Costa del Sol, a coastal haven in Andalucia, a southern region of Spain, has been delighting beach bums for decades. These days, this golden Mediterranean coast is home to some of the best golf in the world and entertains over two million visitors a year.
Travel Channel Insider's Tip: From June to October, this sunny coast is mobbed, so hotel reservations should be made well in advance. Note that after October, many businesses close for a post-season hiatus.
The beautiful beach of El Bajondillo is iconic Costa del Sol. The soft sand meanders along the Mediterranean and is very close to the city of Malaga. Along the beach promenade are numerous beach bars and restaurants, amenities that are missing at some of Costa del Sol's more rocky beaches. The specialty of the area is pesca'to, or small fried fish. It's served at most restaurants lining the picturesque sandy stretch.
La Carihuela is a stretch of beach along the Torremolinos municipality. Arrive early to claim your spot and wait for the village to slowly wake up, with cafes and shops opening around 11 a.m. La Carihuela is known for its cleanliness and comfy sunshade beds. When hungry, head to the chiringuitos, beach restaurants serving fresh Mediterranean seafood. The promenade hugging the beach connects to the Port of Benalmadena, where lively nightlife, stylish boutiques and delicious restaurants can be found.
For celebrity-style glitz and glam, head to the beach town of Puerto Banus. The marina here is legendary, filled with million-dollar yachts. The harbor is lined with world-class cafes, restaurants and bars. If you're interested in a late-night party scene, dance till the Mediterranean sun comes up at La Comedia, one of Puerto Banus' oldest nightclubs and a local favorite. The Puerto Banus club guide has something for everyone.
Near the city of Marbella is sun-bathed La Fontanilla, a black-sand beach flanked by a pedestrian promenade. A bit smaller than El Bajondillo, it does tend to get packed during the high season. However, the lovely views from the promenade and many beach restaurants can be enjoyed early in the day before the crowds settle in.
While soaking in the rays on Costa del Sol, you may see many topless sunbathers, but be forewarned, they are flouting the law. If you want to bare it all on your vacation, head to the Costa Natura, 2 miles west of Estepona. It's Spain's first naturalist village, aka nudist colony, and is located on the only public nude beach. Don't forget your sunscreen.
Today, many people believe that the true draw of this sunlit town is its golf courses. There are several resorts that offer supreme accommodations, beach access and tee times. Los Monteros in Marbella, Parador de Malaga Golf nestled between Malaga and Torremolinos, Hotel Atalaya Park in Estepona and Golf Hotel Guadalmina in Marbella are the best in the region.
One of the perks of staying in these luxurious resorts is that hotel reception can often book your tee times on other greens for you. Just notify them of where you'd like to play and when, and they'll take care of the rest.
There are 3 courses inland from Costa del Sol that are ranked among the greatest in Europe. The San Roque Club was created by two former Ryder Cup players, Tony Jacklin and Dave Thomas. The 2 Englishmen created the San Roque on the grounds of the summer palace of the Domecq sherry dynasty. Make sure to play the back 9 -- it features 2 of the finest holes in golf.
The Real Club de Golf Sotogrande is a par-71 course featuring crystal lakes and long fairways. This course is tough and definitely frustrating for beginners, but the complexity and length of the greens, combined with the beautiful Andalucian landscape make it a must for any golfer.
Last comes numero uno: Club de Golf Valderrama. A wickedly challenging course designed by Robert Trent Jones, it has been hailed as daring, dramatic and demanding by golf experts around the world. The 17th hole, designed by Steve Ballesteros, tests the skill and heart of Ryder Cup players from around the world.