A bustling town at the eastern end of the sun-blessed Costa Del Sol, Nerja backs a 16-kilometre string of beautiful, soft-sand, blue-flag beaches. The rocky heights of the shoreline are bitten into by cove after pretty cove, and magnificent views from the top survey their stretch, especially from the renowned Balcon de Europa. Descend from here to the foot of the cliff where a wide expanse of sun-drenched beach fronts a walkway with shops and restaurants. Palm trees sprout in the sand and colourful fishing boats sit, bright paintwork peeling under the blistering sun. Higher up, narrow, medieval streets in the old quarter, sleepy in the midday heat, pulsate with life after dark, a myriad of people losing themselves in the labyrinthine tangle of alleyways.
Who goes to Nerja?
This lovely stretch of coastline will suit sunseekers of any age. You may be a family with young children enjoying the beach, a couple exploring the many charms of Andalucia, watersports lovers making the most of the Med, walkers hiking through the Sierras, or youngsters living it up after dark. It's all here, if you know where to look.
Situated on the Costa del Sol, just 50 kms from Malaga, Nerja is not the archetypal jungle of high-rise hotels seen in some of the better known resorts of Spain's sun-soaked south. Once a sleepy fishing village, it has held fast its original charms with an old quarter virtually unaltered through time: a maze of narrow, winding streets hemmed in by whitewashed walls dotted with the red and orange of geraniums. On walkways and in shady town squares you may find street performers entertaining people enjoying a coffee and deliciously doughy ensaimada in the plentiful cafes and restaurants, or hear the clip-clop of a horse's hooves transporting sightseers on the comfy seats of a carriage behind. It is a bustling town humming with life, home to around 25,000 people - many ex-pats chasing the Spanish dream among them - a figure which more than trebles in high-season, when visitor numbers reach their zenith.
On quite a steep hill itself, the town is overlooked by the Sierra Almijara mountains rising majestically to the east. The Sierra Tejeda and Sierra de Burno also overlook the town, making this area a mecca for walkers, for whom the cliffs of Maro-Cerro Gordo, nearby, and Nerja's extensive caves are also a draw. And, walker or not, you should not visit Nerja without strolling along the spectacular Balcon de Europa, a breathtaking promenade along a cliff edge with sweeping panoramic views of the sea, shimmering mountains and coastline. This was once the site of a castle built by the Moors who ruled the town following the Romans and Arabs. The Moorish name for the town was Narixa, meaning abundant spring, and it is from that name that Nerja derives. It is said to have produced silk and agricultural products that were renowned in the Muslim world and in the markets of Damascus as early as the 10th century. Today's produce includes fruits such as mango and papaya, and the area is one of Europe's chief regions for avocado growing. However, the main industry in Nerja, now, is tourism, and it is not hard to see why: this sunshine coast offers 16 kilometres of powdered sand beaches and clear, shining sea where water sports of all kinds are enjoyed: water-skiing, sailing, windsurfing, to name but a few; Nerja is the centre for scuba diving on the Costa del Sol, too.
Once siesta time is over, and night begins to fall, the options are wide and varied: there are discos, clubs, tapas bars, irish pubs, and live music. The aromas of authentic Spanish cuisine wafting on the balmy night air will entice you to try one of the very many restaurants in the town and afterwards, the staccato sounds of clapping, wood-slapping and spanish guitar will draw you into the yolky interior of an intimate flamenco bar. People throng the narrow, yellow-lit streets where nightlife reaches a crescendo around midnight and doesn't subside much before dawn.
Things To Do
Explore!: The wonderful scenery and wildlife of the region can be enjoyed on horseback, on foot, by bike or in a jeep. Take your pick.
Picnic in El Pinarillo: Situated about 5 kilometers inland from the Nerja Caves, El Pinarillo is a picnic and barbeque area in the Sierras de Tejeda, Alijara and Alhama Natural Park. It has purpose-built barbecues - though these may not be used between June and October to avoid the risk of fires spreading through the dry countryside - and play areas for children. It is the perfect base for walking, with fabulous views and an abundance of wildlife; wildflowers including wild orchids attract butterflies in the spring. You may also catch sight of mountain goats, snakes and lizards.
Train tours: Take a 30-minute ride on the tourist street train around the town from Plaza Cavana - always enjoyed by children or anyone needing a sit-down! You're free to get off and on, on the same ticket.
A day out with donkeys: An entertaining attraction for young families and animal lovers, stop off at Nerja Donkey Sanctuary off the coastal road heading for Torre del Mar, not far beyond Balcon de Europa. It's open every day including weekends and bank holidays. Buy a bag of carrots along the way, and get a grateful toothy grin from one of the happy inhabitants.
Sun, sin and absolution: If you are in Nerja on 23 June - the eve of St John's Day - you can join in the huge, all-night beach party taking place. Townsfolk and visitors camp on the beach, grill sardines and imbibe plenty of liquid refreshment. There are bonfires, fireworks and dancing. At midnight, everyone runs into the sea to wash away their sins in commemoration of St John the Baptist.
Sport galore: You're spoilt for choice for energetic activities. On the water there is scuba diving, kayaking, snorkelling, banana boats, pedalos, canoeing, jetski-ing; there is even an indoor swimming pool in Nerja if the heat of the sun gets too much. On land, try tennis, petanque, horse riding, quad biking, fishing and buggy riding.
