While eagerly waiting to disembark our flight at Malaga Airport, I become aware of my fellow passengers’ rising anticipation of sun and warmth, the brief excited chat going on around me is about where people are travelling on to. The vast majority were heading West of Malaga to the popular resorts of Marbella, Mijas and Benalmadena. Knowing where we’re going I feel we’re pushing against the flow by saying, ‘I’m heading East to Nerja’. This makes me think that Marbella (West) or Nerja (East) may be the question!
Heading East to Nerja on the Spanish Sunshine Coast
Nerja can be described as quaint, quieter and probably more family-orientated than Marbella. There are very few stag parties or ‘football tops’ in comparison to Marbella and its surrounding coastal towns. Dining in Marbella however can be superior, although often more expensive. So saying, Nerja has its share of top class restaurants. Marbella also has Puerto Banus on its door step with its shopping, coffee venues and sight-seeing attractions during the day, then its mega club scene at night. At my age thankfully the club equivalent is relatively small scale in Nerja, the most well known being Plaza Tutti Frutti which is a large square, lined with numerous bars and which is frequented mainly by locals at weekends.
Your own destination choice will be very much dependent on what you’re looking for in a Spanish holiday. This blog takes in several visits to Nerja when I was staying in the award winning and beautiful pueblo blanco of Frigiliana.
Nerja on the East of Costa Del Sol
On our frequent visits to Southern Spain and mostly to the autonomous region of La Axarquia, I have spent many a sunny day in and around the town of Nerja.
Nerja is a picturesque Costa del Sol resort town sitting along Spain’s Southern coast. Just 50 kilometres east of Málaga city and connected by the Mediterranean highway. Once a sleepy fishing village, Nerja now has a population of over 25,000.
It boasts an impressive seafront promenade and stunning blue Mediterranean sea views from the famous Balcón de Europa. Sightseers are mesmerised looking out across the water and often forget to turn around and take in the stunning views of the rugged mountains behind. Nerja is home to several historic churches and beside the Balcón de Europa is the impressive El Salvador Church, first erected in 1505 but rebuilt in 1697. If you catch sight of a wedding there you will be impressed by the set up and fashion on show. On either side of the Balcón are sandy beaches and numerous coves in the cliffs.
The Caves of Nerja (Cueva de Nerja) are nearby and house unusual stalactites and stalagmites, although I’ve yet to see these as every time I’ve visited they’ve either been full or closed!
Nerja is also known for its paleolithic paintings (early Stone Age) which are best viewed by guided tour with many on offer. The town also has a three story museum covering the history of the first settlers based at the Nerja Caves until the tourist boom of the late 1950’s.
Festivals in Nerja
Similar to other local towns and villages, Nerja is served well with festivals. Catch one if you can, the main ones being:
Three Kings (January),
Semana Santa (March/April),
San Isidro (May),
San Juan (June),
Virgin del Carmen (July),
and the Feria (Second week in October).
If you ask a local they will list the following attractions as the best places to visit:
1. Old Town
2. Balcón de Europa
3. Church of El Salvador
4. Museum of the village of Nerja
There are a large number of hotels, hostels and self catering rental options in Nerja. To be honest you are spoiled for choice and you will easily find what you require and meet your budget needs.
Hotel Balcón de Europa
Plaza Balcón de Europa
Built into the rock face, this impressive hotel has direct access to Caletilla Beach and Playa el Salon. It features an outdoor infinity swimming pool and a restaurant with great sea views.
The hotel has a lovely outside terrace on the Balcón itself serving drinks and light meals. Sitting relaxing and people watching with a glass of Juve & Camps Cava is one of my favourite pastimes here.
Located in the centre of Nerja, the hotel is close to many shops, bars and restaurants. Its only downside is it’s accessed via the pedestrian walkway so unless you arrange a meet and greet you will have to carry your luggage for about 10 minutes from the transport drop off point to the hotel which can be strenuous in the heat, especially if you overpack.
I’ve heard people say some areas of the hotel look dated but for service and views of the Mediterranean I’d recommend this as an accommodation choice.
Parador de Nerja
Calle Almunecar, 8
A ‘parador’ in Spain and some other Spanish speaking nations are establishments where travellers can obtain accommodation, food and beverages, similar to an inn. Since 1928, the Spanish National Tourist Board in an attempt to boost domestic and international tourism began to nationalise these paradors and develop a national network. Paradors range from historic buildings, monasteries and castles to modern buildings that tend to hold ‘special appeal’. At the impressive 4 star Parador de Nerja this appeal is recognised in its panoramic views of Burriana Beach, the Mediterranean and Nerja Old Town.
