The Costa del Sol

I am surely not the first person to note that it would be hard to load your pen with enough vitriol to do justice to the awfulness of the cheap end of the Costa del Sol in Andalucia.

Putting this another way, it is not exactly a challenge to find hair-curling examples of dreadfulness. It is, quite simply, a pastiche of a place; an international ghetto comprised of national ghettos; a part of Spain which bears no resemblance to the rest of the country, where the locals have sold their collective soul – and ditched their culture wholesale. True to tell, the guide books give ample warning of everything that will assault your senses here but they always understate the situation. Since things get worse by the month, the guide books are out of date the moment they are published. And this will surely go on until there is no space left into which to pour a truck load of concrete, at worst, or lay out a microscopic golf course, at best

And who can be blamed? Certainly not the snow-tops who have retired here from northern Europe in their thousands. Nor the tourists taking advantage of the year-round sun and the cheap hotels – I don’t suppose they ever get to learn that that they are paying up to 50 per cent more for their food and drinks than in other parts of Spain. Nor the Spaniards themselves, I guess. This was a poor part of Spain 50 years ago, in the poorest province of an officially labelled ‘undeveloped’ country. Tourism has been a god-send to them, compensating for the neglect with which Andalucia has been treated for hundreds of years. Why shouldn’t they milk the golden goose?

I guess if you fly into Malaga airport, head straight for Marbella, Puerto Banus or one or two other oases and stay there for either two weeks or the rest of your life, then you will fare quite well. These have long represented the top end of the market on the Costa and there is very considerable wealth and splendour on display here, some of it legitimately accrued. Likewise, if you drive straight onto the motorway and head up into the mountains behind Malaga or even along the coast east of Malaga beyond Almunecar, you will be spared the very worst. But, if you head for, say, Torremolinos or Estepona, then you are making for Blackpool with sun. Or, to put it in words that were offered by the speaker as praise, ‘Here you can continue to have an entirely British lifestyle and never need to complain about the weather’.

What this means is that here you can shop in places where they not only speak English to you but look blank if you talk to them in Spanish. Here you can eat your main meal at 5 or 6 p. m., when Spaniards elsewhere are just finishing their midday meal or rising from their post-prandial siesta. Here you can eat ‘English breakfasts all day’, in preference to the huge variety of tapas dishes that the country boasts. Here you can shop on Sundays, if you want to, while the rest of Spain is doing something less prosaic. Here you can buy your ‘Sun’ or ‘Daily Express’ the same day it is published in the UK. Here you can chose between 3 or 4 equally inane English language radio stations – not to mention one Irish one where the ratio of talk to music seems remarkably, if not surprisingly, high. Here you can buy any number of English language periodicals dedicated exclusively to you and your compatriots on the Costa. Here you can open a bar or restaurant and put up a sign that says something like ‘John and Ann from Guernsey welcome you. Good English food served’. Here you can get satellite dishes that allow you to watch all the UK TV channels exactly as if you were sitting at home in Stoke in the pouring rain. Here you can deal ‘in plain English’ with the same insurance companies you used in the UK. Here you can walk along the seafront in clothes that might get you shot elsewhere, or even with your chest bare and your stomach overlapping shorts that were too small for you when you bought them 30 years ago. You can even wear a knotted handkerchief on your head and stay out of prison. Here you can join your English friends for coffee every morning on the sea front and sit with a table of Dutch women on your left and a table of German matriarchs on your right. And you’ll never need to talk to your café neighbours or bother about the troublesome local language, even if you’re here until your clogs pop. And here, if you venture out of your ghetto, you can sit in the sort of traffic jams some of us thought it was worth leaving the UK for. 

But, since leaving the coastal strip is not something you have much cause for, this is just an occasional pinprick and no-one could blame you for telling friends that you are having a grand time on the Costa del Sol.

But what you can never do, of course, is tell them you are living in Spain. 

Which is a tad ironic when you consider that Andalucia advertises itself on domestic TV as ‘The real Spain’. 

Pontevedra, 2003