Geography, climate and population
Located in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, in the westernmost Mediterranean area, the Costa del Sol spans 161 kilometers of coastline in Málaga Province, and it seamlessly goes into the neighboring provinces of Granada and Cádiz.
The capital, Málaga City, is in right in the centre, being the hub of the communication network and dividing the Costa del Sol into two big areas: the east and the west.
Going eastwards from Málaga City, you will come to Rincón de la Victoria(12 kilometers), where many Malagueños have their weekend homes; Vélez-Málaga and its coastal district, Torre del Mar (35 kilometers), which attracts mostly visitors from Spain; Torrox (46 kilometers), where there is one of the largest colonies of Germans who have chosen the Costa del Sol for their second homes; and Nerja (50 kilometers), the most popular municipality in the region, mainly because of its famous cave.
The Western Costa del Sol is the more cosmopolitan. Its municipalities are Torremolinos (15 kilometers from Málaga City), Fuengirola (27 kilometers), Mijas (31 kilometers), Marbella (58 kilometers), Estepona (85 kilometers), and Manilva (97 kilometers). All these towns, from Nerja to Manilva, are connected by the Mediterranean highway and the AP-7 tollway from Fuengirola to Cádiz.
Málaga is the smallest province in Andalusia. It has a surface area of 7,276 square kilometers, where over 1.5 million people live. On the other hand, it has the roughest relief. In fact, it is the second province in Spain, after Teruel, in terms of complex orography, crossed by several mountain ranges. In spite of this, all population centres are well connected and easily accessed, even those nestled in the hills in the hinterland. Málaga comprises 101 municipalities grouped into nine regions. First of all, there is Málaga, which covers the same territory as the capital city in the centre of the coastal strip, by the wide mouth of the river Guadalhorce (385 square kilometers). The second region is Axarquía (1,000 square kilometers), in the easternmost part of the province. It comprises 31 municipalities: Alcaucín, Alfarnate, Alfarnatejo, Algarrobo, Almáchar, Árchez, Arenas, Benamargosa, Benamocarra, El Borge, Canillas de Aceituno, Canillas de Albaida, Colmenar, Comares, Cómpeta, Cútar, Frigiliana, Iznate, Macharaviaya, Moclinejo, Nerja, Periana, Rincón dela Victoria, Riogordo, Salares, Sayalonga, Sedella, Torrox, Totalán,La Viñuela, and Vélez-Málaga, considered to be the regional capital. In the north, between the mountain range connecting Serranía de Ronda with Axarquía and the big plains and meadows, there lie the seven towns that make the region of Antequera:Alameda, Casabermeja, Fuente de Piedra, Humilladero, Mollina, Villanueva dela Concepción, and Antequera, a city with a host of monuments and a rich heritage.
Costa del Sol Occidental (800 square kilometers) covers the municipalities of Benahavís, Benalmádena, Casares, Estepona, Fuengirola, Manilva, Marbella, Mijas, and Torremolinos, stretching along the coastal strip from Málaga Cityto Cádiz. The most touristy towns in Málaga and continental Spain are to be found here. Also in the north there is the region of Guadalteba, which owes its name to one of the rivers flowing across it. The municipalities included in it are Almargen, Ardales, Campillos, Cañetela Real, Carratraca, Cuevas del Becerro, Sierra de Yeguas, and Teba. Serranía the Ronda (1,260 square kilometers), in northwestern Málaga, comprises 21 different villages. They are Algatocín, Alpandeire, Arriate, Atajate, Benadalid, Benalauría, Benaoján, Benarrabá, Cartajima, Cortes de la Frontera, Faraján, Gaucín, Genalguacil, Igualeja, Jimera de Líbar, Jubrique, Júzcar, Montejaque, Parauta, Pujerra, and the major city of Ronda. Nororma includes seven municipalities –Archidona (the largest and most populated town in the region), Cuevas Bajas, Cuevas de San Marcos, Villanueva de Algaidas, Villanueva del Rosario, Villanueva del Trabuco, Villanueva de Tapia–, which together cover 435 square kilometers. In central western Málaga, Sierra de las Nieves is both a region and a nature park. It was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1995. In the foothills of the sierras, there are nine villages: Alozaina, El Burgo, Casarabonela, Guaro, Istán, Monda, Ojén, Tolox, and Yunquera. Last but not least, Valle del Guadalhorce is a huge garden housing the villages of Alhaurín de la Torre, Alhaurín el Grande, Almogía, Álora, Cártama, Coín, Pizarra, and Valle de Abdalajís. This region is close to Málaga City and well connected to it. Moreover, it lies next to wonderful natural settings of great environmental value.