This is a large, bright modern hotel with terraces facing the sea, a beautiful garden with an outdoor swimming pool, a lawn tennis court, a paddle tennis court and is very close to the pedestrian walkway into the centre of town.
During our visits we found several great tapas bars and restaurants all within a very short distance of each other in old town Nerja.
Calle Gloria 10
A busy bar with limited tables outside, Redondo Bar serves good food with a large selection of drinks. It offers free tapas with each drink ordered but be sure and ask for your tapas. Very popular and in a busy street, sometimes there’s a wait for a table particularly in the evenings or if the weather is not sunny. Recommended for a quick drink and tapas, don’t expect a relaxing evening meal as it can be slightly chaotic when busy but the atmosphere is great!
Mum Indian Restaurant
Calle Pintada, 3
I do like an Indian meal and we have eaten in Mum several times. Each time we are impressed with the incredible tasting food and excellent service. Not really sure what is going on with the decor mind you but some people seem to like it. If going ask for a seat through at the back terrace of the restaurant. Overall really nice food however the stuffed tandoori mushrooms were a personal firm favourite and the chicken hyderabadi biryani really did tingle the taste buds without being too spicy!
We will revisit when next in Nerja or nearby and I recommend if you like good authentic Indian food.
La Braseria de Pacomari
Calle Almte. Ferrándiz, 31
Situated in the very heart of Nerja, with a family friendly atmosphere. This is a brilliantly different restaurant where the menu merges Asian and South American options with premium Spanish cuisine. It’s truly an art form and your taste buds will love it! Combined with an excellent wine list from all corners of Spain to go hand in hand with the delicious dishes. I cannot recommend highly enough but be sure to book especially in the evening as you have little chance of getting a table without a reservation.
Restaurant 34, Hotel Carabeo
Calle de Hernando de Carabeo
We were kindly invited to a meal at this restaurant to celebrate friends Kevin and Jenny’s special birthdays (not 21!). It’s neatly tucked away in the boutique Hotel Carabeo in a fantastic setting. The authentically Spanish-focused menu comprises many delicious, mouthwatering dishes. It claims that the organic fruit and vegetables used in the cuisine are sourced from their finca, as is their own homemade extra virgin olive oil.
Daily chef specials run alongside the a la carte menu and there is also an impressive set menu at €30 for three courses.
There are various dining areas to choose from, including the original hotel dining room, tables secluded in hedge trimmed alcoves around the impressive swimming pool, or on the summer terrace overlooking the beach. Truly a wonderful experience and comes highly recommended, the octopus starter and the suckling pig main were incredible dishes, just delicious.
We can’t thank Kevin & Jenny enough for our introduction to Restaurant 34 and inclusion in their special celebrations. Feliz Cumpleanos to you both!
Terraza Buddha Lounge Bar
Calle de La Gloria 13
If you’re looking for night time entertainment, Bar Buddha is it. It has various levels with a restaurant, outdoor lounge and karaoke area. A wide selection of cocktails and chipitos (shots) are available at the impressive rooftop bar. Fairly priced and a great atmosphere although it can be very busy. The entrance is tucked away but can be accessed from opposite the Rodondo Bar.
As previously stated Nerja is a small town but it punches well above its weight for excellent beaches. The coastline is dotted with loads of small coves and sandy beaches. You are spoiled for choice whether looking for watersports, sunbathing or simply swimming in the crystal waters of the Mediterranean.
Burriana beach is the longest beach in Nerja, virtually one kilometre in length with as many watersports on offer as you can imagine. Lined with some of the best chiringuitos in the area, you can also find numerous beachside shops selling snorkels and all sorts of beach paraphernalia.
A local favourite to visit is Ayo for a lunch on Burriana Beach. Every day you can watch chef Alfonso make fresh paella in traditional big pans on an open fire. Great photo opportunity.
