Gastronomy, golf, beaches, nature and history: the tourist attractions of the Costa del Sol are undoubtedly some of the most complete in the world. Malaga province may be the smallest in Andalucia in terms of size, but because of its situation and its climate, it is hard to beat. The location is fundamental in understanding the success of the Costa del Sol as an international tourist destination. It is the European Mediterranean coast which is closest to the Atlantic, but it is also south of the great Guadalquivir valley. These characteristics have, without a doubt, contributed to its development.
Thanks to its climate, the Costa del Sol made its entry into the world of tourism in the 1960s and today, with a sustainable model which includes different tourism segments in addition to the traditional sunshine and beach holidays, it has become a worldwide benchmark.
These days the western coast, which runs between Malaga and Manilva, can boast quality infrastructure which enables it to cater for even the most demanding tourists, such as a large number of four and five starred hotels, marinas and ports, extensive seafront promenades and leisure parks, among others.
Far from becoming saturated, this tourism model has made it possible for Malaga to turn its attention to its lovely countryside, where history and nature, and not forgetting gastronomy, are fundamental pillars of a different type of tourism. Thanks to this diversity, the regions of Malaga can be clearly differentiated and are characterised by their own distinct features.
Agricultural valleys such as the Guadalhorce and Gudalteba, mountainous regions like the Serrania de Ronda and Sierra de las Nieves, fertile plains such as the Vega de Antequera and places with deep-rooted traditions like La Axarquia make this a remarkable destination and one which complements the sun, sea and sand type of tourism.
The historical heritage of Malaga province has also been promoted in recent years. Stretching from prehistory to the past century, there is plenty of evidence of the strategic importance of this province since the first humans existed.
The dolmens of Antequera and prehistoric caves such as those of Ardales, Nerja and La Pileta (Benaojan) are good examples of the first hominds to populate some very different areas of the province. In addition, numerous archaeological sites from the same period have been excavated.
It is well known that Malaga flourished during the Roman civilisation, because there is plenty of evidence to tell us so. The town of Acinipo, near Ronda, the baths discovered in Alameda, the Ephebus which is on display at Antequera Museum and the Roman theatre in Malaga city are some, but by no means all, of the findings.
Despite this, the greatest period of history in Malaga province was that of Al-Andalaus. The presence of the Moorish civilisation has left its indeliable mark almost everywhere. The most subtle reminders are the layouts of some of the villages, where the architectural style remains the same: steep, narrow streets, sparkling whitewashed houses, Moorish roof tiles, colourful window frames and doors and pots of vibrant flowers.
Villages such as Frigiliana, Competa, Canillas de Aceituno, Comares, Jubrique, Genalguacil and Casares are some of those which work hard to maintain these traditional details today, knowing that they are a major tourist attractions.
However, apart from this popular architecture, the Andalusian legacy can be seen in other buildings of great historical value, such as minarets, castles, the remains of mosques, water deposits, watchtowers, and other structures from that period. There are many different ways of seeing them. Some are even included on tourist routes such as the Mudejar Route in the Guadalteba area.
From the Reconquest to the present day, the heritage of the province has continued to grow, especially in the form of religious buildings. The town of Antequera is a good example, as it has almost 30 buildings of this type, including churches of great artistic value, such as La Encarnacion in Alora, San Antonio de Padua in Alpandeire and the San Francisco convent in Velez-Malaga.
Although it is the smallest province in Andalucia, Malaga boasts more protected areas than any of the others and this is due to its varied terrain and extensive biodiversity. There are biological species here which are rarely found anywhere else.
One place which should definitely be visited is the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park - where the pinsapos grow; this species of fir tree is unique in the world. There are several walking routes which go close to the pinsapo trees and these are not very difficult.
Ibex can also often be seen in the Sierra de las Nieves; this type of goat frequents mountainous areas and is also found in the Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama and at El Torcal in Antequera. A large variety of animals inhabit these areas and other parts of the province, such as Los Montes de Malaga, Los Reales de Sierra Bermeja and Los Alcornocales.
Rather easier to spot, albeit at a greater difference, are the birds which fly over this province. One of the protected species which can often be seen is the griffon vulture, especially in places such as El Torcal and the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes.
A special mention should also be made of the birds which can be seen on the wetlands and in river estuaries in Malaga province. Among these are the lagoons at Fuente de Piedra, Campillos and Archidona.
For those who want to enjoy the Costa del Sol with all their senses, we must not forget the excellent gastronomy. In recent years this sector has made a name for itself because of the diversity and quality of the products and the dishes which are to be found here, many of them protected under the promotional brand 'Sabor a Malaga'.
The culinary heritage of this province is one of the richest in the country and it can now boast seven different designations of origin, including the Alorena olives, raisins and the Malaga wines.
On the subject of food, in just a few kilometres the offer changes from the specialties of the coastal region such as 'pescaito frito' (fried small fish,), sardines and shellfish, to the hearty dishes of the countryside including some very traditional dishes such as 'porra', 'sopa perato', 'ensalada arriera', suckling kid and the famous 'rabo de toro', or bull's tail, from the town of Ronda.