Frank Sinatra was arrested here, Bridgette Bardot walked bare foot down the main street, Pablo Picasso used to visit his Aunt Heliodora and Salvador Dali and his wife went to its beaches and became Spain’s first nude sunbathers.
Where else could we be but Torremolinos, once the number one holiday destination on the Costa del Sol despite a famous UK tour operator, having been asked if he would consider the Costa del Sol as a destination proclaimed, ‘Good heavens no! It’s much too hot for British people, they’d never go there’.
So what has gone wrong, why does Torremolinos in the 21st century have such an unenviable reputation? More importantly, does it deserve it?
In the late 1950s Torremolinos was the first town on the Costa del Sol to be touristified, transformed from a little village with one main street, a central square with a well, some wooden benches and a donkey tethered to a rail whilst its owner went to the bodega for his morning fundador. Thousands of northern Europeans flocked there. Unfortunately, Malaga Municipality (Torremolinos was a suburb of Malaga until 1988) were a little over-enthusiastic with the high rise development and the developers were a little careless with the quality of materials used. By the 1980s the whole edifice was crumbling and Torremolinos began to attract a different clientele, people who wanted to party into the early hours careless of other people’s sensibilities, drunken gangs wandering the streets causing mayhem.
The rich and famous moved down the coast to Marbella and Torremolinos’s reputation sank even further. Malaga did not seem interested in restoring the town so in 1988, after ten years of politicking and a general strike, Torremolinos became a municipality in its own right.
The mayor, Pedro Fernandez Montes set about transforming the town, planting trees, creating open spaces, initiating cultural and leisure activities, such as an open-air beach cinema, the first in Spain, and an annual opera season.
Over time the party animals, presumably not into opera, moved to Majorca and Ibiza and Torremolinos began to attract expat residents and northern Europeans that like to overwinter in warmer climes. In the central area of town, though the decline continued, streets and shops began to show the results of decades of neglect, some closed, some were taken over by the ubiquitous Chinese.
Lately this trend has also started to reverse. Money is being spent in the town centre and properties are being renovated. At the moment you have an eclectic mix of old and crumbling alongside clean and modern.
Outside the centre Torremolinos compares favourably with any other resort. It has a long stretch of wide, sandy, beach backed by a modern paseo. Hotels jostle with souvenir shops, bars and restaurants. At the southern end a pedestrian only paseo takes you to an area called Carihuela, an attractive, clean, old style Spanish village with its own square, some decent restaurants a few shops and a couple of art galleries, whilst to the north the paseo gives way to an unspoilt beach with no high rise in sight.
Behind the paseo the streets take you steeply up into the main part of town. This part is definitely not disabled or elderly friendly but there are two elevators that, for little money, will transport you from sea level to town.
There are modern bars, shops and restaurants interspersed with older more traditional establishments, some of which have become an institution, revisited year after year by tourists and day after day by residents both Spanish and expat. If you avoid the grey, dismal, undercover arcade shopping areas, you will not take home an unfavourable impression.
One area that is hard to miss since it is on one of the main access streets to the paseo and beach is in the vicinity of the old torre. The abandoned locale leaning against it does not enhance. Still, the six hundred year old torre is crumbling as well yet that is seen as a historically interesting attraction.
One of the more innovative open air spaces created is the Parque Bateria, a mid 20th century military installation converted into a park. Another is the Molino de Inca botanical gardens and flour mill museum. There is an aquapark and a crocodile park. Torremolinos is intending to be a family destination.
So, overall, no, Torremolinos no longer deserves its reputation of tacky high rise hotels with hordes of tomato faced, sunburnt, brawling, lager louts. The problem is that memories are long, particularly apocryphal memories.
Which takes us back to the Frank Sinatra story. Back in the mid-1960s he was filming on the coast and went to the Hotel Pez Espada. There he was spotted by a journalist from Madrid who supposedly had a reputation for dirty tricks. The journalist is said to have enlisted the help of a young lady and planted her in the bar near Sinatra. Frank’s roving eye spotted her and she was invited to the star’s table. Unbidden she kissed Frank, the camera’s flashed, and he pushed her away. She threw her drink in his face and he slapped her, more pictures were taken as the Guardia arrived to take Sinatra away for a night in the local jail. A carefully orchestrated set up.
As with the story, in Torremolinos, not everything is as you may have heard.
Nick has lived and worked in Andalucia for over 20 years. He and his partner, Julie Evans, have travelled extensively and dug deep into the history and culture, producing authoritative articles on all aspects of the region. Nick has written four books about Andalucia and writes articles for other websites and blogs.
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