Sunday afternoon, lounging on blankets placed upon the soft, warm, gritty Costa del Sol sand, we sip Spanish wine and San Miguel beer, savouring fresh bread, olives, salmon dip, cheese, red peppers and tomatoes. Waves grumble while fisherman bait hooks on lines attached to long poles jutting into the blue sky. A passing ferry steadily navigates towards a fleet of sailboats while strollers extricate treasure from clumps of shells strewn along the sand. This sure beats shovelling snow!
We are experimenting in "residential tourism," sharing a two-bedroom apartment in Benalmadena with another couple. On the Internet, our friends negotiated a price of $1,500 US for five weeks. One week of rent-splitting costs a mere $150 US or $246 Cdn. We have our own bedroom, living room, satellite TV, washer (no dryer, the Spanish tend to use the outdoors), a balcony overlooking the beach and a fully-stocked kitchen in which to prepare meals. Benalmadena boasts a large, modern marina surrounded by shops and an exclusive apartment complex. The mayor promoted it as a site for the sailing component of the Summer Olympics.
Along the boardwalk and elsewhere, there are reasonably priced restaurants, the best deal generally the menu of the day.
There are also tapas bars with the omnipresent ham hanging as decor. I try delicious pizza and spaghetti laced with fresh squid, mussels and prawns.
Benalmadena is situated between older Torremolinos and Fuengirola, both favoured tourist haunts. Farther west is Marbella, an upscale community where wealthy people such as Sean Connery own magnificent winter homes. From Malaga airport, 23 kilometres away, it's a short taxi ride
to Benalmadena, serviced also by rail and bus.
We used local transit on shorter sorties to spots like Mijas but selected a packaged tour to Ronda, a beautiful town located high up in the Spanish hills. In Mijas, we skipped the popular burro taxi ride, preferring a leisurely stroll, taking in sights such as the Plaza de Toros with posters advertising matadors for an upcoming fight.
The entire Sun Coast features long hotel strips and apartments. Beautiful palm trees compete with large, industrial cranes, construction a steady, lucrative business. With current age and retirement demographics, residential tourism is rapidly catching on in Spain and Portugal where North Americans and Europeans affordably escape the winter blahs for a month or two of comparative bliss.
Down the road from our Costamar Apartments, I discover a retirement hotel owned by a bank.
The manager speaks little English and informs me that it's for retired people who are "valid" not "invalid." I nod, and he gives me a complimentary tour of the facility which sits on the beach. The rooms are clean with sitting rooms, balconies enjoying views of the Mediterranean, large bathrooms and for 42 euros per person, you are provided with three meals.
Since the boom of the 1960s, Torremolinos dramatically changed from a picturesque fishing village to one of the most important tourist centres in Spain. Benalmadena is
an outgrowth. It's a perfect location for initiating day trips to surrounding sites including local markets with fresh, inexpensive food.
In Malaga's large indoor market, we purchased tomatoes and strawberries at two euros per kilo.
At an outdoor cafe near the Fuengirola market, every few minutes someone saunters along with merchandise for sale - power sanders, fluorescent light fixtures, binoculars, lace, local CD's, jewelry, blankets and other eclectic objects.
Most markets feature leather - belts, purses, shoes, knock-off T-shirts, ceramics and in Fuengirola, a Peruvian band that played flute theme songs from Sergio Leone-Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns filmed just east along the drier coast.
If you visit, be forewarned. The Number 1 tourist clothing giveaway is the
multi-pocketed vest that fishermen, war correspondents and photographers wear, available cheap at every market. Yes, I brought the topic up once, but my wife laughed so heartily that I settled for a T-shirt.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Mike Keenan: On the beach, fishermen, bullfight posters, flowers, harbour, marlin, trafic circle, statue, Bart Simpson.
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