Nerja

We were invited to visit Nerja, as guests of James Villas. Once a small fishing village, Nerja has blossomed into one of Spain’s most popular coastal destinations in Andalucía. Steeped in natural beauty, facing the sea with the Sierra de Almijara mountains rising sharply behind. The old town is typically Andalucian, full of white-washed houses, and pebble streets. Perfect for exploring away from the heat of the sun and for discovering independent boutiques and hidden lunch spots.

Our villa, Capastrano Dos was a beautiful three bedroom villa with a small pool and a beautiful roof terrace , managed by James Villas, located on the edge of Nerja in a quiet enclave of six similar houses. We fell in love with it the moment we arrived, we both love modern architecture and really appreciated the space it offered. There were three bedrooms and we had invited our adult children but they were far too busy so we had the place to ourselves and it was very, very pleasant! There was a small pool which I feared would be a bit shady but it enjoyed the sun all day from 11am to late afternoon and a wonderful roof terrace, which was absolutely perfect for evening drinks.

We were there for a week and tried to combine an equal amount of exploring with chilling enjoying our beautiful villa and pool. Nerja is an hour by car from Malaga and because or villa was on the outskirts and we wanted to explore a bit we hired a car at the airport. We felt a bit anxious driving on the other side as we had not done so for a while. We have been pretty UK-bound by covid and for previous holidays we would either do city breaks as we live in the country, or we have quite often driven in our own car to France. This was a new experience for us at 11pm in the dark, joining a Spanish motorway in an unfamiliar car and being guided by our iPhones.

It was fine actually, Douglas had first shot and I drove in the morning and we both quickly became used to it. Normally he drives, but I am very pleased I took the plunge and now feel I could turn up in any city and drive off from the airport.

I discussed my fears in advance of going with my friend Laura Thomas, she is a great adventurer and also an expert at just chilling out – she has almost made it her profession with her beautiful candles and bath oils. Read her blog for excellent recipes and wonderful advice on living in the moment and getting all Hygge!

There is no doubt that many of us dream of a second home abroad, Laura and I certainly do but before taking that leap, it is worth spending a bit of time in your chosen destination at different times of year. A spacious villa, elegantly furnished, close to amenities of Nerja is very affordable off season. Spain’s coast is notoriously busy in summer and temperatures can really soar. An autumn or winter break can be much quieter, and the climate is delightful: like a Scottish summer really. Residency restrictions as a result of Brexit have become a reality now, so maybe long-term renting in different places is the answer, without the commitment of buying.

You can find dream accommodation available for a month at a time, for less than the cost of a fortnight in high season. Ideal if you are fully retired and have time to explore, but also perfect for the new generation of digital nomads, people of all ages, who have realised that ‘working from home’ can also mean working from the Caribbean, a Scandinavian city, or the Mediterranean. Off season deals, close to home, in similar time zones are the most obviously practical and in terms of cost, by far the most tempting. We were honestly just getting used to the place when t was time to come home!

In the south of Spain, all year-round sunshine, make getting fresh air and exercise all winter a joy. Nerja is the perfect choice, small and friendly yet very accessible. Whether you like tennis, golf, walking, cycling, or kayaking, all are available on your doorstep. Cultural and historical attractions are much less busy, some still might need to be booked in advance, but you will find the whole atmosphere much more relaxed and less pressured. It is easier to find a table for lunch or dinner off season, car hire is cheaper if required, but do remember that public transport in Spain is excellent.

Five ‘must visit’ destinations in and around Nerja

The Balcón de Europa 

We did not actually make it to the iconic Balcón de Europa, a balcony above a cliff that looks over the sea, Nerja’s most famous landmark, but apparently the views are mesmerizing.  The Promenade – Paseo Balcón de Europa – is completely pedestrianised, as are the adjoining streets and it is lined with cafés, restaurants and ice cream parlours. it is also the location for various concerts and ‘fiestas’ throughout the year, including the ‘not to be missed’ New Year celebrations with firework displays, music and dancing until dawn. Most of the processions through the streets of Nerja, of which there are many, either start, finish, or pass through the Balcón de Europa. I think we were too busy trying to work out how to get to the places we did get to and making sure we were going the right way around the roundabouts.

