Family fun in southern Spain
With its easy accessibility, glorious weather and infinite variety of things to do, in southern Spain you'll be able to enjoy some of the best family days out available anywhere in Europe.
How much do you really know about life on the Costa del Sol? Sure, you've probably heard all the buzz words before about how the sun shines for 320 days a year, and you've almost definitely experienced the beach lifestyle that comes with it thanks to the no-doubt numerous holidays you have enjoyed here, but what about day-to-day life in Spain? What is Spain like for those who live there as expats? First of all, you have to rid yourself of the notion that it is going to be a year-round holiday destination. It is, for tourists, but if you move to Spain, you are no longer a tourist.
So, what do you do on weekday evenings? How about those lazy Sundays where not much happens? How do you balance your weekly budget while still enjoying the benefits that living in one of the world’s foremost tourist spots brings? And what do you do on those very rare days when – heaven forbid – the sun does NOT shine and the rain teems down...what's life like then?
The Costa del Sol: Good for you
Living in a hot Mediterranean climate is not without its drawbacks but, by and large, the Costa del Sol's weather will more than meet your expectations. It may sound cliched but it’s backed up by empirical evidence – Spaniards and other Mediterranean peoples enjoy the longest life expectancy in Europe, and the second longest in the world.
The climate encourages a more active lifestyle and a better diet: it is extremely easy to eat well cheaply in Spain as many of the healthiest foods (such as tomatoes, fresh fish, spinach, brocolli, avocado, peppers and citrus fruits) all grow locally. In terms of exercise, you might think that the hot weather stifles one's desire to get active when the option of lying by the pool with a beer in hand is right there. But the very fact that you're drawn outside by the weather engenders a different mindset – you're not cooped up in the warmth on the sofa for most of the year, so even if you're not a keen jogger, an avid footballer, a tennis enthusiast or a cyclist, at least you're moving around more.
There's a vanity thing too. On the Costa del Sol, you spend a far greater percentage of your time wearing very little, so it is only natural to want to look as good as possible. Instead of forking out hundreds of pounds on a stylish winter coat in the UK, on the Costa del Sol your time, effort and money is far better put to use in gyms, or at tennis clubs, or investing in some good quality running shoes. The end product is the same – to look good. It's just, on the Costa del Sol, you'll feel good too.
The heat and sunshine helps as well: your skin will soon look better than ever (provided, of course, that you take adequate precautions against the sun's rays) thanks to the increased exposure to the sun and a higher intake of water; a typical, almost subconscious response to the extra heat is to drink more fluids than you did before. Beware, though: this wonderful lifestyle can also lead to a higher intake of alcohol too, particularly in the summer when the temptation to live like the holidaymakers can prove too much!
So the first thing you need to get a handle on is your mindset. There is so much to do along the Costa del Sol, and whether you are buying a property in Spain as a holiday home or a permanent one, you don’t have to cram it all in at once. The sun may very well be shining on a Monday afternoon, but fear not – it’s shining most of the time, so fight the urge to rush outside and strip down to your smalls… you have all the time in the world, which is why living in Spain is the ultimate in leisure pleasure for all ages.
There are better beaches elsewhere in Europe. There’s warmer weather, too. Cooler, hipper cities, certainly. But there is nowhere like the Costa del Sol in terms of the complete package, particularly for families with children of all ages. A simple flight from the British Isles, easy transit to your property, and a landscape blessed with mountains, accessible beaches, mild surf and beautiful weather is boosted by some brilliantly inventive, inclusive and impressive man-made attractions. All along the coast there are superb child-friendly distractions, suitable for toddler to teen.
From April until late October, the two water parks of the Costa del Sol prove extremely popular, and with good reason. There is a variety to them that ensures they never get boring no matter how often you visit, and they are different enough to warrant certain visits for certain occasions.
Aqualand Torremolinos is the larger of the two, and one of the largest in Europe, boasting 70,000m2 of thrilling slides, pools, Jacuzzis and rides. Likely to suit the youngest and eldest members of your brood, and great for the whole family.
Parque Acuatico Mijas is located next to the N340 in Fuengirola, and is relatively compact. However, it is well designed and varied, and is likely to appeal to children aged between 6-14.
Zoos, wildlife and marine life
Kids love to stare at animals, and there are plenty of opportunities for them to do this on the Costa del Sol. From zoos to adventure parks, the benign climate makes outdoor activities like this a year-round joy, although the stifling heat of high summer leaves many of the larger animals a little lethargic at high noon, so plan your visits accordingly.
