THE first time I heard about Estepona was exactly a week and a half before I boarded a flight to move here and begin my expat life, albeit at a slightly younger age than most of the other Brits who up sticks in search of their Spanish dream.

To say I didn’t know what to expect is a bit of an understatement and it took me a few months to eventually realise I lived in the best town on the Costa del Sol.

As it was too cold to swim in the sea when I arrived, I channelled my energy into evening runs along the promenade – which were such a delight for someone accustomed to wasting two hours each day on the London underground.

I often stopped at the edge of town to skim rocks out towards the Mediterranean and look fixedly at the candy pink sun rays splashing over Gibraltar, as if I was turning over the world in my mind.

What I was actually thinking was how great I must look, a lone wolf from a far-away land, John Smith on the look-out for Pocahontas.

I spent much of my first week exploring this beautiful town, discovering new plazas daily and always marvelling at the incredible volume of flowers colouring the streets.

But my first Friday night in Estepona had been the light at the end of the tunnel from the start, billed by my flatmates as the night to surpass all nights, the hour to surpass all hours.

It was ‘happy hour’. At the port.

To Esteponians it really does seem to be the big one, my flatmate knew half of the people down at the port and if he didn’t know them he went about changing that.

The first bar – Reinaldo’s – had drinkers spilling out into the port entrance and packed like sardines inside, but I was assured it was unusually quiet because it was winter and the end of the month.

We drank bottles of beer. “Why do the English drink pints?” questioned my flatmate and carer for the night.

“It is not fresh when you get near the end, we drink bottles and just get more of them.”

Later, my decision to try a different beer from the one I first chose was met with confusion, fear and borderline mass hysteria.

“We drink the same beer all night, it is not good to change.”

As one bar’s happy hour ended we ventured deeper into the port to another hour of pure, unadulterated happiness, knocking back bottles of lager and putting the world to rights in an over-confident form of Spanglish.

I used group chats as a chance to perfect my best ‘I understand the Spanish words you are saying’ face and carry on sipping my beer in silence.

When the watch read one minute past happy hour, we decided to fill up on classic night-out fare, the Andalucian equivalent of chips and garlic mayo. So refuelled with calzone, chips, allioli and more beer, we headed back to the port for more hours of happiness.

Needless to say, that wasn’t the last time I tasted the delights of Estepona port’s Friday night happy hours.

But it was when I was driving home one night, the first time ever in a foreign country, that I finally felt like I actually live here, as opposed to awkwardly clinging to the edge like the filmy skin on over-microwaved hot chocolate.

With the long, straight, car-free road laid out before me and the moonlit Mediterranean hokey-cokey’ing on my right, Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn struck up on the radio. No matter which road I’m driving or which body of water I have for company, when Natalie’s all out of faith, I am in heaven.

So to the tune of one of the all-time classics, I made my way back to my Spanish home, to eat Spanish food and chat to Spanish flatmates about Spanish things.

My first authentic tapas experience came when I third-wheeled down to Tapa Cero on Calle Real with my flatmate – who by this point I can probably begin calling friend – and his ‘novia’.

We went to watch the Malaga v Sevilla game, the Andalucian derby, the Spurs-Arsenal clash of the Costa del Football world.

Beer was priced steeply at €1.50 with just one free bowl of tapas thrown in with each drink. I first opted for a generous portion of octopus, then a sort-of something-else type thing, unpronounceable, odd-looking, but delicious. It quickly became apparent we were there for the tapas and not the football, and I equally quickly regretted having sandwiches earlier in the evening.

Chicken and sweet onion rolls and a Russian salad later we called it a night, leaving before the game’s frenetic finish and missing Malaga’s unbelievable 3-2 win.

Three months later and Tapa Cero has become my local, the sea has become my swimming pool rather than just something to be looked at and my command of the Spanish language is still staggering forward, like climbing a mountain but the summit is still far above the clouds.

I still enter Estepona’s cobbled old town streets with a resigned acceptance that I will get lost, but with a certain smugness in the knowledge that I accidentally ended up in the Costa del Sol’s last remaining gem.

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  1. Is it just me or does he just describe a night out having a few beers rather than ‘drinking beer all day’?

    Still – it seems he will have to wait some while until he becomes as bitter as some expats, ‘eh Fred.

  2. X pats that have been in spain for some time are always wingeing about it catching up with europe, some fleeing spain like it was on the brink of civil war!, the ones that are freshly arrived are so much more appreciative of all the good things to be enjoyed here, including the price differences, i understand that some of the people that have been here for a long time were spoilt with andalucias anarchy in the past, but things are changing here, very slowly, and the andalucians resist it as much as they can, placing lifestyle over income.
    Most expats returning to uk, will be unpleasantly surprised with what it is like now. Children have to be entertained and taken out and have no freedom at all, the adults commute to work and back and sometimes may afford to go from one interior to another interior, and blow their credit card on their two weeks of holiday a year. Spend your whole life waiting, for the paycheck, the weekend, the yeary holday, and everyday inbetween, waiting and yearning for those carrot on a stick moments and that occasionally mild sunny day that rarely coincides with your day off. If your lucky enough to live in spain, appreciate the fact that most save up all year to come here for a few weeks, and you live here all year round, and there is plenty to do that wont cost you a penny. Kayak fishing, trekking, mountain biking, walking on the beach, whatever your fancy, so much of it is free. you can never make up for that by living in a nanny state that is turning more and more into a scenario that would make George Orwell blush. dont get me wrong Some have to go back due to work, spain is not an easy place to work even though it is easy to live here. But it will soon be easier than it has been since 2008. just remember, spain isnt finished yet, it needs a lot of work and is far behind, it has more potential than any other eu country for growth, stunted by useless civil servants and corrupt polititians, but because of all that, you still have a chance to get in and invest while it is still cheap. Because it wont be for much longer. Good luck to the young lad having a blast in estepona, and good luck to all of the expats going home, they’ll be back!

  3. One of the beauties of Estepona is that everything is in walking distance. Great shops, the supermarket if you want, the bus station to anywhere you want to go, bars, restaurants, beach, port, market…

    Means you don’t have to be mobile car-wise if you don’t want. Coach to the airport for flights anywhere, to Madrid for far flung places, to Malaga for the train, to Algeciras for the ferries to Morocco, to Malaga for cruises…

    My partner and I plan to move there come retirement in a few years.

  4. Doesn’t Jon write for the Daily Mail? Hmm. Send us a link to The Times article please – The Times website can’t seem to find any articles for “Nigel Goldman”.

    Btw, did you put the little Del Monte hat on his photo? I wonder if The Times will use that?

  5. I love Estepona too.
    My Sister bought a flat in El Cid in 1965, and I have been going there since then. My parents bought a flat in the 70’s and now my Husband and I own a flat by the port.
    It has changed A LOT!
    When I first went,- (age 8), the streets were cobbled, ‘burros’ & ‘mulos’ were the most common form of transport and there was an outdoor cinema which was basically a walled area with a whitewashed wall at the end!

    Now it is huge by comparison.

  6. No he doesn’t, but he has done in the past.
    It’s in today’s The Times paper, next to the Amanda Knox story, it’s also online in the Daily Telegraph if you’re desperate to read it again.

    And the hat… what do you reckon, Sherlock?

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