Luxury Apartment in Spain, Costa del Sol, Estepona-Marbella (La Resina Golf club complex)

Estepona

 Quite tangibly Spanish but at the same time surprisingly sedate, while the approach to Estepona from the east is all dramatic twisty roads, large and luxurious hotels and sumptuous beach clubs, the town then appears to retreat from view. With the brilliantly swift toll road doing a great job at diverting the traffic around the rear of the town, the coastal road also gives Estepona a bit of a wide berth, and the industrial parks that characterise its rear end do little to entice the otherwise oblivious tourist to the charms that lie within.

Either side of Estepona there are to be found some of the Costa del Sol's finest hotels. Behind Estepona there is one of the coast’s tallest and most striking mountains – a crimson red, perfectly conical mound of rock that glimmers in the sunlight at the heart of the Sierra Bermeja and really draws the eye. Even if you turn your attentions toward Estepona as you drive past, the distant silhouette of Gibraltar in one direction, or the awe-inspiring sweep of the northern Costa del Sol in the other, instantly grabs the eye.

Estepona, for its size (only Marbella is larger on the Costa del Sol), attracts relatively few tourists. While some may cite its distance from Málaga airport as a contributing factor for this, Estepona is only 11km west of San Pedro, and en route to Gibraltar, Sotogrande and Algeciras.

Nonetheless, as soon as you actually enter Estepona proper, any doubts about its appeal are immediately banished. Fronting a wide, sweeping beach that stretches the length of the town, Estepona's charming boulevards, beautiful plazas and inescapably Spanish atmosphere act as a breath of fresh air. While much of the Costa del Sol is easily-definable, Estepona has an authenticity to it that many other resorts struggle to match.

The town is a former fishing village that has grown organically over centuries, rather than rapidly over decades. As a result, it has a settled air to it; a laid-back sense of contentment, a thriving business hub, a fully-functioning industrial network and an important fishing harbour.

Every Sunday morning, throughout the year, the entire town almost comes to a standstill as the local market invades the harbour and its surrounding streets and alleys. While the same market can be found in San Pedro on Thursdays, Marbella on Mondays and Nueva Andalucía on a Saturday morning, Estepona is its spiritual home. For many expats, it is the only time they visit the resort. Sure, they could visit one closer to them, but there's something about the Estepona version that is so much more alluring. Plus the fact that it is held on a Sunday morning gives them something to do on those rare rainy or cooler days when the entire coast seems to shut down, save for a few OpenCor supermarkets. While not quite the tumultuous organised chaos of a Marrakesh market or an Istanbul bazaar, the sights, smells and sounds of Estepona's market make for a highly enjoyable experience, which is an assault on the senses.

The gleaming promenade offers secure and convenient underground parking, adding a touch of modern day efficiency to this most laid-back of Spanish towns. The eastern and western outskirts of town are markedly different. To the east – which is closer to Marbella and the true 'heart' of the Costa del Sol – there is a surfers’-style beach bar, a Carrefour superstore, a Drive Thru McDonalds and the chic Laguna Village beach club and shopping centre; while the remoter western fringe is home to the fishing harbour, tapas bars, flamenco bars and residential towers. The difference is quite striking, yet Estepona is comfortable with both. 

For the expat, the newer residential developments on the northern outskirts of town prove particularly popular and affordable, delivering lovely views and great access either into town, down to Gibraltar or back toward Marbella. Amenities of note include the gleaming Hospital Hospiten Estepona, the Children's Place bilingual nursery, Bede's Grammar School and the ITV Centre (where all vehicle MOTs for the region are issued). Convenient, friendly and delivering a great mix of Spanish culture and international bluster, Estepona has it all. The central plaza, in the heart of the old town, proves perhaps its most diverting attraction, where a strong coffee, a good book and a pair of sunglasses are all you need for a perfect day.

Plató 68 is the superclub that everyone talks about when in Estepona. Indeed, such is its reputation that thousands of Banús-based revellers eschew the excesses of the Port for one night at least during their stay, and head down to Estepona to see how the Spanish do 'hedonistic'. Thriving, thumping and open until dawn, this club is not for the faint-hearted.

Elsewhere, Estepona boasts a good number of additional late night clubs and bars. Residents here rarely feel the need to travel to Marbella or Puerto Banús for their evening entertainment, which is a testament to the impressive variety on offer in the heart of Estepona. While most establishments are quite Spanish, there are a couple of inviting Irish and English-style bars to enjoy, complete with snooker tables, karaoke nights and all the trappings of home.

Eating out in Estepona is highly affordable and immensely enjoyable. The town has some of the region's finest fish and seafood restaurants down at the pleasant harbour, which is also a great spot for an evening stroll and a quiet drink with friends. In the main plaza, patrons of the numerous bodegas, tapas bars and cafés that ring the square converge into one happy and peaceful mass each weekend, lending the town a jovial charm.

And for something altogether different, a trip out of town up to the Sierra Bermeja at sunset is a magical and memorable occasion; best enjoyed with a loved one, a good camera, and an even better bottle of wine. Just be careful on the drive down, though!

By journalist, editor and former Costa del Sol resident, Ian Clove