One of the reasons why the Costa del Sol has become a world-class travel destination is the Mediterranean climate: mild all year round with an average temperature of 18º C. In the summer, temperatures rise to 25º C-30º C, whereas in winter the never go below 14º C during the day. There are hinterland areas, however, where the climate is continental and therefore marked by greater diurnal and seasonal variations in temperature. The rainfall pattern also depends on relief. In coastal areas, the average annual rainfall is below 500 millimeters, while in interior zones it can rise to 600-800 millimeters or even over 1,000 in Serranía de Ronda, especially near Sierra de Grazalema. On the whole, the climate of Málaga Province enables visitors to come all year round. In particular, the coastal strip, sheltered from the wind by ranges of relatively high mountains, affords over 300 sunny days a year and nice temperatures in all seasons.
History of the Costa del Sol
The Costa del Sol emerged as an international travel destination in the second half of the twentieth century, when elite tourism –an exclusive activity for a chosen few– was in search for new places. Meanwhile, the industry was broadening and reached more social layers.
The designation or brand name “Costa del Sol” is said to have various origins. It is documented, however, that the name was first used for advertising purposes at the Ibero-American Exhibition held in Seville in 1929. According to some of the sources, it was coined by an Austrian consul living in Cádiz, who often went to Almería along the coast and thus usually travelled across Málaga and Granada. Taking notice of the region’s good weather, he called it “Costa del Sol” (Sunny Coast). Some years later, the reference was narrowed down to Málaga Province only.
The history of the Costa del Sol proper begins in Torremolinos with the arrival of George Langworthy, locally known as “The Englishman.” Langworthy and his wife settled in the Castle of Santa Clara, which they had bought in the late nineteenth century. The castle would afterwards be converted to residence for foreign citizens. A few years later, Carlota Alessandri Tettamanzy transformed a property she owned into the Parador de Montemar. The parador was followed by Hotel La Roca. Onlya few people would have imagined back then that these first three establishments, drawing guests with weird habits, would be the cornerstone of a world-class tourist hub. The opening of Hotel Pez Espada in 1959 consolidated Torremolinos as a touristy town. Celebrities –especially film stars– could be seen around and their presence attracted both more visitors and the media. The rise of Torremolinos in the world of tourism had a domino effect. By the late 1960s or early 1970s, the neighboring towns –Benalmádena, Fuengirola, Mijas– also experienced a travel boom, in part triggered by the Costa del Sol’s transformation into a huge film set. (About 250 movies were shot until 2005.)
A few kilometers west of Torremolinos, a different kind of boom was under way. Alfonso de Hohenlohe, Norberto Goizueta, and José Luque were placing Marbella on the international map. In 1954, Hohenlohe opened Marbella Club, drawing aristocrats, tycoons, and film stars who could come once and again. The final turn was the development of Puerto Banús in the 1960s, whose jetties attracted big yachts and whose marina became the most popular in the Mediterranean, visited by international celebrities coming for lunch, shopping, or leisure. The existing luxury hotels were not enough to accommodate all high-purchasing-power guests in this new, diversified-demand scenario. Lots of discos, night clubs, and casinos were set up for evening entertainment, whereas golf courses mushroomed like in no other place inEurope. Complementary products emerged too –water parks, theme parks, fun resorts– and new segments began to develop: meetings, incentives, conferences and events, cultural tourism, and hinterland travel, first in Serranía de Ronda and Axarquía, then in Antequera and Valle del Guadalhorce.
The growth of the eastern part of the Costa del Sol –most of it included in Axarquía, a region with a clear al-Andalus legacy– was less spectacular but no less important. The best known town in the area, Nerja, became popular after the discovery of a stunning, unusually big cave in the nearby district of Maro in 1959. The cave (which hosts an international dance and music festival every year in July), adding up to the wonderful landscapes of sierras and cliffs, earned a place for Nerja and its environs in the world tourism scene. The “Cueva de Nerja” International Festival (which turned50 in2009) is a must-attend, drawing renowned musicians, dancers, singers, and flamenco artists.
Better connected after the development of the Mediterranean highway, the Eastern Costa del Sol is one of the most interesting places to visit in Málaga Province. In the 50 years that have elapsed since Torremolinos coyly emerged as an international touristy town, the Costa del Sol has learnt how to adjust to the needs of the ceaseless flow of incoming tourists.