Monday, 18 October 2010

Torremolinos is a puzzle with a lot of pieces: a cosmopolitan essence, a very recent kitsch past, a touristy avant-garde, a face turned to the sea, a powerful history and deeply-rooted traditions, sandy beaches and the sea promenade, shops and shopkeepers, a tasty sea-bound gastronomy, the endless stripe of the horizon… I could go on and on to make the Torremolinos puzzle, lots of faces that make a single face, lots of impressions on thousands of tourists every year. And it all started with a couple of rocks, a water spring, a mill, and a river.

Torre de los Molinos

1,300 Nasrid mills and a Christian watchtower were the source of inspiration for the town’s name: “Torre (Tower) de los Molinos (of Mills),” “Torre de Molinos,” “Torremolinos.” Other civilisations had been here before the Moors and the Christians: Ancient Mesopotamians and then the Romans, who set up their salted fish and garum factories in the area, right on the way from Málaga to Cádiz. Intrinsically and historically linked to Málaga City until it was granted independence in 1988, Torremolinos is not one of the hubs of international tourism, a pioneer, transgressive town. Its origins as a touristy place date back to the early twentieth century, when Sir George Langworthy bought the Santa Clara castle and converted it to hotel residence in 1930. Then, Doña Carlota Alessandri had the Cortijo de la Cucazorra renovated to house the Parador de Montemar. A few years later two new hotels opened: La Roca and, in the late 1940s, El Remo, in La Carihuela. In the following decade, two new establishments were added to the already existing ones: Los Nidos and Pez Espada, the first luxury hotel. In the 1960s and 1970s Torremolinos began to welcome international tourists. In the 1980s it was the Jet Set. And in the 1990s, mass tourism. Now, in the early years of the twenty-first century, Torremolinos is striving to keep quality and excellence in tourism.

Calle San Miguel

All manners of kitsch souvenirs, rag dolls wearing flamenco outfits, polka-dotted aprons with flounces, miniature bulls, bullfighters in all possible positions, flowerpots with plastic flowers… You can’t resist San Miguel Street and the slightly decadent style that makes it so special. It’s not just another pedestrian street; it’s a street feeding on the bafflement of foreign tourists, the smiles of Spanish ones, and the conspiratorial satisfaction of local dwellers. In the summer, San Miguel is trodden upon by over 100,000 visitors a day. It’s no mistake: 100,000 visitors! It’s a boisterous, busy street, with people coming and going, shoppers, onlookers, people born or come to stay in Torremolinos, an endless list of shops and stores –jewellery, footwear, clothes, tattoos, watches, bags, perfumes, gifts and souvenirs–, restaurants (in the area near the Pimentel tower), traditional places like La Casilla, where you can get toy soldiers, little angels, or figurines, factory outlets, newsagent’s shops, currency exchange offices, ice-cream parlours, liquor stores, clinics, and more. With so many alluring temptations I couldn’t help it: I bought a sardine skewer magnet for my fridge (€2). Across San Miguel Street, the pedestrian avenue Jesús Santos Reina leads to a large square with an old-style bandstand, a secluded fountains, and a statue by Laverín, “Birth of Eve.” Here shops give way to restaurants and bars. I went back San Miguel Street. I felt good strolling in a fully pedestrian area, where I could perform the delicate art of shopping at ease. As the morning became afternoon, crowds poured in. As I came closer to the flight of steps in front of the Pimentel tower, the shops mushroomed.

Chapel of San Miguel, Pimentel Tower, Towards the Sea Promenade

At the end of San Miguel Street, to the right, there’s San Miguel Square, featuring a recently built church. Two belfry towers, a frontage dominated by a sword-waving St Michael, whitewashed walls, a built-in main altarpiece also dominated by St Michael, wearing a cuirass and a helmet, a dragon at his feet and a threatening sword in his clenched fist. From San Miguel Street, I headed for El Bajondillo, a fishing district, walking past the Pimentel tower. It was built in 1300 as a fortification against privateers and Berbers. A curious fact: The first man recorded to have lived in Torremolinos was called Alonso Martín. He was hired in 1503 as a tower keeper, earning 25 maravedis a day. He wasn’t allowed to have a fishing rod, a dog, or cards, so that he was always focused on his tasks. The watch tower proved to be too short for its strategic goals. In 1770, a fortress was built where the Santa Clara hotel stands now. Some of the bunker’s remains can be seen at Parque de la Batería. The old tower was equipped with six 6km-range 24lb cannons. It was the first tower in town, the town in “Torre de los Molinos.” I sauntered down Cuesta del Tajo, Bajondillo Street, and Peligro Street to the right. More arts and crafts and gift shops. At the far end of Calle Peligro, Torremolinos comes face to face with the sea.

