The Costa del Sol emerged as an international travel destination in the second half of the twentieth century, when elite tourism –an exclusive activity for a chosen few– was in search for new places. Meanwhile, the industry was broadening and reached more social layers.
The designation or brand name “Costa del Sol” is said to have various origins. It is documented, however, that the name was first used for advertising purposes at the Ibero-American Exhibition held in Seville in 1929. According to some of the sources, it was coined by an Austrian consul living in Cádiz, who often went to Almería along the coast and thus usually travelled across Málaga and Granada. Taking notice of the region’s good weather, he called it “Costa del Sol” (Sunny Coast). Some years later, the reference was narrowed down to Málaga Province only.
The history of the Costa del Sol proper begins in Torremolinos with the arrival of George Langworthy, locally known as “The Englishman.” Langworthy and his wife settled in the Castle of Santa Clara, which they had bought in the late nineteenth century. The castle would afterwards be converted to residence for foreign citizens.
A few years later, Carlota Alessandri Tettamanzy transformed a property she owned into the Parador de Montemar. The parador was followed by Hotel La Roca. Only a few people would have imagined back then that these first three establishments, drawing guests with weird habits, would be the cornerstone of a world-class tourist hub. The opening of Hotel Pez Espada in 1959 consolidated Torremolinos as a touristy town. Celebrities –especially film stars– could be seen around and their presence attracted both more visitors and the media.
The rise of Torremolinos in the world of tourism had a domino effect. By the late 1960s or early 1970s, the neighbouring towns –Benalmádena, Fuengirola, Mijas– also experienced a travel boom, in part triggered by the Costa del Sol’s transformation into a huge film set. (About 250 movies were shot until 2005.)
A few kilometres west of Torremolinos, a different kind of boom was under way. Alfonso de Hohenlohe, Norberto Goizueta, and José Luque were placing Marbella on the international map. In 1954, Hohenlohe opened Marbella Club, drawing aristocrats, tycoons, and film stars who could come once and again. The final turn was the development of Puerto Banús in the 1960s, whose jetties attracted big yachts and whose marina became the most popular in the Mediterranean, visited by international celebrities coming for lunch, shopping, or leisure.
The existing luxury hotels were not enough to accommodate all high-purchasing-power guests in this new, diversified-demand scenario. Lots of discos, night clubs, and casinos were set up for evening entertainment, whereas golf courses mushroomed like in no other place in Europe. Complementary products emerged too –water parks, theme parks, fun resorts– and new segments began to develop: meetings, incentives, conferences and events, cultural tourism, and hinterland travel, first in Serranía de Ronda and Axarquía, then in Antequera and Valle del Guadalhorce.
The growth of the eastern part of the Costa del Sol –most of it included in Axarquía, a region with a clear al-Andalus legacy– was less spectacular but no less important. The best known town in the area, Nerja, became popular after the discovery of a stunning, unusually big cave in the nearby district of Maro in 1959.
The cave (which hosts an international dance and music festival every year in July), adding up to the wonderful landscapes of sierras and cliffs, earned a place for Nerja and its environs in the world tourism scene. The “Cueva de Nerja” International Festival (which turned 50 in 2009) is a must-attend, drawing renowned musicians, dancers, singers, and flamenco artists.
Better connected after the development of the Mediterranean highway, the Eastern Costa del Sol is one of the most interesting places to visit in Málaga Province.
In the 50 years that have elapsed since Torremolinos coyly emerged as an international touristy town, the Costa del Sol has learnt how to adjust to the needs of the ceaseless flow of incoming tourists.
Costa del Sol Tourist Board - Plaza de la Marina, nº4 - 29015 Málaga - Tel: +34952126272 - Fax: +34952225207 - firstname.lastname@example.org