The Caves of Nerja

We did make it here and it was an amazing experience, you honestly feel as if you are in an episode of Game of Thrones. Steps around this atmospheric exhibit are easy to navigate, and pathways are well lit. With a volume of more than 100,000 m3 and a surface covering 9,371 m2, the Tourist galleries represent approximately one-third of the caves. They have been used as a habitat, a burial site and for cultural expression. There are remnants testifying to the passage of hunter-gatherers and fishermen from more than 30,000 years ago. There is a wonderful café on site, with a terrace overlooking Nerja and the Bay and access to a free-to-enter botanical garden, which makes this a wonderful day out. Do go!

Frigiliana 

Just 5 km away, Frigiliana is one of those white villages in Southern Spain that often makes it to the ‘The 10 most beautiful villages in Spain’ list, thanks to its Moorish old quarter and narrow streets decorated with ceramic mosaics. Again, we didn’t make it but I believe it is well worth exploring the beautiful shops and galleries and treating yourself to a nice lunch.

Bodegas Bentomiz Winery

This is a 40-minute car drive or taxi ride from the centre of Nerja, located up in the hills, the drive and the location are stunning and we DID make it and it was fantastic! On arrival, you are greeted by friendly staff and taken on an informative tour of the winery and treated to a delicious tasting. The winery has an amazing history, Dutch couple, Andre and Clara Verheij, moved to Andalucía and set up a civil engineering business. They bought a site to build themselves a home and quickly realised that their garden was an ancient vineyard. They started experimenting and the first year they managed to produce 700 bottles. They continued experimenting and today operate a boutique winery producing 50,000 bottles a year of a range of distinctive, fragrant wines thanks to the slate in the soil and the salt in the air and their careful handling of the organic process. The wines are called Ariyanas wines, after a nearby village, Ariyanas, which translates as ‘aromatic’ in Arabic. They are stocked in several Michelin starred restaurants but retail very reasonably at the end of the tour and make a lovely treat to take home.

Images of Bodegas Bentomiz are by Andrew Clifton

The Alhambra

A little further afield, but still only an hour in the car, one of Spain’s greatest monuments. A guided tour is advised as the history and the site itself is so extensive, we had one, Robert and he was invaluable. He honestly put us right on the whole of European history actually. The complex includes the remains of the original fortress and the surrounding communities, built in the 13th century by the then Islamic conquerors of Spain, plus a more modern palace and summer house built in the 16th century for Charles I of Spain, which was never completed or even used as a royal residence in the end. The whole site was abandoned and left to decay until the 19th century when its historic importance was recognised again, and its restoration was undertaken by conservationists. The incomplete, open air palace now makes a wonderful location for summer music festivals. The whole complex has become a pilgrimage for landscape and architecture enthusiasts from all over the world, as awareness has grown of how hugely influential Moorish design has been.

Although we failed to make Frigiliana or the Balcon de Europa, to be honest we didn’t even manage to explore he beautiful old town of Nerja, sorry! We did manage to find ourselves on a nudist beach, inadvertently though, and we did do a sea kayaking trip which was fantastic.

At one point we were encouraged to jump into the sea and have a lovely swim and snorkel, which I happily did, but then I wondered how on earth I was meant to get back up on my kayak?

Well I did manage eventually with the help of Douglas and the rather gorgeous young guide – it was NOT easy though and actually my bikini did practically come off in the process, hence the obvious complete practicality of nudist beaches really.

Factfile

Bodegas Bentomiz Winery

Open all year round, Wednesday – Sunday

A wine tour and tasting at 12:30pm accompanied by a delicious tasting platter is 22 Euros per person.

Lunch is served at 2pm and starts at 35 Euros

The Alhambra

Open all year round and daily from 9am to 8pm, last entry is 5pm

An adult ticket including a three-hour guided tour starts at 48 Euros 

You really do need to book in advance and be aware that you will also need your passport as well as a ticket to gain entry.

Nerja Caves

Open all year round 

Summer opening times 9:30am to 7pm

Winter opening times (:30am – 4:30pm

Entrance from 12 Euros per full priced adult

You can buy a train ticket from the centre of town which is very convenient.

PS

Hiring a car – check that your hire car is fully insured with no excess for a stress-free stay

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