Inland Costa del Sol offers a number of excellent destinations, including the following:
- Estepona to Casares and Gaucin.
- Sabinillas to Manilva.
- San Pedro to Benahavis.
- Marbella to Istan.
- Marbella to Ojen, Monda, Coín and Tolox.
- Nerja to Frigiliana.
Each of these inland villages has something different to offer. Andalucia is a land of vivid contrasts, and though all the communities in it are tied together by being Andalucians, the coastal towns may have little more in common with those in the mountains or in desert areas.
One of the famous pueblos blancos of Andalucia, and voted the prettiest village in Andalucia by the Spanish tourism bureau, this town is an excellent inland day trip. El Fuerty, the hill above it, is the site of the final defeat of the Moors when they rebelled in the 16th century. The ruined fort still sits there, and supposedly bones and rusted weapons are still sometimes found here. The village is much more attractive than its legend, with whitewashed houses boasting wrought-iron balconies cascading flowers to the street. Local wines are excellent, and you can find shops selling ceramics and pottery made by local artisans. Explore this town by foot for the best experience.
Square white homes like sugar cubes nestle against the Moorish castle of Casares, and if you follow the narrow street next to the Virgin del Rosario chapel, you’ll find one of the best views in Andalucia. Peregrine falcons and kestrels take flight overhead, and you can make out the mountains in Africa past Gibraltar from here. At nine miles inland from the coast, that’s a remarkable view. You can still visit the castle as well. Outside of town, a Roman ruin, Lacipo, is still in reasonably good shape.
Though tourists are starting to discover it, Manilva is an unspoiled town, one of the Pueblos Blancas. Try the local wines, but don’t take them back with you; they’re sweet and don’t age well. The grapes and raisins here are also excellent. Here you can visit some of the old Roman sulphur baths and the aqueduct that still stands in pieces. The church and adjoining cemetery are quite pretty, but not incredibly distinctive. The oddest thing about the cemetery is the surprising predominance of English names dating from the last two decades.
Benahavis has some of the best food in Andalucia, and has more excellent restaurants per capita than anywhere in the area. Many people come here simply to eat. You should be prepared to park outside and walk; its streets are not suited to cars. And come early. Besides the restaurants, you can visit the 11th century Moorish castle of Montemayor atop the highest mountain in the area. The town hall is also surrounded by stone Moorish walls. La Aldea, a little enclave, is rich in marble fountains, old fashioned doors and wrought iron, and lovely antiques.
If you can’t find a parking place, try driving to the Restaurante Los Faroles, where you’ll find an inexpensive parking area. And the restaurants aren’t the only excellent eating spots here; tapas bars abound. Go hungry.
Istan’s timeless feeling is unmatchable in Andalucia. Originally a little Moorish town, it was allowed to remain intact even while the coastal Moorish villages were destroyed. It’s close by the Serrania de Ronda hunting reserve, so you’ll have excellent areas in which to hike for the day. For that matter, the town’s streets are unsuited to cars, and you’ll probably be better off hiking through them as well. Water runs constantly from the town’s drinking fountains, and everywhere you can hear the rush of it echoing the mountain streams from which it sprang. The water here is so clean that motorists often stop at the streams outside of town to fill cans and jugs for drinking.
Ojen rests beside the Almadan stream between the Sierra Blanca and the Sierra Alpujata, both ranges rich in mineral resources. Today a modern highway runs through the center of the town, the more affluent part of town circling the Moorish castle’s remains. The old part of town, on the other side of the road, is served by narrow cobbled streets with drinking fountains everywhere. Anise liqueur, or aguardiente, is still made here. The Refugio de Juanar, a private hunting lodge of the Larios family favored by King Alfonso XIII, is now a popular hotel for hunters and hikers.