Estepona, the Garden of the Costa del Sol
Not for nothing is Estepona known as the Garden of the Costa del Sol. You only really need to get as far as the roundabout that funnels traffic into the town to realise it’s a place of extreme lushness. Air heavily perfumed with jasmine and orange blossom, parks and verdant walkways thick with flowers, palm tree lined avenues and plazas bursting with orange trees, make it the belle of the south. This voracious fertility is largely down to its position in the middle of a valley fed by numerous streams that flow down from the Sierra Bermeja to meet the natural port that the town’s been growing up around since the 4th century although its been destroyed and rebuilt several times over since then.
It has 21 kilometres of white sand beach that are notably cleaner, quieter and generally more genteel than those of Marbella, a marina dominated by petit pleasure craft rather than the gin palaces of Puerto Banus, and a characterful old town – the casco antiguo – that’s picture perfect with its neatly white-washed, marigold-trimmed houses and authentic atmosphere. Estepona is blessedly free of the tat and tack that blights less salubrious areas of the costa, and doesn’t go in for bling. Instead it’s remained a staunchly Andalucian little town that slumbers peacefully in the Spanish sun, all 325 days of it, and that of course is much of its charm.
You can easily get a feel for the place over the course of a weekend and it’s worth treating yourself to one of the higher end hotels to get a sense of the good life Estepona offers. The Kempinski Bahía is a reliable, five-star chain right on the Playa El Padrón. Bed rooms are a little dated décor wise so upgrade to a Premier Room is you want a view of the sea, but the whole point of the place is to be outside and that’s easily done lolling around by of their three swimming pools, via their golf concierge who can organise tee-time at any of the region’s many courses, or simply chilling out on your balcony. The kids club, which entertains with painting, baking and garden tours, is a massive asset it you’re looking for relaxed family time.
Alternatively, the Villa Padierna Palace on the road to Benahavis is where Michele Obama checked in on a trip to the costa last year. It combined Italianate architecture with a contemporary aesthetic to good effect, but the trick here is to take your own villa with butler service and private pool (one and two bedrooms available, as well as the Obama villa itself) to best ponder what life might be like should you make the move. It has seven restaurants so you won’t go hungry, as well as a carefully curated boutique by Alicia Padierna who’s travelled the world in search of one-of-a-kind, often hand-crafted clothing and homewares to make her home yours.
Property wise, Estepona provides good value for money when you compare it to the likes of Marbella – there are some very attractive re-sale homes around in the town of Estepona itself but we are also seeing the construction of some great luxury projects along the coast to the east and west of the town such as the Puerto De Estepona near the H10 Estepona Palace and Dominion Beach with many more are planned over the next 12 months or so, which will really put the area on the map.
Along the New Golden Mile, there are almost no high rise buildings and also nothing built right on top of the beach unlike other areas of the Costa del Sol. Here you do need a car to get to places but again, we are seeing some interesting luxury developments, including close to the 5-star Kempinkski hotel resort and Puro beach club. – Stephen Lahiri, Partner Lucas Fox Marbella
5 of the best Estepona restaurants
This very un-French sounding beach side bistro is in fact run by a pair of Parisians with Paris-level standards: superb mon amis. The food ranges from innovative updates of traditional dishes like their signature ‘flor de pulpo frito’ (fried octopus flower), to Vietnamese nem (fresh salad rolls). Portions are mammouth, service delightful.
Calle Sabinillas s/n, 0034 952 88 53 31
It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the crowds tell you what you need to know. This is a proper fisherman’s bar on the port with plastic tables and chairs, serving the best fish and seafood in town, all of it cooked simply and to perfection. No fuss, no muss.
Puerto Pesquero, Next to the Lonja de Pescado, 0034 952 80 63 54
A wonderfully atmospheric Argentinean steak house dedicated to grilling steaks, lamb chops and chicken as well as turning out juicy empanadas (the South American answer to a Cornish pasty) and the odd tagine from a small menu by their in-house Moroccan chef.
Plaza Ortiz 10, 952 79 28 76
A popular Sunday breakfast stop among locals who come for excellent coffee, smoothies and shakes and to indulge in a wide variety of decadent cakes and pastries. Later in the day the menu switches to decent Mexican style tapas and cocktails.
Plaza Ortiz 1, 0034 951 40 47 21