The Costa del Sol is one of Europe's most popular year-round holiday spots, stretching for 160 kilometres to the east and west of Málaga on the south coast of Spain. Miles of magnificent beaches cater for sun soakers, watersports enthusiasts, naturists and celebrity spotters. The rich and famous are to be found in swanky Puerto Banus on their multi-million pound yachts. Lesser mortals pack the beaches and nightclubs of torrid Torremolinos a few miles along the coast.
Since the package holiday boom of the 1960s, the Costa del Sol's ancient towns and fishing villages have been transformed into mega tourist centres geared to the demands of the millions of international visitors who flock here each year. Much of the coastline is dominated by high-rise hotels, apartments blocks, restaurants and entertainment centres. But there are still relatively unspoilt resort areas where you can enjoy a "sun and sea" holiday whilst still soaking up the flavour of traditional Andalucian life.
If you're a golfer, you've come to the right place. This is the golfing Mecca of Europe with nearly 60 courses in Andalucia including 30 along the coast. Championship courses include Valderrama, host to the 1997 Ryder Cup, Torrequebrada which has hosted many world class tournaments including the Spanish Open, and Alhaurin El Grande with its two 18-hole courses designed by Seve Ballesteros.
The Costa can be divided into two distinct parts. The 54-kilometre stretch east of Málaga is the quieter end where nature has controlled excessive tourist development with its Sierra Almijara mountain range creating cliffs of up to 200 metres. The main resort is Nerja, at the far eastern end of the Costa where it meets the neighbouring Costa Tropical. This is a relatively new resort which has managed to avoid the skyscraper development which characterises much of the western strip of coastline. Much of the holiday accommodation here is provided within whitewashed self-catering villas owned by foreigners who live in Nerja for several months of the year. The town centre retains much of its old-world charm with narrow, winding streets and balconies overflowing with brightly coloured bougainvillea and geraniums. A short drive inland you'll find the delightful mountain villages of Frigiliana and Competa which are a world apart from the summer madness of the coast.
Málaga is the capital of the Costa - the birthplace of Pablo Picasso and modern day hero Antonio Banderas. It's Spain's second largest port and has a cosmopolitan flavour along with much traditional Andalucian charm amid its maze of medieval streets. To the west of the capital, you'll find the package holiday playgrounds of Torremolinos, Benalmádena and Fuengirola - not much Andalucian charm here but plenty of foam parties, fish and chips and round-the-clock fun.
A short hop inland from Fuengirola is the delightful village of Mijas - a traditional Andalucian pueblo backed by heavily wooded mountains and affording spectacular views to the coast. It's not a package holiday resort but Mijas is a firm favourite with discerning tourists and ex-pats who have made it their home.
Marbella and Puerto Banus are Spain's answer to St Tropez. They're classy, glitzy.and horrendously expensive. Ferraris cruise the quayside while ordinary folk bide their time with a Haagen-Daz ice-cream in the hope of spotting one of the Hollywood movie stars who frequent this playground of the seriously rich.
At the western end of the Costa is Estepona which is a quieter beach resort, favoured by couples and families.