest cave system in Europe, and reaches all the way up to Granada.
It’s a sun worshipper’s paradise, but if you’re after something a bit more active there are plenty of hiking trails through the mountainside to nearby villages such as Frigiliana, Torrox and Acebuchal (known as the Lost Village).
Antequera, charming in its miniature scale but as rich in monuments and churches as a city, is best seen from the ‘hop-on, hop-off’ trolley bus. Choose from restaurants including Santiago (casual) and La Fuerza (gourmet).