Bioparc Fuengirola is a little pricey for what you get, but there is no denying that it has been cleverly designed to maximise its rather limited dimensions. There are tigers, leopards, gorillas, orangutans and a wonderful lemur island, though, so it is a fun and informative day out for all.
Sea Life Benalmadena has perhaps the widest range of sealife on the Costa del Sol, boasting a giant Pacific octopus, numerous sharks, seahorses, turtles, rays and much more.
Crocodile Park does exactly as it says on its tin. Home to more than 300 species of crocodile and reptiles, it’s an interesting and unique attraction that is located right next door to Aqualand in Torremolinos: You can even see the crocodiles wallowing in their pools from the top of the very highest slides… luckily, there are no plans to combine the two parks!
Fairs and theme parksThere’s nothing like a good fair to get the Spanish out in their droves, and the travelling Ferias that hit the coast at various dates throughout the year should not be missed.
Every resort has mile-upon-mile of golden beaches, and pretty much every inch of the coast boasts clean, gently shelving sandy beaches that are accessible, safe and backed by those typically Spanish amenities that make this corner of the world so evocative – chilled out beach bars, pubs, cafes serving full English breakfasts, and so on. With so much choice, it really depends on what you are looking for, so read our area guides for a more in-depth appraisal of the beaches of the Costa del Sol.
Socialising with friends in Spain
Socially, it can be extremely easy to make friends on the Costa del Sol. Fluent Spanish speakers might envisage their new life surrounded by a glowing bunch of locals as their best buds, but a common language does not make for a common culture, although it will make making Spanish friends a lot easier.
Most expats or British homeowners on the Costa del Sol will likely develop quite a multicultural group of friends. As 'foreigners', there's a tangible sense of unity among not only Brits, but the Irish, the Scandinavians, the Germans and even the South Americans – all mingle together, so be sure to say yes to every social invitation that sounds remotely interesting, and don't only speak to the British.
Nights out on the Costa del Sol
In the evening, a night out with friends, a meal with the family or even catching the latest movie blockbuster is all pretty much the same as back home, except for a few differences. If you are eating out, remember to readjust you timetable – most restaurants in Spain will not even consider opening before 8.30pm, and will look at you with incredulity if you pitch up before 9pm expecting to be served. Best bet is to aim to dine at 10pm, even in the week.
A night out on the tiles can be incredibly expensive in some of the Costa del Sol's more glamorous resorts such as Marbella and Puerto Banus. However, if you're clever, you can have an affordable and fun time pretty much anywhere. Towns such as San Pedro, Mijas and even Torremolinos have a more Spanish 'feel' to their nightlife, while the resorts of Benalmadena, Fuengirola and Puerto Banus are most definitely British in their makeup and character. Taxi fares are pretty much the equivalent of those found in the UK.
Each resort has its own distinct character, so to find out more about nights out on the Costa del Sol, read our in-depth Area Guides.
Visiting the Cinema on the Costa del Sol
As for a night at the cinema, choice for non-Spanish speakers is massively restricted, so you'll most likely find yourself visiting the cinema less often than before. In Puerto Banus there is one English-language movie a week, while the cinema at Fuengirola's Miramar Shopping Centre sometimes has two English-language films each week. Aside from that, it's DVDs, illegal downloading (Spain are the world’s foremost downloaders of film and music) or fast-track Spanish unfortunately.
- Cines Gran Marbella (www.cinesgranmarbella.com) is located in the heart of Puerto Banus, and shows a minimum of one English-language film a week. Release dates tend to lag a week or so behind northern Europe.
- CineSur Miramar (www.cinesur.com) is located in the excellent Miramar shopping mall on the outskirts of Fuengirola, and will often show up to two English-language films a week.
Sundays and Bank Holidays in Spain
Think back to how the UK used to feel on a Sunday and you'll get a flavour for how life on the Costa del Sol on a Sunday still is. Aside from the ubiquitous Opencor convenience stores, all other shops and businesses are closed. Spain is a devoutly religious country, and there are still strict laws in place restricting Sunday opening hours. The same applies for Bank Holidays, of which the Spanish enjoy eight more per year than the Brits.
The trick here is to think like a Spaniard and plan ahead. To the uninitiated, these seemingly random Bank Holidays can come from nowhere, so really get to know not only the dates, but also what days they fall on. This way you can stock up on groceries, plan a trip or organise chores to be done without being left in the lurch. Alternatively, you can make like most Spaniards and go find a cheap beach bar and enjoy a beer or two in the company of friends – mañana living, today!