Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Estepona is always illuminated by the flashing blue colour of the Mediterranean. A sort of indigo gleam in stark contrast to the brownish red of Sierra Bermeja. A town trapped between the mountains and the sea, wisely ambushed a strip of land whose toes are lapped at by the cool ocean and whose hair is tousled by the sierras. Estepona has lived with both since the dawn of time, and this can be seen in the prehistoric, Phoenician, Roman, and –of course– Arab traces found in the area. It’s a town of wide sandy areas. It used to be “Estebbuna” or even “Alextebuna” before becoming “Estepona.” Other names for other cities, known to Phoenician seafarers or Roman merchants. Now the town keeps the authentic flavours of Málaga in its older streets. This is Estepona, a town with a glorious past and a throbbing present. Welcome to Estepona: Wet your feet in this ocean of history.

Getting Ready

First and foremost, I went to the Tourist Office, where they gave me a lot of information and an up-to-date city map. The main Tourist Information Point is in the town centre, facing the Sea Promenade. It stands out, so you’ll have no trouble finding it. But just in case, here’s the address: Avda. San Lorenzo, 1 (Post Code: 29680 – Estepona; Phone: +34 952 802 002; Fax: +34 952 792 181; Email address: After a couple of twists and turns, I parked by the Tourist Office. If you can’t leave your car here, there’s a public parking zone nearby. After an amiable chat with the employee at the Tourist Office, I decided on my plan: walking westwards along the Sea Promenade up to the Bullring, which houses four of the main museums. That’d mean a 20’ walk (800m). Then I’d retrace my steps back to the town centre for the itinerary suggested by the woman at the Tourist Information Point. After this, I’d try to reach Corominas, a visitor centre of a prehistoric site. This required an appointment (Mobile phone number: +34 654 711 715; Contact person: Victoria Infante).

Getting Started

The beaches stretch far away lethargically in Estepona, embracing the shoreline. It’s 21km of sandy areas, giving rise to 17 beaches: La Rada, El Padrón, Bahía Dorada, Punta de la Plata, Guadalobón... Locals and out-of-towners alike lie under the glittering sun, caught in the mirror of the sea. Sunshades, children’s games, looks into the horizon… A warm shelter against the outer world. The breeze brushed by my face as I walked along the Sea Promenade. The beaches are peppered with bars serving their fried fish dishes. I could smell the embers, ready for their first sardine skewers. A typical summer smell in Málaga’s coastal towns.


My steps brought me to the Port of Estepona. I skirted it, along with the lighthouse, and reached Del Carmen Avenue, leading to the Bullring. When passing by the port, I noticed the fish drying in the open air, and boards reading “Se venden volaores” (Flying fish for sale). Stall keepers were waiting for buyers or visitors; meanwhile, they chatted the morning away. A woman was working on her bobbing lace. In the first stall I met Francisco Parrado, an old man whose weather-beaten face and rough hands displayed kind features. He told me these were season fish, passing fish, which are only caught in August. This is why they called them “flying fish.” Each fish is €2. According to Francisco, they’re just delicious: “They have nothing to do with tuna, they’re much better than tuna.” Lying on strings hanging on carts, the “flying fish” dried in the sun, morphing into a secret delicacy. They spread their fins as if they were wings, showcasing their aerodynamic bodies. I bade farewell to Francisco, the man who managed to turn my suspicion into a smile and produced a nice explanation for me. I took everything down in my travel journal: “August. Estepona. Port. Volaores.”

