I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to the Costa del Sol. Popular package holiday destinations always give me pause, and Malaga and the surrounding area are about as popular as package holiday destinations get. Add to that the fact that it was November and not quite bathing suit season anymore, and I was even more loath leave London for Spain. But my family had already booked a trip there, and who was I to say no to a little bonding time on the Sun Coast?
We flew from Madrid to Malaga last Monday on a flight that arrived after sunset. Hopping in our rental car, we drove through Andalucia to our accommodation on the Costa del Sol. Along the way, all I could make out in the darkness were miles of strip malls, a myriad of casinos, huge mega resorts, and more neon than Las Vegas. Had my family come all the way from California just to feel like they were driving through LA?
Things didn’t look up when we arrived at our final destination, a time-share property on the beach near Marbella. The staff was incredibly friendly, which was nice, but the rooms were minuscule and the restaurant closed at 10pm. Really? 10pm? In Spain, where most people don’t even start eating until 11pm? I guess those people are locals, though, and this place definitely didn’t cater to them. No, it catered to people that wanted to fly half way across the world just to feel like they had never left home.
Accordingly, the restaurant had a Mexican Night every Monday. This was perfect, as my family wanted to leave San Diego just to eat what was surely a poor imitation of food they enjoy on a daily basis five thousand miles away. Who wouldn’t?
We ended up skipping the Mexican menu and ordering off the regular menu instead. This menu was full of uber-Spanish options like pizza and pasta. You know, because when I think of Spain, I immediately think of Italian food.
Our culinary tour du monde continued the following day when my goat’s-cheese-and-walnut pizza was a real international treat. At least we enjoyed some sunny weather during our al fresco lunch by the pool, though. Being warm and outdoors was something that stayed true to the Costa del Sol’s actual roots, not to mention something that I couldn’t get in London two days before Thanksgiving.
Dinner that evening was in Marbella, where we took our resort’s advice and ate at a restaurant called Santiago on the waterfront (or at least I think it was on the waterfront; it was too dark to see anything beyond the sidewalk).
We managed to eat locally that time, with a large plate of acorn-fed Iberico ham and lots of seafood dishes comprising our evening meal. My brother’s main was the winner, what with it being a whole sea bass baked in a mound of salt that locked in the moisture and made the fish delicately delicious.
The rest of our meals on the Costa del Sol consisted of whatever we put together for breakfast based on a grocery-shopping excursion that my family took one evening while I was working. A mishmash of Weetabix, bananas, and Lucky Charms that my brother had brought from the States as a joke ensured that we could stay in Spain without actually knowing we were there.
And maybe that was the point. After all, aren’t package holidays intended to give the holidaymaker the same experience no matter where in the world she or he goes?
But maybe I’m being too hard on the poor old Sun Coast. At least the place lived up to its name. And with winter in London lasting longer every year, I may be eating my words and slinking back to the Costa del Sol sooner than not. But my words may be the only thing I eat while I’m there.