In Nerja you can eat out for nothing. If you’re tight fisted (I am) food tastes nicer when it’s free. There are many bars where they will give you tapas just for buying a drink. The portions are starter size, so, after about four small beers, you could have effectively eaten the equivalent of an evening meal. Really. The other surprising thing is the high standard of the offerings. We’re not talking half a dozen flaccid crisps and a couple of greasy olives here. It’s good stuff. The most popular seems to be Bar Redondo where there are more than thirty choices on their menu.
I suppose the free grub is Nerja’s claim to (its minimal) fame. It’s an unpretentious, agreeable little resort. The ‘old town’ is the heart of it, with its warren of narrow streets and lots of bars, restaurants and shops. Extending from the centre is the more obvious modern development you get in these places. Nerja has managed the transition from fishing village to tourist resort quite well and the modernist brutalism evident elsewhere on Spain’s coast is much more muted here. The focal point of the town is a large promenade space, the Balcon de Europa, where decent musicians play regularly and there are nice views over the coastline.
Nerja is pretty much an all year-round resort these days and it can get busy in the summer. I’ve stayed in the south of the town (nice sea views from our apartment) and in the centre (a bit too noisy). There’s a lot of accommodation to the north of the town facing its largest beach, Playa Burriana. Backing onto this shore are many restaurants and at the far end is Chiringuito de Ayo, famous for its paella. I’m not a big fan of paella but it was OK, my wife loved it. What seems to excite people is that you can see them cooking it in a vast metal pan. So, if watching a chef (who looks suspiciously like a garage mechanic) cook paella floats your boat, get along to this place. It’s popular and inspires many imitators.
Last time we were there it was an unseasonably warm November and we could sunbathe and swim. There are quite a few beaches to choose from and my preference was for Playa Calahonda, which is on the south side of the Balcon. It’s a sheltered little bay which keeps the water clear and protects the beach from the wind, if there is any. It’s a sweet little sun trap and barely commercialised at that time of year; sun loungers were inexpensive and there were only a few people around. If the main Nerja beaches are too busy, Maro and Caleta de Maro are not far away and are very highly rated.
If you want to see a bit of the local region, there are a few trips you could go on. The Alhambra Palace at Granada would be an obvious choice. It’s a couple of hours away. There isn’t really that much to do in Nerja itself, but if you like mooching round a cave, then the Cuevas de Nerja are supposedly splendid. I’m quite partial to a Paleolithic cavern myself, but I wasn’t in ‘cave mood’ on either of my holidays here and I couldn’t be bothered to go, preferring to watch the football in a local bar. Apparently, the elderly ‘Ayo’ who owns the paella restaurant on Playa Burriana claims to have been one of the five boys who found the caves back in 1959. Like the paella, I’d take that with a pinch of salt.
On the Costa del Sol there’s a balance to be struck between catering for tourists and retaining an authentic ambiance, and Nerja does it reasonably well. Perhaps as a consequence of this, it gets a lot of Spanish holidaymakers in July and August. I prefer things a little quieter and cooler. Out of high season, it’s a nice place to relax and do nothing during the day. In the evenings it’s good to saunter from bar to bar grazing like a heifer on the tapas. Equally, there’s no shortage of good restaurants if you want a ‘proper’ meal. My favourite is Meson de Antonio, it’s got a genuine Spanish vibe. It’s not that big, so you’d be wise to book a table.
Nerja is a smaller, gentler version of the bigger resorts on this coastline. There’s no club culture, so it doesn’t attract the boisterous types. It’s a place for weddings; not stag and hen parties.
Should you go?
If you’re looking for a mellow, chilled out break, it ticks a lot of boxes. It’s spot on for families in the school holidays and, outside the summer months, is well set up for the likes of me (codger). There are plenty of cheap flights to Malaga if you book early enough. A coach ticket from the airport to Nerja costs about €6 (a taxi transfer will cost upwards of €60), and there’s plenty of reasonably priced accommodation. If you asked the question, ‘what’s the opposite of an action-packed holiday?’ Nerja would be the correct answer. We’ve been twice, and we’d go again.
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