Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Legend has it that, in the times of the Arabs, on new moon days, when the sky is pitch-dark and darkness is only pierced by the twinkle of the stars, an astronomer would climb up the highest tower in the castle. From the tower, he’d point his primitive telescope at the constellation Argo Navis, scanning the sky as patiently as wise men can. On one of these nights, the astronomer spotted a bluish wink, a modest twinkle, a tremor in the sky. We was looking at a little star, Sohail. Excited, he ran where the Emir was and told him about his discovery. Since then, the little village where the castle was –a fishing village which the Phoenicians used to call “Suel”– was called “Sohail.” It kept this name for 800 years, until sailors from Genoa gave it a new name, but that’s another story. And I’ll tell it to you later.


It’s windy today. The sea foams, tossing the sand on the beach. Fuengirola, a city facing the sea, claims the wind’s embrace and lets the breeze in, so that its streets get filled with the strong smell of salt residue and wetlands, and with the whining of old songs that the Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, and Christians heard before us. It’s a strange day; life whirls around and passers-by smile at the breeze of sun and salt. Fuengirola is a small, welcoming town. Only 10 square kilometres and beaches that are 8 kilometres long. It’s easy to understand why the town is narrow, elongated. There’s a parking system in shifts that favours car flow. Be sure you’re acquainted with hours and fees before coming (Mon-Fri 9:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m. and 4:30-9:00 p.m.; Sat 9:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m.; 30’ €0.40, 60’ €0.85, 120’ €2, 180’ (max.) €3.15; afternoons, Sundays and public holidays, free). I left my car near the marina after estimating how long I’d stay and paying the parking fee. Then, my tour began.

The Port of Fuengirola

I’ve said it already: it’s a special day today. The otherwise quiet Mediterranean Sea is rough –an unusual show put up by nature. From the port, I stared at the indomitable, magnetic waves thumping against the breakwater, splashing foam on it and me. I could feel the particles of the atomised sea. The halyards hit the masts of ships in a sort of unfinished symphony. The Port of Fuengirola was built on lands literally claimed from the sea. Rectangular in shape, it’s sheltered by a huge exterior wall that is also a breakwater. To the east there’s the marina; the fishing port takes the middle and the west. On the central lane of the dry dock, which separates both areas, there’re creels, fishnets, lines and floats. The ships are docked today, clinging to their berths. I think of the sailors from Genoa in the fifteenth century, of how they sailed their way across this sea. They came in vessels they called “girolas,” and so they called the port “Fuente de las Girolas.” In popular speech, the phrase became “Fuengirola,” and this is what this town is known as today. Another interesting word story: The Genoese used to call little fish “boliches,” and the named a district in town after them: “Santa Fe de los Boliches.” The boats are docked, a little cramped, rocking, like frightened colts ready to run away. Santa Gema, Hermanos Sánchez, Maricarmen, Los Galdeanos, Emilio Pomaire... These are some of the names I can read. They all bear reference to Our Lady of El Carmen, the Patroness of seafarers. Her festival is held in July to great excitement: images, paintings, drawings… Just like the Romans called on Neptune. In the marina, the yachts are docked in their jetties, surrounded by a wide array of restaurants, bars, and pubs. There’re lots of sea-related activities to engage in: boat rides, fish or bird watching, sport fishing, and even adrenaline-boosting sports. In addition, the Fuengirola Yacht Club ( has a sailing school offering windsurf, optimist, small sailboat, and mini cruise sailing training. There’re lots of choices at a wide range of prices. Go to the Town Hall website for more information.

The Sea Promenade

The ocean stands in sharp contrast to the soaring buildings, which look like a manmade breakwater or artificial cliffs. I walked westwards, towards the Sohail Castle, along the Sea Promenade –one of the longest and best equipped in Europe. Being 8 kilometres long, the promenade is a real mix of people, colours, smells, and flavours, never getting too far from the sea. The hotels, offering about 12,000 bed spaces, overlook the beaches, all of which boast EU Blue Flags for their top-quality water, sand, and services. The restaurants in the area serve international cuisine of all kinds, colours, and tastes, whereas at beach bars you can get what’s typical of Málaga’s coastal towns: pescaíto frito (fried fish), rice, and fish in salt. The sand resisted the pounding of the waves. Passers-by smiled at the show, feeling the atomised sea drops moist their faces. I walked at ease, enjoying every step I took. It’s a long stretch, but it’s so pleasant… There were ships and attractions everywhere, and there’re no slopes. Just let the promenade carry you. Every few metres I stepped down on the sand, hearing the ocean roar and feeling the cool water, which I loved. Then I resumed my walk down the promenade. On windy days, the stroll is great. Bikers and skaters are welcome too, for there’s a clearly signposted lane by the promenade. I could smell the sardine skewers and the charcoal-grilled fish, blended with water and sand and salt. It was a unique blend, a sort of hallmark of the coast of Málaga.

