Wednesday 20 August 2014

In search of Costa del Soul

Ian Mallon looked beyond Fuengirola's tourist traps and found a haven for his family

Ian Mallon

Published 09/02/2013 | 04:00

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The harbour at Fuengirola
Beatriz Palace & Spa Hotel in Fuengirola

Today, I want to talk to you about Fuengirola. Yes, seriously. I know, the F-word is enough to send even the vaguest type of travel snob running for cover at the thoughts of spending a holiday with the 'Brits Banged Up Abroad' set.

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After all, isn't Fuengirola the sort of place you view comfortably in the rear-view mirror as you whizz your way past on the way down to Puerto Banus or Marbella?

I once spent an hour there after accepting an invite to stay in a local hotel, which turned out to be the closest thing to prison I've ever been in.

The incarceration ended after about 59 minutes when I found myself in the pool area surrounded by more tattooed, football-jersey-wearing thugs than at Stamford Bridge on match day.

The menfolk were truly tribal, as were the women, who wore the traditional dress of nothing on top and red bingo wings at the side.

Hotel Pitsville wasn't even in the town, but on a piece of wasteland beside a supermarket, in front of an industrial estate.

Within an hour I had my precious family checked out and we made our way to the safer southern region of the Costa del Sol, and the article never appeared.

So why go back to Fuengirola? Well, to seasoned Spain visitors, this is a very much misunderstood sort of place; the far end of the town is a diamond in the dirt, so to speak.

There is an old town and a historic side to the place, too, and, despite the impression, the F-word is not as foul as I had thought.

I am also acutely aware that I am writing on what is a very challenging subject matter, in an era where travel writers love to inform the reader of fabulous new far-flung holiday destinations, with unpronounceable names, in never-heard-of-before countries.

Noble scribes like to tell you about holidays that involve sherpas and kayaks and barges, not the sort of places that are associated with two-week, 18-30 bingefests.

The simplicity of such holiday destinations is sometimes lost as the reader is encouraged to chase humming birds through Indonesian rainforests or climb seven peaks in seven days.

For me, the greatest challenge of any holiday is getting the family through Dublin airport check-in and security, on to the plane – and usually all before 6am.

Anyone who has done all the extreme journeys will tell you that when wives and kids arrive, there is nothing appealing about long-haul, and the more traditional destinations suddenly become attractive once more.

That's why, when once I would have been horrified by the 'F-word', suddenly it sounded rather enticing when I was furnished with the finer details of the destination.

There would be no football- jersey-wearing, lager-slurping thugs here, or women who take their drinks by the pint; instead only a highly civilised clientele, most of whom were well-to-do Spaniards.

The beautiful simplicity about our destination is in its far-flung remove at the end of a shingle beach, where the nearest dance bars and nightclubs are two kilometres away.

What there are in plentiful supply at the Hotel Beatriz are nice sophisticated folk, all enjoying the delights of the older part of town, and this fabulous spa resort.

It's no accident that, no matter where you travel in the world, if you happen across any bar, restaurant or hotel and find civilised locals frequenting the establishment, you won't be too far off the money.

The Beatriz is luxurious and large but without lacking in personality. Staff are friendly and helpful.

This is not quite five star, but there is a very high-end feel to the Beatriz – the decor is classic, with lots of Persian rugs and marble, coupled with shiny newness.

The pool area, where I spent the bulk of time, thanks to my three munchkins, has a two-part, figure-of-eight-shaped pool, with a deep part and a part that's more manageable for the not-so-confident, and there is also a kids' pool.

Thankfully there were no Germans lurking around, which meant that sun loungers were plentiful, and there was a fresh towel service poolside.

A gateway leads directly from the bar on to the beach, which is dotted with some fabulous bars and restaurants. There's nothing quite like idling away an hour with a glass of chilled Rioja while enjoying a near-permanent blue sky, with the Med lapping up before you.

There are a number of restaurants back at the hotel, including a fine a la carte eaterie.

But the place where we grazed almost always was in the most fantastic buffet restaurant I've ever had the pleasure of eating in. This huge, family-friendly place served the most delicious food. The highlights for me were the vast amounts of fish and seafood available, and the salad bar, which put a whole new meaning into rabbit food.

There are some great bars dotted around the place, including a nice tapas bar, and a pool and beachside offering.

For the children, when they're not splashing in the pools, there's a playground and a kids' club, which operates in peak season – July and August.

The rooms are fabulous; we were presented with adjoining rooms, beach-facing and large. Each room has capacity for three adults, and is built to a very high spec, with end rooms offering a number balconies to while away the late hours.

And while this is not quite Fuengirola, the town itself – where there is an excellent water park with some great rides – is a short ride away.

Needless to say, I didn't make it to the main drag, and that has to be a good thing in a place which has a lot going for it.

I know now that the F-word is no longer something to be feared and frowned upon, and I look forward to going back.

Irish Independent

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