The Estepona Bullring and the Four Museums

The Estepona Bullring is a singular one, as ellipses prevail over roundness here. To my eyes used to seeing perfectly round grandstands, this came as a surprise. The stands aren’t even but they go up and down. This Bullring was designed by architect Juan Mora Urbano in 1972, and built according to his design. Its whitewashed walls stand against the bright blue sky. It’s robust, imperfectly round, uneven –a flawed circle by the sea. Inside it houses four treasures: the museums. The quickest access is with the ocean and the road behind you, to the left. If you prefer to get a glimpse of the Bullring itself, take the right way, which is longer but more artful. The museums’ opening hours are 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.-6:30 p.m. (Phone: +34 952 807 148). The staff are kind: they told me a lot of things about the museums and walked me around for a while. I began with the Bullfighting Museum, a sort of pantheon for the greatest bullfighters of all times. It features snapshots of Manolete, Paquirri, Joselito, José Tomás, El Cordobés, and Enrique Ponce, among others, and bullfighting costumes. There’re also trophies and famous bull ears and tails, like the tail belonging to the bull Ofendido earned by Antonio Bienvenida in 1949. You can also visit the Bullring inside, even step onto the ring itself and feel something eerie going down your spine. Then I went to the Museum of Palaeontology, where I was greeted by something larger than a bull: the 1:1 replica of a dinosaur skeleton, looking down at me from its empty eyes. Countless fossils are displayed in cases, most of them found in Estepona. The museum focuses on the Pliocene, drawing experts from all over Europe in search for palaeontological evidence. Two more huge skeleton replicas reminded me of –what else?– Jurassic Park. My attention was drawn to a fang belonging to a Carcharodon, that is, an ancestor of present-day sharks, only ten times bigger. Stepping some centuries ahead, I moved to the Museum of Ethnography. This well-kept museum has carefully organised collections, separated in terms of human activities. Thus, you can take a look at different tools for the earth or the sea: a traditional fishing barge, scale models of ships, nets, creels, anchors, oars, boathooks… All in all, a wide range of implements for sea-related arts and activities. The earth can be seen in an endless catalogue of farming tools used for threshing, harvesting, and many other tasks. Then there’re everyday objects such as vases, scales, jars, baskets, and even a recreated old kitchen. Last but not least, there’s the Luis García Berlanga Light and Sound Museum, where you can see interesting curiosities like film posters, celebrity autographs, mask or costume replicas, video tapes, and a cranky projector which reminded me of Cinema Paradiso. In addition, there’re collections of old video cameras (including the legendary Super 8), photo cameras, and musical instruments signed by famous musicians, like the members of the band Scorpions or Bonnie Tyler. Full of food for thought, I turned to more worldly affairs: time for lunch. I asked where to go, and everyone agreed: La Escollera. I took to my heels as fast as I could.

Lunch at La Escollera

I’d seen this restaurant before, when heading for the Bullring, and it’d caught my eye. It’s in the fishing port (not the marina). If you don’t know how to get here, ask around. The restaurant is behind the tapas bar; you can access it from here or directly from the beach. The dining area is a terrace by the beach. La Escollera serves an amazing range of fish and seafood. The customers at this family-run restaurant include local patrons (who call the waiters by their first names) and well-informed tourists. Noise and bustle, loud voices… Not exactly a quiet joint, but a genuine one at that. The waiter came and recited the menu, which seemed to have no end: anchovies, cuttlefish, shellfish, squid, red mullet, lobster, grilled crayfish, octopus salad, gilthead bream… My choice was: a jug of beer and soda (€6), two bottles of water (€2.20), grilled prawn (€13), squid (€10), marinated anchovies (€8), and two iced coffees (€2,40). My bill = €43 (cover charge included). Big servings and fresh fish, but be careful: it’s soooooooo hot! The marinated anchovies were a culinary feat. Feeling heavy and rather sleepy, I went for a walk in the town centre, following the itinerary they’d suggested at the Tourist Office.

