Travel Report: Nerja, The Costa del Sol.
Nerja, The Costa del Sol.
September 2016. I was at home in Malaga one lazy weekend scanning my great Andalusia to-do list. While it was pleasing to see how much I’d managed to tick off, there was of course still much to do.
On that particular day my eyes were drawn to the words Balcony of Europe. A handsome stone platform, apparently, with gorgeous views across The Mediterranean Sea. Mm, where’s that, then? Following a brief tip tap on the computer, I saw that it’s in Nerja, a seaside town on the eastern edge of the Costa del Sol.
It took me about two hours to reach Nerja by bus from Malaga. Exiting the grotty station, I strolled across the road and into the very pretty Plaza Cantarero.
The local council named this fine looking public square after Francisco Cantarero Rodriguez, architect of the impressive Eagle Aqueduct on the road linking Nerja to the village of Maro. More on that later.
Nerja, The Costa del Sol.
Francisco later became Mayor of Nerja and even had a family home built on the square in 1913. Unfortunately, it’s not open to the public.
Today the plaza is a surprisingly peaceful spot that sits just on the edge of the town’s main tourist drag. No surprise then that this couple had come here to engage in a bit of sittin’ doin’ nothin’.
From the square I moved into Calle Pintada, an ultra touristy covered market street. Stuffed with every bit of tat imaginable, this is where one comes to kit out for a day at the beach. And to buy a Barcelona shirt, it seems.
The market street is also home to some tourist trap cafes and tapas bars. Although this part of Nerja proved largely uninspiring, I was nevertheless pleased to catch sight of Señor Cacahuete, Nerja’s much loved peanut man.
According to a local expat, he’s a bit of a Nerja legend and has been pedalling his nuts here for years. A somewhat gruff character, he doesn’t bother with any kind of sales pitch. This no bullshit approach makes him quite popular with tourists and locals alike.
With little interest in the market, I moved on through a series of whitewashed side streets towards Nerja’s main dish, The Balcony of Europe.
As I went, I was struck by the contrast of all the scurrying foreign tourists and Nerja’s slow-moving local seniors. In fact, I’d say the look on this man’s face speaks volumes. I’m certainly glad he didn’t catch me stealing a shot.
A short while later, I found myself on the long, palm tree lined promenade that leads to Nerja’s famous balcony. Despite the crowds, I was encouraged that a laid back atmosphere prevailed.
Indeed, there was a slight breeze coming in off The Mediterranean Sea as a local man plucked his way through a traditional Spanish tune on his magnificent harp.
The Balcony of Europe.
Way back in the 9th century, The Moors built a watchtower here to monitor and protect the coastline against pirates and smugglers. By the mid 15th century, under Christian control, the tower had become an extended fortification known as La Batería.
In 1812 the British ship HMS Hyacinth destroyed much of the fortification during The Spanish War of Independence. They’d been battling Napoleon’s French troops in partnership with Spanish Guerilla forces. Today, you can see a number of old cannons from that very battle tastefully positioned around the balcony.
The viewpoint got its current name in 1885 when King Alfonso XII paid a visit to Nerja. He came to town to see how the region was recovering from a crippling earthquake the year before.
Arriving at the site of the old fortification and tower, Alfonso was so impressed with the views, he declared the platform “the balcony of Europe”.
Hence local authorities began construction of an actual balcony fit for the king’s statement. By 1930 they’d added the promenade approach and a sculpture of Alfonso himself, leaning casually against the iron railings.
Nerja, The Costa del Sol.
The balcony also has views over Nerja’s most central strips of sand, including the small but pretty Calahonda Beach. Although way too hectic for my tastes, it’s nevertheless a cool spot, especially with the whitewashed fishermen’s cottages built into the rocks. The beach also has a few reasonable albeit frantic restaurants.
Finally, I felt moved to leave the crowds behind and seek out an altogether quieter spot. Happily, I found what I was looking for just a few minutes later within the soothing walls of El Salvador Church.
Dating back to 1505, its simple facade features a small clock by the renowned 19th century clockmaker Rosas. The towering pine tree meanwhile, that is so tall it even dwarfs the building, arrived from South America in the early 1900s.
Inside the baroque, neo-classical interior, I was simply happy to rest my feet a bit and drink in the peace and quiet. Unusually, the central vaulted ceiling is made of wood, while the almost shimmering golden altar features a glowing Christ on the cross.
Furthermore, I was tickled to read that this is one of the few churches in Europe that has representations of all three archangels. What’s more, St Michael is one of Nerja’s patron saints.
Unsurprisingly, the church is one of Andalusia’s most popular wedding venues and often gets booked up over a year in advance.
What To See & Do, Nerja.