The Sohail Castle and Its Park

I reached the footbridge across the Fuengirola river, whose struts are another of Fuengirola’s icons. The castle is up a mound, overlooking the ocean in the distance. Groups of young people were having fun on the beach, accompanied by the faithful roaring sea. There’re two ways of getting to the castle. You can walk on along the promenade, around the mound, and across the woods at its foot, or you can go across the footbridge, turn right by the river, and look for the sign reading “Parque del Castillo” (“Castle Park”). I chose the former to go and the latter to return. The castle is surrounded by a park on whose grass you can lie and in whose terraces you can take a break. The park features the archaeological remains of a Phoenician burial site and what must have been the Roman town of Sual. The castle is accessed through the back door, so if the main door is open, you just have to skirt the fortress. Admission tickets are €3 for adults and €2 for kids. The castle is open Mon-Fri 10:00 a.m.-7:45 p.m. There was a wedding inside. The bride and groom were having pictures taken at the door, in the battlements, and in other charming places. The Sohail Castle has been built and destroyed more than once. First erected by the Phoenicians (adjoining a fish processing plant), it was also used by the Romans and the Arabs, and then in the Spanish War of Independence against the French army. Now it houses social events or cultural activities, including a medieval market drawing a high number of shoppers in mid August and featuring arts and crafts stands, food stalls, workshops, and other things in a real journey back in time. The castle affords fabulous views of the centre of Fuengirola to the east, with Mijas Pueblo in the background, and the most glorious Mediterranean to the west. I took a look at the battlements, got a couple of photos taken by the cannons, took a seat, took a look at Mare Nostrum, and breathed in the salty air brought to me by the breeze.


Although I still have a few sights to see, several hours had passed and I needed my lunch. So I stopped for it. I’d seen a restaurant and bar by the Sea Promenade which served roast fish in salt –Restaurante Bar Playa Antonio–, and I didn’t give it a second thought. The menu included many types of fish, seafood, and rice. I ordered 2 bottles of water, a 300ml beer, a pepper salad (€6), pil-pil prawns (€7.80), marinated dogfish (€6.80), gilthead bream (€22.26), and 1 ice-cream. The bill = €51.44. They show you your fish (in my case it was gilthead bream, but it could have been sea bass, red bream, or any other) before cooking it and, of course, they cook it on the spot. I talked my way down the appetizers, half sheltered from the sun. When my fish was ready, my waiter, Rafael, showed the crust of salt on a wood box. He removed the salt, boned the gilthead bream, and brought it to the table. It was delicious, and so was my chat too. I really enjoyed my lunch, which gave me the necessary strength to keep going.

More of Fuengirola

Walking was my choice in Fuengirola. And it was the right choice, for here you can get almost everywhere on foot with a little energy. Both the town streets and the beach are stimulating. If you’re coming with kids, don’t miss Parque del Poniente, near the Sohail Castle. It’s a playground with ship-shaped swings and slides: galleons, caravels, and the like. The undulating blue floor resembles the ocean. There’s even a lighthouse-bar where you can have a snack. From this park down Condes de San Isidro Avenue, you’ll get to Parque del Norte, where the Town Hall is. Next to the Town Hall building there’s the City History Museum. It was closed, even when the brochure said it was open Mon-Sun in the morning and the afternoon. A note at the door said the hours had changed: Tue-Sat 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Behind the Town Hall, on Camilo José Cela Avenue, there lies another of Fuengirola’s attractions: the zoo. Although it’s known by everyone as Fuengirola Zoo, it’s changed its name to Bioparc Fuengirola in March 2010. “Bioparc Fuengirola embraces a new zoo model based on respect of nature and the preservation of species. This model has been adopted all over Europe. Bioparc Fuengirola is a different zoo concept. It’s a park where animals live in their recreated habitats, which favours their development at all levels. Coming to Bioparc Fuengirola is like being in a documentary of tropical rain forests,” the zoo website reads. The zoo organises several activities, the most special of which are the guided tours by night. You can find detailed information on the zoo’s services, species, and habitats on its website. Admission tickets are €15.90 for adults and €10.40 for kids and seniors. Groups of over 25 visitors also get a discount. Tickets can be bought at the zoo or in hotels and travel agencies. Bioparc is open every day from 10:00 a.m. It’s the ideal place to watch plants and animals in open yet controlled environments.


I went back to the Sea Promenade, taking slow steps along the oldest alleys in town and already smelling the salty air in the breeze. Suddenly, I was facing the beach and the ocean. I took off my shoes and sat down. I let the Mediterranean wrap me up with its scents and flavours, feeling the salt on my skin. I smiled at the setting sun.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

When to come: Fuengirola’s calendar is packed with activities. There’re two, though, that you must attend: the Festival of Our Lady of the Rosary, and the International Fair of Nations.
What to see:
International Fair of Nations: Held in April or May since 1994, it’s become one of the major events on the Costa del Sol, drawing thousands of visitors every year. “Going around the world in four days is possible if you come to this fair. Contagious interactive music by native bands coming from their countries for the event, delicious food whose colours and flavours take you to distant lands and communities, exotic drinks, strong smells of faraway cultures…,” reads the Town Hall website. (The picture in this section has been taken from this source too.) Festival of Our Lady of the Rosary: Unfolding from October 6 to 22, this festival pays tribute to the Patroness and Eternal Mayoress of Fuengirola, Our Lady of the Rosary. Held at the local fairground, it brings the most deeply rooted Andalusian customs and traditions back to life in the forms of traditional foods and drinks, dancing and singing.
Useful links: Interesting sources for a tour of Fuengirola include the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Fuengirola Town Hall. To them we should add the website of Bioparc Fuengirola and a personal and service web page, Un Sol de Ciudad.

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.