The Costa del Sol is a region in the south of Spain comprising the coastal towns and communities along the 150 km. coastline of the Province of Malaga from Gibraltar to Nerja. Translated it means Sunshine Coast and, with over 325 days of sunshine each year, it is one of the most important tourist areas in Spain. The capital city of Malaga has over 1 million metropolitan residents and the airport is the 3rd largest in Spain.
Our destination however was Estepona, a charming city roughly halfway between Malaga and Gibraltar and dubbed the Garden of the Costa del Sol. Decorated with charming statuary, flower filled plazas, and mostly pedestrian only cobblestone streets which each have their own colour scheme for flower pots, it's easy to see how Estepona got its slogan.
And with its miles of seemingly endless beaches, Estepona is also very popular as a resort and holiday destination and is filled with beach bar restaurants serving up fresh seafood.
The streets are also filled with wonderful restaurants and tapas bars serving colourful and tasty Andalusian cousine (including of course paella and other seafood specialties and the famous freshly sliced Iberian ham and manchego cheese) and accompanied by very reasonably priced wine. And it isn't hard to find a great cup of coffee either.
Estepona also has a working fishing port that is home to yachts, a fishing fleet, and numerous restaurants serving up the freshest seafood.
Our favourite restaurant of course was the charming Forgador, located up in the mountains with a view of Africa and Gilbralter, where we had an inside connection with the owners, our most righteous hosts.
For history buffs there is also the Town Clock Tower, the Church of Los Remedios, and the San Luis Castle to check out and get a photo.
Sprinkled throughout the city (no pun intended) are a variety of fountains that offer a gentle cooling effect that is much appreciated with all the heat.
Another colourful project the City has undertaken is to paint murals on as many of the taller apartment buildings as possible. A walking tour to photograph this ever growing list of murals is a nice way to explore the City.
And if there weren't enough pretty flowers outside you could take a tour through the state of the art Orchidarium which houses Europe's most extensive collection of orchids and is one of the largest in the world. A botanical paradise with three waterfalls and hundreds of orchids some of which are extremely rare.
We were also in luck to be around when the jacaranda trees were in bloom and they were throughout the city providing shade and shedding their pretty purple blossoms everywhere.
Now it was time to say goodbye to pretty Estepona and make our way to Portugal where we wanted to get a little taste by checking out the capital city Lisbon and visit Tavira, a small town on the Algarve coast.
Stopped in at Huelva along the way to break up the journey and check out the town where Columbus sailed out from in 1492 and of course they have his statue in the main plaza.
It was a pretty, tree lined town filled with plazas, shopping malls, restaurants and tapas bars.
Took in some picturesque country scenery as we drove through olive and cork tree orchards and past medieval towns like Mertola. The powerlines were thick with stork nests and there were endless miles of sunflower fields on either side of the highway while the median was planted with beautiful oleanders.
When we arrived in Lisbon the town was in a fever of preparation for the evening's festivities. It turns out the month of June is a month of celebration revolving around the city's patron saint Santo Antonio and other events like the National holiday, musical festivals, and the sardine festival make practically every day a party. Everywhere we looked decorations were being put up, grills were getting readied and Fado music was blaring.
We were staying right in the heart of the Alfama district, the oldest neigbourhood of Lisbon and the only area to survive the famous 1755 earthquake. It's a delightful maze of narrow cobbled streets that meander up a steep hillside to the Sao Jorge castle and it is filled with indoor and outdoor restaurants. By the time we finished dinner with our friends the streets were crammed with people eating grilled sausage and sardines, drinking beer, and enjoying the music. The whole scene was happy chaos and it went on till 4 a.m. every night but there was no fighting or problems thanks no doubt to all the police politely mingling with the crowd and just a good vibe.
The next day we were off to see the sights and there sure were lots to see and the best way to get around was with a tour guide on a Tuk Tuk. There are also a variety of tram routes with #28 being the most famous. We started off in the Praca do Comercio, the largest square in Europe, with all sorts of side streets leading off from it that were full of restaurants (in fact all of Lisbon seems to be a restaurant) checked out the Elevador de Santa Justa (built by Gustave Eiffel's apprentice) and then worked our way past various churches up to the castle ramparts where we could admire the beautiful view of Lisbon.
Then it was over to the other end of town to check out the Torre de Belem and the Monument to the Discoveries and grab a famous Pasteis pastry shop for a delicious custard tart.
Our last night was another amazing dinner in Alfama followed by some more mingling with the street scene but after all the walking etc. we were in bed well before the party ended.
We sure enjoyed our stay in Lisbon and our only regret was not being able to spend a little more time exploring. With all its monuments, restaurants, parks and pedestrian friendly streets it's easy to understand why this has become the new go-to destination in Europe. Next stop was Tavira, a charming seaside town in the heart of the Algarve coast. Checked into our hotel, that was perfectly situated on the edge of the Gilao River, and then fortified ourselves with some tapas and wine for lunch.
From there we hopped on a ferry that would take us to the Ilha de Tavira which acts as a natural breakwater for the city and offers spectacular sandy beaches on the Gulf of Cadiz. The island is only accessible by the short ferry ride and is fully equipped with beach chairs, umbrellas, bars, restaurants, and washrooms.
Concealed within the labyrinth of cobblestone streets are many restaurants, tapas bars, a myriad of old churches, and some old castle ruins that make for a nice walking tour and views of the city below.
While evenings are busy with everyone outside enjoying dinner and the night market, it's a quiet, laid back scene with none of the wild partying of the big city or typical tourist beach towns.
On the way home we stopped in at Tarifa, with all it's wind turbines clearly indicating why it is the wind and kite surfing capital of Spain, to check out the action and enjoy some refreshments at a little beach cafe.
Our holiday had come to an end now and it was time to say goodbye to family and friends. The Iberian penisula, which is shared by Portugal and Spain, is a treasure chest filled with many beautiful and colourful places and it was nice to have had the opportunity to admire a few more of the jewels on this trip.