Each year the Costa del Sol, a 150 kilometre stretch of Spanish coastline centred in the province of Malaga receives around fifteen million tourists. For most, the key attraction of the region is a year round sunny climate, seemingly endless stretches of golden sand and holiday resorts that are stuffed with budget-friendly accommodation, plenty of family-oriented activities and sufficient bars, restaurants and clubs to ensure that everyone has a good time.
But there’s another side to the Costa del Sol that is often overlooked by its visitors. This area of Spain is teeming with art and cultural highlights to rival anything that other parts of Europe can offer. For those that can see beyond the beaches, souvenir shops and nightlife, venturing into the Culture del Sol – the hidden world of art and treasure along the Coast of the Sun can be an enlightening and rewarding experience.
Malaga: birthplace of Pablo Picasso
Where better to start an exploration of the Costa del Sol’s art and culture than the region’s capital city Malaga? This is the birthplace of celebrated Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, and a permanent exhibition of his works can be viewed in the city’s Museo Picasso, a handsome historic building that has been tastefully refurbished to show the painter’s work at its best. More can be learned of Picasso’s life and works at the tiny Fundacion Picasso, the house in which he was born.
Malaga is rich in cultural highlights, and even a brief tour of the city should include visits to such gems as the Museum of Glass and Crystal, which is housed in a magnificently restored 18th century palace of Italian design. Remarkable and ancient architecture is plentiful thanks to Malaga’s rich selection of churches which include the Church of San Agustin with its stunning Baroque façade, the beautiful Church of Los Santos Martires with its many statues and other artworks and the elegant neo-Gothic Sacred Heart Church (Sagrado Corazon). But if you were only to visit one place of worship on a cultural tour of Malaga it must be the incredible cathedral with its elaborate and detailed architecture without and religious artefacts and objects of beauty within.
Dally with Dali in Marbella
Often regarded as a playground for the retired rich, beautiful Marbella is a treasure trove of Spanish art and culture. Amid the tapas bars and restaurants along the Avenida del Mar you’ll find a selection of fine sculptures by Salvador Dali, whilst in the summer the adjoining Alemeda Park is host to an annual art fair. More Dali artworks may be admired at Marbella’s Museo del Grabado Espanol Contemporaneo(the Museum of Contemporary Spanish Engraving). Situated in an impressive medieval palace, this fascinating museum also contains art by Picasso and Miro. A living taste of Marbella’s culture can be sampled in a stroll around the cobbled streets, atmospheric squares and historic churches of the Old Quarter and the imposing but beautiful Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Encarnacion (Cathedral of St Mary) should not be missed. Marbella was originally a walled city, protected by a castle – La Muralla Castillo Árabe – built in the 10th century. It is the only remaining construction from the era of Marbella’s Muslim occupation and the remains of the castle (it’s towers are now long gone) are a fascinating and atmospheric landmark.
From Buddhism to Bil-Bil in Benalmedina
Benalmedina has been a popular Spanish holiday destination for decades, but for art and culture buffs there is more to this Costa del Sol resort than bars beaches and budget hotels. Benalmedina boasts a stunning white Buddhist temple which offers spectacular views of the coastline from its elevated position and contains numerous examples of Himalayan art, statues and literature yet was only constructed in 2004. Cresting a hill you’ll discover Benalmadena Pueblo – the old town. This district of traditional white-painted buildings, with its narrow cobbled streets and beautiful landscaped town square provides an authentic sense of Spanish town life in times past. Neo-Arabic architecture can be found at Castle Bil-Bil, a red painted and tiled Moorish house constructed in 1934 and now used as a venue for art exhibitions and cultural events. Despite its ancient appearance, Colomares Castle is actually a twentieth-century construction built with the intention of recreating the kind of castle that appears in fairy tales. Spectacular and detailed architecture make this building more of a full-scale art installation than a practical dwelling, and the views over the town below and out to sea make Colomares Castle an outstanding cultural highlight of Benalmedina.
Uncovering cultural traditions in Torremolinos
Despite its status as the most popular holiday destination on the Costa del Sol, Torremolinos has a few artistic and cultural gems up its sleeve. Whilst undoubtedly aimed at the tourist crowd, the Ritmo a Caballo (‘Rhythm on a Horse’) showcases the extraordinary horsemanship that is an engrained facet of traditional Spanish culture. For those with the stomach for it, Torremolinos also has its own historic bullring at which regular bullfighting events are still held. If seeing this aspect of Spanish culture ‘in the flesh’ is not for you, the adjoining bullfighting museum provides a fascinating history of the sport. For art lovers, further homage is paid to the region’s most famous painter at the Pablo Ruiz Picasso Cultural Centre where fine examples of his, and of other Spanish artist’s works can be viewed. As with other Spanish towns, Torremolinos has its share of historic and characterful churches and monuments, and the spectacular Parque La Bateria (Battery Park) combines a fascinating military fortress, complete with cannon, dating from the Spanish civil war with beautifully landscaped botanic gardens which feature a pair of exquisite Baroque fountains, echoing the style of those found in Rome.
These are just a few of the artistic and cultural highlights that lie beyond the sun, sea and sand of the Costa del Sol’s popular resorts, but there are many more just waiting to be discovered by those who seek a broader range of cultural experiences from their Spanish holiday.
Amy Sawyer is a freelance travel writer who likes nothing more than exploring the hidden gems in every place she visits. She’s currently working with Alamo car hire in Spain to help promote their car rental deals, which make for a great way to explore the best of the Costa Del Sol.