Paint the picturesque views: Several local artists run art classes for locals and visitors. Brush up on your skills and take back a creative souvenir.
Especially for children: Nerja has an indoor soft-play area, Dinopark, and in the summer a bouncy castle and trampoline are set up near to Torrecilla beach. The town also has playgrounds in Plaza Marina and the Parque Verano Azul which is quite large and also often features a bouncy castle in the summer months. For older youngsters, there is a small skateboard park close to the Supersol supermarket on the coast road out of Nerja towards Maro.
Things To See
Balcon de Europa: a must-see on any visit to Nerja, this fantastic walkway situated in the centre of the old town, gives a 'mirador' or viewpoint from which the vistas are simply stunning. Originally known as La Bateria, referring to a gun battery in a fortified tower there, which was destroyed during the Peninsular War in 1812, local legend has it that the name changed following a visit from spanish king, Alfonso XII in 1885. He came after a huge earthquake had struck the area and is reputed to have been enchanted, saying: 'This is the balcony of Europe'. He may well have done so, but local archive evidence suggests it acquired its name prior to his visit. These days, all that remain of its earlier incarnation are some huge lumps of rock in the sea below, and two rusty guns at the end of the Balcon.
Maro-Cerro Gordo Cliffs: On a fine day, the coast of Africa is visible from the clifftop, an outstanding scenic viewpoint. You can walk the cliffs from Maro, a popular small seaside town near Nerja, from where you can see the meadows and watchtower of La Marquesa - one of the four such towers erected in the 16th century to scrutinise the sea for pirates. Access to the coves at the foot of the cliffs by any motor vehicle, is prohibited.
Cuevas de Nerja: Another major attraction of the area are the caves of Nerja, discovered in 1959. Believed to be linked to a series of potholes stretching for miles deep into the mountains as far as Granada to the north, they may prove to be one of the most extensive unexplored systems in Europe. Primitive old stone-age wall paintings can be seen depicting a culture based on hunting goats, rabbits and sea creatures, among others; a wide variety of bones and shells from this era have been found in the caves, including remains of a number of offshore species, along with stone and bone tools. It's believed that part of the cave was later used as a burial chamber, and the remains of one of Nerja's ancient inhabitants can be seen, now preserved behind glass. The cave also contains giant stalactites and stalagmites and one of the enormous caverns has been transformed into a concert hall for summer performances.
Las Angustias Hermitage: This 17th-century Baroque style building houses an icon of Nerja's patron saint, Joseph. It features a bell gable projecting from the nave, and a dome with frescoes which depict the Pentecost, thought to have been painted by Alonso Cano.
Church of El Salvador: The picturesque Iglesia El Salvador is close to what used to be the old Guards Tower opposite the Balcon de Europa. Originally built in 1505, what can be seen today was not erected until 1697, and then extended between 1776 and 1792. It has two large tiled religious depictions on its front and inside are 18th-century frescoes decorating the Evangeline nave, as well as a mural by Francisco Hernandez. On its bell tower is an ornate clock by Rosas, whose craft adorn many buildings and monuments in Spain.
Frigiliana: The picturesque town of Frigiliana on a mountain ridge is a typical example of the Andalucian 'white village' and was the site of the final battle and defeat of the Axarquia Moors, following their rebellion in 1569. It is said that many of the Moors threw themselves from the ramparts of the old fort rather than be captured, and the remains of the fort can be seen on the hilltop. The village itself is a maze of steep and narrow cobbled streets and white houses with many shady alleyways leading to hidden away bars, restaurants or boutiques. The rio (river) Higueron runs through the town, and out into the countryside; ramblers following it will be taken through some delightful natural landscapes.
Nerja Museum: Museo de Nerja, opened in December 2011, is located in the top left corner of Plaza de Espana just a short stroll from the Balcòn de Europa. It traces the history of the town from Paleolithic cave dwellers to the tourist boom of the 1960's. Exhibits are a mix of information panels or screens, and artifacts including some from the Nerja Caves.
San Joaquin Sugar Mill and Eagle Aqueduct: If you love an old ruin, the San Joaquin Sugar Mill on the old coast road from Nerja to Maro, offers a change from castles and burial grounds. Sugar cane plantations and mills in Andalucia date from 16th century, but this one was built by Francisco Cantarero in 1884. It was owned by the Marquis de Tous. Though it closed down in 1911, the Larios sugar company came to its rescue in 1930 and got it up and running again, incorporating a distillery. The awe-inspiring Eagle Aqueduct on the road east along the coast, was built to supply the factory and is today used for irrigation. A roman road and bridge have also been unearthed close to Maro.
Festivals: Round the calendar, festivals of music, ballet, flamenco and drama go on. Top international singers and dancers perform at the Festival Cueva de Nerja, one of the most prominent cultural events on the Costa del Sol, taking place in the Caves of Nerja in late July/early August. In October the Feria de Nerja occurs, a wild 4-day celebration with flamenco and sherry. February/March time sees a parade of bicycles ridden by thousands of cyclists of all ages. Mardi Gras brings a carnival parade through the town, when the streets are lined with people.