By C Brian Smith
Originally published on Advocate.com August 11 2011 8:30 PM ET
Every facet of Spain’s culture seems to be firmly rooted on the Costa del Sol: Picasso isn’t just celebrated in Málaga, he was born here; gazpacho isn’t just served in Andalusía, the recipe was written here; flamenco isn’t just danced in Seville, it was choreographed here; and Hemingway didn’t just write about bullfights in Ronda, streets and children are named after him here.
“Very new” effortlessly rubs shoulders with “very, very old” in these parts, including at the Vincci Selección Posada del Patio Hotel (VincciHoteles.com) in Málaga, where my backlit bidet, at full blast, rivals the Bellagio Fountains laser light show in Vegas. It’s a little disconcerting when a bathroom is hipper than I’ll ever be. The new-meets-old is also evidenced by the Vincci’s millennial-modern lobby, which straddles a Roman wall circa 400 b.c. Seemingly every basement in Málaga, including that of the magnificent Picasso Museum (MuseoPicassoMalaga.org), has remnants of an ancient civilization on display.
Thanks to a combination of jet lag and this afternoon’s two-hour siesta, my body has adapted rather well to life in Andalusía: Dinner is at 11 p.m., drinks are at 1 a.m., more drinks at 2 a.m., and after a quick shower and change of clothes I arrive fashionably late in Torremolinos, the region’s gay capital, which I’m told “really comes alive” around 4 a.m. The bus to and from Torremolinos runs every 20 minutes or so during the summer’s peak season, when international jet-setters descend en masse. Descending along with them, however, is a steady stream of 100-degree days and nights, a constant reminder of the region’s proximity to Africa, which looms less than 50 miles across the Strait of Gibraltar. A 15-minute taxi ride costs me about 20 bucks, a fair premium for visiting during the cool and crisp autumn. I follow a gaggle of drag queens to an after-party for the Gay Visión Song Festival at Home Gay Club on Calle Casablanca. Torremolinos feels fiery and dangerous in all the right ways (much like the Andalusían men). Forty-five gay bars and clubs, all within 500 meters, line the open-air Nogalera District. Just as I order a drink, the club (along with most of La Nogalera) loses power. Unfazed bartenders pour tanks of booze on the house, and unfazed patrons dance to acoustic flamenco guitars and make the most of what is now, essentially, a very large darkroom. Three hours later, inebriated and mildly manhandled, I’m a little disappointed when power finally resumes. The after-after-party is scheduled to stretch well into the afternoon, but I decide to call it an early night at 7 a.m. On the way home I stop to watch the sun creep onto the Mediterranean horizon at the Cabopino gay nude beach, the grassy dunes of which (I’m told) serve as one of the world’s most picturesque cruising spots.
Several hours later I’m seated next to a real-life count at the Marbella Club Hotel (MarbellaClub.com) on the Costa del Sol’s “Golden Mile,” which actually spans about five kilometers from Marbella’s idyllic seafront Old Town to Puerto Banus, a luxury marina teaming with multimillion-dollar yachts and high-end boutiques. I’ve been extremely hungover in some of the most beautiful places on earth, but the Marbella Club’s $125 beachfront buffet takes the cake (and the crab legs and the gourmet cheese pyramid and the cava Bellinis). Founded by Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe in 1946, the club has served as a meeting place for aristocrats, entertainers, and heads of state for over half a century. Not surprisingly, the Marbella Club and its neighboring sister hotel, the Puente Romano (PuenteRomano.com; both properties of the Leading Hotels of the World), cater to international, high-fashion gays with very deep pockets.
After a three-hour meal with the count, I excuse myself to the Thalasso Spa. It turns out the €385 Jet Lag Pampering Break doubles as an ideal hangover remedy. Over the next three hours, the sins from last night in Torremolinos are washed away thanks to Thalasso’s Dynamic Sea Water Pool Session, Aquatic Floating Experience, Multijet Bath, Algae Detox, and Vichy Shower. Aside from my fourth-grade class trip to Six Flags, I’ve neither been carsick nor afraid of heights — but I’ve also never made the 90-minute journey through the Sierra Bermeja Mountains to the ancient cliffside village of Ronda, a Spanish gem that is decidedly worth a touch of queasiness. The town is set on a plateau, encircled by mountains, and sliced in two by a gorge that reaches hundreds of feet down to a barely visible river. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more romantic setting.
“If a honeymoon or an elopement is not a success in Ronda,” Hemingway once wrote, “it would be as well to start for Paris and both commence making your own friends.” The title of the town’s crown jewel is a toss-up between the Parador de Ronda, a five-star hotel next to the Puente Nuevo bridge that occupies the former Town Hall (circa 1761), and the Plaza de Toros de Ronda, one of Spain’s oldest bullfighting rings, which also houses a museum.
I’m saddened to leave, but add both sites to an ever-expanding list of places on the Costa del Sol to which I’m determined to return, again and again. How could I not, when everything here is, as Hemingway would put it, so actively pleasurable to breathe? Spain.info; VisitCostadelSol.com