It’s certainly no palace but straight forward and simple with plastic chairs and tables. However, the paella is the top attraction and very good, loaded with chicken and shellfish. It used to be known for free paella refills but following the pandemic and mindful of the waste that people left, this is no longer an option. The service is great and even in the height of summer when there are long queues, table turnaround is quick due to the efficient and friendly service of the waiting staff – Nico, Livia and young Jose certainly look after you! You can’t really beat the price and quality on offer, the paella is fabulous and must be sampled but the rosada a la plancha is a winner for me and simply delicious! Eating grilled fresh fish while sampling local wine, sometimes it’s hard to remember you’re in a chiringuito on a beach and not a top class restaurant! Also worth knowing about is the breakfast here which is excellent – a large strong coffee and pan con tomate sets you up nicely for a day on the beach.
This is a local institution and certainly not to be missed! Go and visit Nico, Livia and Jose who work as a great team at the far left hand side of the restaurant.
Playa la Caletilla Beach
This is one of my favourite Nerja beaches, which is accessed by a steep downward hill and has a small shop selling drinks and snacks. Facilities such as showers, sun loungers and umbrellas are also available.
The beach is home to what were fisherman’s huts, now renovated into summer accommodation. It’s a fairly popular beach in the heart of Nerja town so can get busy. Although there are no restaurants or chiringuitos on the beach it’s only a short walk to the heart of Nerja and a huge choice of restaurants and tapas bars.
Only accessed via the pedestrianised Carabeo street although with parking available in the adjacent town car park. Carabeo Beach is really a very uncomplicated beach, there are no sun loungers, bars or restaurants available. The simplicity of this beach is not to be understated however with its sandy crystal clear waters beautifully enclosed by high cliffs it’s the most natural of beaches.
Travel & Transport
While West of Malaga has a terrific train system, the East relies on its bus and taxi infrastructure. Nerja bus station is a 15 minute walk from the Balcón de Europa although this is somewhat of a misnomer as it’s effectively a layby on the N-340 with a small ticket kiosk. But don’t be mistaken as it provides excellent and regular bus links throughout the region. There’s also plenty of cafes and bars nearby to grab a refreshment in between journeys.
There are a multitude of taxis in operation but if you’re going to pre-book an airport transfer or a pick up from outside of Nerja, I suggest you use Taxi Frigiliana. WhatsApp or call them on +34 696969469 or check out their website www.taxifrigiliana.com if you require a taxi service to get to Nerja or to travel from Frigiliana. Owned and run by Paulino Lopez, it is a stand-out in service provision, honesty and integrity.
Historically West v East?
So back to the original conundrum. Local folklore states that dictator Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 until he died in 1975, divided the area in two:
West of Malaga was for tourism; East of Malaga designated for agriculture. To be honest who really knows if this is true or simply an urban myth, but actually there is some logic in the statement particularly driving East along the Mediterranean Highway gazing at the farmers’ green hilly fields!
So here is a quick debrief on the original question of West or East of Malaga?
The western part of the region stretches 60 kilometres from Malaga to Marbella and beyond. In between you will find Torremolinos, Fuengirola and Mijas, and past Marbella you will reach Estepona and Gibraltar. All familiar names that roll off the tongue and true favourites with tourists.
East is very different and most readers will not have heard of Rincon del Victoria, Algarobbo or El Morche. Velez-Malaga and Torre del Mar may be better known along with Torrox and Nerja. This 69 kilometre agricultural stretch is lined with poly tunnels and greenhouses, it’s also the largest mango and avocado cultivation area in Europe. Tourism clearly exists but not to the same degree as the West. I know I’m not alone in saying that the East and in particular Nerja is rather more relaxed.
As the sun sets
I’m certainly not discrediting Marbella, Mijas or other resorts west of Malaga as we have several good friends who own impressive properties in these areas. We have also spent many a happy holiday or long weekend with friends and family in these locations.
So despite the West v East conundrum the resort choice is as always down to the individual traveller. No matter what your choice you will enjoy warmth and hospitality. If you’re undecided perhaps opt for the ‘middle’ as I personally find Malaga an exceptional city to visit and it should be classed as up there with the best of Spanish cities.
In conclusion I’d say Nerja is an excellent choice for a holiday, it has it all and is friendly and relaxed. For me, one of the best secrets attached to Nerja is its easy access to the award winning and beautiful pueblo blanco of Frigiliana. Only €1.20 (£1) on the bus or €12 (£10) in a taxi to visit this stunning village but be ready for its many stairs and hills – as my local friend Antonio Domingo says ‘it’s all ups and downs in Frigiliana!’.