Town Centre Itinerary

The breeze of the Sea Promenade livened me up. I left my drowsiness behind and strolled with style. I could see the beachgoers playing sports and having fun, kites running in the sky, the waves breaking toward the shore, a swimmer trying to reach the horizon… When I came to España Avenue, I turned left at the first major crossroads, and Carmen Sevilla Street brought me to Plaza de las Flores. Here the flowers filled everything –pots, beds, lawns, walls– with colour, protected from heat by a fountain. Fresh scents everywhere around. ‘A nice place for a break,’ I thought. From the square, Raphael Street, which then changes its name to Castillo Street, took me to the ruins of the Castle of San Luis, a fortress built by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in the late sixteenth century to strengthen the town’s security and protection. Avery narrow street, Francisco Delmo, leads to the back of the castle, affording better views of it thanks to a spiral staircase. The street also leads to the Food Market. I could smell fish, meat, fruit and vegetables…. Back in the sun, I came across Plaza Cañada, where I could hear a fountain’s murmur. A man was sitting in the shade. Up Viento Street, I came to the Town Hall, and then I walked down Caravaca Street into the older part of town, where you can still feel the fishing and farming roots. A few noble mansions are scattered in this area. I then moved to Plaza del Reloj, where the Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower) stands, cream-coloured and light orange against the bright blue sky. It’s a quiet square, featuring a bandstand and a humongous conifer facing one another. Although it was silent now, I could fancy the hustle and bustle of schoolchildren playing here, since the Clock Tower (an old minaret, the tower used in mosques to call to prayer) is now part of the Simón Fernández Kindergarten and Primary School. After this break, Santa Ana and Blas Ortega Streets would take me to the Church. The Church of Virgen de los Remedios stands in Plaza de San Francisco, its belfry elegant, imposing, majestic. The frontage is subtle and delicate, longish, almost ethereal, as if standing on tiptoes to reach the bright blue sky. Inside, the Church is robust, full of altars and images, a row of balconies overlooking the nave. Golden lintels, a crystal chandelier, reddish marble: it was cool in here.

Bidding Farewell to the Sea

I walked towards the sea, across Real Street –one of the main thoroughfares in Estepona, where there’s the highest concentration of bars, restaurants, and stores. I bought my usual postcard at a newsstand and sat on a bench to scribble a few words on it. Then I dropped it into a mailbox, in the hope that an 89-year-old man 1,000km away would soon learn about me. (He’s always looking forward to hearing news from me.) Crossing España Avenue, I stepped on the sand. I stripped myself of backpack, sunglasses, cap, trainers, socks, T-shirt, and trousers and run towards the sea. Splash! How cool! How delightful!

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: If you want to visit the Corominas archaeological site, you should make an appointment in advance. The staff at the town museums told me it was worth it, as it had been carefully reconstructed –one of Estepona’s must-sees. The contact phone number is +34 654 711 715 and the contact person is Ms Victoria Infante. Ticket prices: €3 for small groups (less than 10 people); €2 for large groups (more than 10). Mail:
Other things to see: If you’re interested in animals and nature, then Selwo Aventura is your place. Created ten years ago, Selwo Aventura is a nature park where animals are reared in semi-captivity. It’s become one of the leading centres of its kind in Europe. Elephants, tigers, giraffes, lions, bears, birds of prey… Moreover, you can stay in the park for the night. (Contact phone number: +34 902 190 482). Parque de San Isidro Labrador or Los Pedregales is the ideal place for a family outing in contact with nature. There’s a camping area, a playground for children, a man-made lake, a bar and restaurant, several barbecues, and other facilities. Estepona’s star, however, is Los Reales de Sierra Bermeja, a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean and a unique place from the point of view of its flora –the native Spanish fir was first discovered here– and its geological features. Estepona shares this nature park with Casares and Genalguacil. For further information on it, go to our blog entry 11. Genalguacil: A Living Museum. Finally, there’re seven watchtowers facing the sea in Estepona. They were used to detect attacks from North African pirates or the Turks. They all date back to the fifteenth-century; some are better kept than others.
Useful links: You can use the website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board as your point of reference, which is what we usually do. The Estepona Town Hall website also contains useful information. Finally, in Estepona Imágenes you can find many interesting visual contents (mainly images).

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. This is intended to be an open door, so the more things shown and said, the better. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.