El Bajondillo

When I reached the Sea Promenade, I walked to the left. A mix of smells –salt, sea, charcoal– found its way to my nose and seized me. The stroll down the Sea Promenade was just delicious, feeling the delicate breeze on my skin. The light of the sun shimmered in the sea, and bather silhouettes stood out against the horizon, which went blurry between the sand and the sea. To one side, peaceful fine-sand beaches. To the other, the hustle and bustle of the shopping life. Silhouetted against the hill where the town centre rests, I could see an odd construction, the Casa de los Navaja –an extravagant 1925 house built by a man coming from Churriana in the Neo-Mudéjar style. From there I reached the monument to the beach, unveiled in 2004, drawing inspiration from Picasso’s “Women Running on the Beach.” Torremolinos is blessed with 7 kilometres of beach, linked by the Sea Promenade. All the beaches provide the necessary services for visitors’ safety and comfort. Some of them are sheltered by wild palms projecting their shadows on the sand. In the square there’s a Tourist Information Centre (Plaza de las Comunidades Autónomas, s/n, El Bajondillo; winter hours: Mon-Fri 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; summer hours: Mon-Sun 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. and 6:00-8:00 p.m.). Other Tourist Offices can be found in La Carihuela (C/ Delfines, s/n, i.e. La Carihuela Sea Promenade) and Plaza de la Independencia (Plaza de la Independencia, s/n). The opening hours are the same for all of them. I got myself a street map and a few brochures and asked how long it took to get to La Carihuela on foot. They told me about 30’. Great, I thought. It was a fine day, the warm sun shining in the bright blue sky.

Sea Promenade and La Carihuela

A 30’ walk by the sea brought from El Bajondillo to La Carihuela (the gastronomic cradle of fish and seafood). It was a very pleasant walk. Foreign residents, tanned in the early autumn, read their newspapers in the sun, leaning on the Sea Promenade parapet. The charcoal burnt, getting ready for the sardine (and gilthead and squid) skewers, its aroma promising delicious fresh fish. Privileged homes were perched on the rock banks amidst prickly pears, overlooking the Sea Promenade and the beach –a long and winding Sea Promenade indeed, adjusting to the rocky inlets, and shaping them and my walk with them. I sat on one of the wrought-iron benches the Sea Promenade was peppered with. The charcoal smells, the soft murmur of the ocean gnawing at the sand, the echoes of bathers’ voices in the distance, the bell of a passing bike, two triangular sails in the horizon, and the sea breeze sweetening the sun falling on my face. Skirting a rocky mound, I came to La Carihuela, a charming district of fishing flavours, narrow alleys, colourful flowerbeds, and flowery pots. There’re boats resting on the sand next to the pulley, lying upside down, waiting for their time to go fishing and then come back to the beach. La Carihuela is quietly busy, a peaceful neighbourhood. But it really seems to come to life when it’s time for lunch.

Lunch at La Lonja

There’re a zillion places to eat in La Carihuela. Fish and seafood rule in most of them. Casa Juan is one of the largest restaurants; it’s very popular. I chose a different one, though, based on a friend’s advice: La Lonja ( Besides the regular fish and seafood dishes on the menu (clams, crayfish, rice, pescaíto frito or fried fish), there were other possibilities: redbanded seabream à La Lonja (€16), shellfish and Marqués de Villalúa wine for two (€75), cod or monkfish with garlic large red prawns (€19), clams with artichokes and prawns (€14). So many delicacies… I ordered a helping of clams, the monkfish with garlic large red prawns, and a grilled gilthead bream (which changed to red bream, for the gilthead bream was too much for one). To drink, I had two 1l bottles of water and two iced coffees. The bill = €71.20. I’d picked a table by the sea promenade, facing the beach and the sea. Inside, the place was air-conditioned. Quite close to heaven. The clams kept the flavours of the sea and added new ones –salt, oil, lemon. Strong flavours indeed. The monkfish was just amazing, its delicate yet powerful sauce wrapping my palate with Mediterranean notes with every new bite. The red bream was juicy, tender, done to a turn. I just couldn’t ask for more, could I?