Like all Costa del Sol towns, Nerja is hugely popular with British expats and tourists. However, this was the first time I’d seen a large, predominantly English language bookshop. No matter how hard I try, I’m just unable to walk past places like these without going in for a look.
Nerja Book Centre, owned by an Englishman called Derek Hands, has been serving literature lovers for nearly forty years. Home to around twenty five thousand titles, you can find virtually everything here. A great deal of the books on offer are cheap and second hand, making it ideal for the budget-conscious reader.
The shop is a good place to find books on the region’s history, while they also publish free periodicals on Nerja events throughout the year. After a leisurely browse, I came away with a compilation of essays by David Sedaris called Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls.
Nerja, The Costa del Sol.
In Nerja Museum meanwhile, I spent some time looking through a photo exhibition on The Nerja Caves. Located just outside the town in the village of Maro, this sizeable network of ancient caves houses the world’s largest stalagmite.
The caves were discovered in 1959 by a group of schoolboys who’d climbed down a pothole looking for bats. These days, they regularly make each year’s list of Spain’s most visited sites. Thus I decided right there in the museum that I would go and see them for myself!
And so I set off on the gruelling five kilometre walk from Nerja to Maro. I should have perhaps taken the bus, due to the crippling heat. But somehow I felt inspired to tackle it on foot and definitely enjoyed taking in the views as I made my way to the sound of Bob Dylan’s 1970 album New Morning.
Along the way, I passed the Eagle Aqueduct, commissioned by the dude who had Plaza Cantarero named after him. Built in 1879, its main purpose was to carry water from Nerja into a large sugar refinery in Maro.
Comprised of thirty seven horseshoes archways and topped with a Mudejar spire, it got its name after construction workers witnessed the daily flight of eagles nesting in the surrounding hills. Today the local community uses the aqueduct to irrigate farmland.
I was a hot mess by the time I got to the caves. Sadly, my efforts were rewarded with a big sign that said CLOSED TODAY FOR MAINTENANCE. It took me a full five minutes to stop swearing.
Well… I’d taken the time to walk to Maro, so I figured I might as well go for a wander. A beautiful little village home to around eight hundred people, when I passed through the main street it was during siesta and the whole place was a ghost town.
Eventually, I managed to find an open restaurant to calm my rumbling stomach. I had to let a wry smile slip when I saw its name, Balcon de Maro (The Balcony of Maro).
Working my way through a decent plate of Patatas Bravas, I had to concede that Maro’s balcony wasn’t too shabby; a narrow stretch of blue sea visible underneath the sky at the foot of some sloping green farmland.
Having taken the bus back to Nerja, I began ambling towards the station for my return leg to Malaga. My route took me through Plaza de Espana, home to the recommended Hotel Mena Plaza. It’s a handsome enough plaza I suppose, but nothing to rival the jaw-dropping square of the same name in Seville.
Nerja, The Costa del Sol.
Some say that Nerja doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with the main drag of resort towns on The Costa del Sol. Having seen a bunch of those coastal communities, I would agree.
Yes, Nerja is very touristy in parts. But there’s some decent history here, the balcony is a must see and, if you’re luckier than me, you’ve also got the caves. A trip well worth taking!
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I agree with you, there are some interesting sights, thanks for putting them forward. I also really like bookstores, it’s hard not to notice the unusual layout of the books.
Thanks for reading! Explore The Costa del Sol enough and eventually there are greater rewards.
Now this is a place I would like to visit for a week or more just so I could spend a good bit of time shopping in the bookstore for a beach read or two. I enjoy your “real time” narration and the places you see along the way. I’d definitely have to visit the caves that unfortunately were closed but I wouldn’t walk there. By the way, I enjoy how you post occasional pictures in b&w – it gives them an appreciated timeless look.
Thanks for the kind words Memo!
Nerja looks like a peaceful town. Did you happen to buy any peanuts from the Peanut Man? I was very impressed with the photo of the Acueducto del Águila, which looks even more impressive than the Pont du Gard in France (reputed to be the best in the world). Happy to have taken a tour around this place with you, even if virtually so!
I didn’t buy a packet of peanuts. Next time! 🙂 Thanks for reading, I just had a look at the Pont du Gard, not too shabby either!
I love all the pics of the little men!! Even though it’s touristy you still made it look and sound nice. Maggie
Thank you Maggie!
I wish I was on the beach right now, your first picture should be in a magazine!
Me too Lyssy. A week on the beach would do wonders, instead of scurrying around Belgrade gathering bits of paper for the world’s most complicated visa application. Stay safe and healthy!
Wow.. great post! Lovely pics, especially the first one!
Thanks again! Hope you have a great festive period!
I have never been to Spain, would like to visit some day. The smaller towns are the more interesting, in my mind. Thanks for the tour. Allan
I think I generally agree with that! Thanks for reading Allan.