Spain isn’t just about sun, sangria and sandy beaches – any discerning tourist or resident knows that – yet when temperatures begin to soar around mid-June, it becomes quite difficult to think about anything else.
This is especially true when you spend most of your afternoons trapped inside a stuffy classroom endeavoring to teach English to a bunch of sweaty, slumping, exam-bushed teenagers. Naturally, the mind begins to wander, usually ending up somewhere along the 800km stretch of sandy Andaluz coastline, watching the cool waves gently breaking onto the shore as you lie sideways, surrounded by best friends, sipping a beer straight from the cooler. And then someone says “Teacheeerrr! Que hora eeeee!!??” in that grating, all-too-familiar whine, hauling you back to reality.
Fortunately, at weekends these daydreams become reality, and if it’s a Puente weekend (which there are thankfully a lot of at this time of year), a proper beach outing is in order. So if you’re a newbie expat or likely visitor to Spain in the near future, then read on. Here are six of the best beaches in Andalucía – in my humble opinion, of course.
1) Bolonia, Costa De La Luz
Reached via a dusty and rock-strewn road found at the tail end of the 7km long, coast-hugging CAP-2216 highway, this top-rated playa is among the most difficult to get to in the Costa de la Luz province. Evidently, the trip is well worth the bother.
The large bay’s curved nature forms three zones that have each been tailored to suit various tastes. The south part is frequented more by surfers looking to make the most of the strong easterly winds, while the central area is mainly earmarked for families who are generally glad of the sombrillas and sunbeds on offer and the fact that the Red Cross emergency first aid point is nearby should it be needed. Parking is free round the central area.
The north part of Bolonia beach tends to be quieter, and is best-known for its 30m high sand dune – said to be among the largest in Europe – which can be scaled successfully with enough gusto and perseverance if you’re feeling restless. Beyond the beach itself are the Roman Ruins of Baelo Claudia, which offer a fantastic insight into the ancient practices of the old fishing town.
2) Zahara de las Atunes, Costa de La Luz
The next beach village along the Costa de la Luz heading westward and around the jutting ridge is Zahara de las Atunes, another tiny and timeworn fishing village. The beach is among Spain’s 648 that have been awarded with the prestigious ‘blue flag’ title, and stretches for 20km until the lighthouse at Cape Gracia.
Locals and tourists alike are particularly fond of this one, but thankfully this doesn’t mean the place becomes inundated with bronzed, speedo-wearing Spaniards and factor 50 smothered guiris throughout the summer months. You have to wonder why though, given its crystal-clear waters, fine, white sand and assortment of lively, fresh tuna flogging chiringuitos (beach bars).
Accommodation is moderately priced and free parking is available at weekends.
3) El Puerto de Santa María, Costa de La Luz
Is this cheating? I said this post would be ‘six of the best beaches in Andalucía’ yet as I write more it’s increasingly becoming more of a ‘six of the best beach towns in Andalucía’ sort of a post. Ah well. There’re just too many not to mention.
El Puerto was my first home in Spain. For the nine months I was there, the last two were by far my best, thanks mainly to the port town’s collection of beautiful beaches. My favourite was Playa de la Muralla, next to the marina Puerto Sherry. It was incredibly difficult to get to if you didn’t own a car, as there were no buses servicing that particular area, but once you arrived the frustration of its inaccessibility would be quickly replaced with unqualified gratitude. No public transport = fewer people. Overlooking the enveloped bay are crumbling castle walls at one end, and a long line of restaurants and heladarías – each offering up tasty dishes and to-die-for ice cream – at the other.
Other spectacular beaches elsewhere in El Puerto are Las Redes and Vistahermosa (literally meaning ‘lovely view’).
4) Nerja, Costa Del Sol
Much of the Costa del Sol has sadly become overrun with real estate and expensive hotels over the years, which in turn has rendered many of the province’s once revered beaches rather unappealing. An exception to this unfortunate circumstance is Nerja, the furthest east of Malaga’s beach towns and another awarded with several blue flags. Here, the seven or so bantam beaches fringe still, turquoise blue waters and front staggering sea cliffs from where the vistas on a clear day are out of this world. Head to the Balcón de Europa for the very best.
The best beach of the selection to choose from in Nerja has to be Playa Carabeo, the second beach to the left when staring out to sea from the Balcón de Europa. It’s quiet here, and there are caves you can swim under just to the right of it.
5) La Herradura, Costa Tropical
Now we’re in my neck of the woods, and although I don’t half go on about how terrific it is to be within driving distance of both ski resort and beach, I must admit the overall quality of the beaches in the Granada province are of a comparatively lower standard. Most are brutally rocky, and require a pair of pretty sturdy sandals, lest you butcher the soles of your feet on the spiky stones beneath the water’s surface. Furthermore, many are bombarded by strong winds due to the principally straight formation of the Costa Tropical.
However, the horseshoe shaped bay of La Herradura is an exception. Here the sand is much finer and the beach is sheltered from winds on both sides by headlands Punta de la Mona and Cerro Gordo. There’s plenty of opportunity for watersport activities and some delectable restaurants to boot.
6) Playa de los Muertos, Cabo de Gata, Costa De Almería
In 1987, Cabo de Gata was declared a national park by the Junta de Andalucía (regional government), which has since protected its mesmerizing landscape from the clutches of hoarding construction companies. It was helped further by UNESCO in 1997 when they named the area a Biosphere Reserve. As a result, the area’s pristine playas – packed with hidden coves, coral reefs, towering cliffs and ruined castles – have remained pockets of unparalleled beauty.
Arguably the most idyllic of all Cabo de Gata’s beaches is Playa de los Muertos, meaning ‘the beach of the dead’. Don’t let the name put you off; the only dead thing about this beach is the straightness of its formation against the tide. The postcard views had from Los Muertos Mirador (‘los muertos’ refers to the bodies of pirates and sailors that used to be washed up onto the shore) are exceptional. From there you can take a jagged, snaking path to the bottom, where gravel and tiny pebbles form the earth and serve to augment the transparency of the bay’s waters. The beach is easily recognized by a huge, curious rock formation at the far right end.
There is a kiosk by the viewpoint, but due to the economic restrictions that is just about it, so ensure that you take plenty of your own food and water with you. Parking is free, and the beach is signposted from the ALP-712.
I know I’ve skipped numerous other, noteworthy beaches in Andalucía but I’ll leave the rest to you. Please share your favourite locations by leaving a comment below!