La Batería

Torremolinos held yet one more surprise in store: La Batería park. It has a single entrance and it’s a rather long uphill walk away from La Carihuela, which I used to digest my lunch. Directions: take Avenida de Carlota Alessandri to the east, Calle de la Ermita up, Calle Monte Coronado, turn right into Calle de la Cornisa to find the entrance to Parque de la Batería. It was quite a stroll, but it was worth it. The park is 74,000sq m. It’s dominated by a 9,000sq m manmade lake. A serene park, perfect for children thanks to its two playgrounds and amazing surprises. The trees project a tight shadow network on the lawn. Fountains with mythological motifs, boards giving information on tree specimens, a spiralling white watchtower, modern cannons pointing at the sea. Boat rides across the lake are available for €1 (30’). Each boat can hold up to four people. Some of the apprentice sailors were having trouble handling the vessels. The boats are really safe, for the lake isn’t too deep. I spotted a series of black iron gazebos with benches inside. I imagined a stormy afternoon in winter there. I went to see the cannons, the white watchtower like a huge magnet in the park. The cannons, themselves impressive, lay by two bunkers, ready to be visited at the magazines. La Batería was first a fortification. This is hardly surprising, given its key geographic location (a fortress had been built in the area in 1770). The tower had a lift inside. Taking it means having amazing views of La Carihuela at your feet, with the town centre to the left and the sea ahead, drawing figures in different shades of blue with the help of the bright blue sky. The breeze cooled everything down. I leant on handrail and looked on and on and on, letting out a sigh.


Torremolinos is a delicate blend of kitsch and traditional. I can still feel the bland sand on my feet, the winding course of the Sea Promenade in my legs, the salty breeze on my face, the charcoal smells on my nose. I can still see the blue shades of the sea emulsifying before my eyes, green threads weaving and vanishing in the line that separates the sea from the sky.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Molino de Inca: Located in the area of Los Manantiales, this is the oldest mill in Torremolinos (there were 19 of them in 1923). It was also the first to get water from the sierras. Dating back to 1488, it was used to grind grain. It has been fully rehabilitated to get its original shape and functioning back. Making it operative again meant creating a 50,000cm3 water tank. It’s set on a privileged environment, near the source of the water springs El Inca, La Cueva, and Albercón del Rey. Four strategically sited viewpoints help get the best views. (Hours: Tue-Sun 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and 6:00-9:00 p.m.)
Aqualand water park (C/Cuba, 10; tel.: (+34) 902 114 996): An excellent complement to the Torremolinos beach for many visitors. A 70,000sq m recreational space featuring as many attractions as a water park can offer: “Kamikaze” (a 24m high water chute), the pirate ship, the castle, “Seta Acuática,” “Rapids,” “Jacuzzi,” “Mini Golf,” plus tree-lined green areas for a great day out with your family. Find all the information on hours, admission fees, and directions at
Crocodile Park (C/Cuba, 14; tel.: (+34) 639 169 347): This recently opened 16,000sq m park features bamboos from Malaysia and Borneo, a huge, 6,000sq m lake with five islets, where the crocodiles live, a monkey house, a video room, and a viewpoint. Over 300 crocodile specimens live in the park, including caimans and alligators from the Americas. You can read more about it on
Fiestas: There’re lots of celebrations in Torremolinos throughout the year. These are but a few: Retro Dance Competition in the last week of February, Verdiales Day in late March or early April, St John’s Eve on June 23, El Carmen Fair in mid June (La Carihuela), St Michael’s Procession on the last weekend of September, Tourist Day on the first Thursday of September, Fried Fish Day on the first Thursday of October, Bobbin Lace Event in late May, EUROAL- Fair of Latin American and European Tourism, Art and Culture in June.
Useful links: To learn more about Torremolinos, check the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Torremolinos Town Hall.

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