5 Oct, 2014 @ 10:30
4 mins read

Torremolinos unpackaged

Torre bullring

By Rob Horgan,

FOUR middle-aged men sporting bright orange wristbands and ‘budgie smugglers’ swagger down the promenade, beer cans in hand.

They stop every now and then to shake hands with a local bar owner or share a joke with other similarly-clad males, before returning in single file through the gates of their ‘resort complex’.

Once inside their ‘all-inclusive holiday paradise’, they return to strike a pose on a sun lounger next to their wives who are languidly draped around the perimeter of the swimming pool, indulging in the ritual pursuit of sun worshipping.

But behind the brash image, lies a much more wholesome town and one of the coast’s most authentic, honest places to live.

Indeed, celebrated journalist Mark Jones includes Torremolinos in his list of the ‘50 Most Authentic Places in the World’ for the British Airways’ High Life Magazine.

He particularly singled out its ability to combine fishing village with modern hotel complexes whilst remaining ‘comfortable within its own skin’ dismissing the ‘Carling and chips image as only fake-tan deep’.

Sheltering in the foothills of the Mijas mountain range, Torremolinos is a mass of cultures meshed together in a unique way that’s not quite Spanish, not quite English; Spanglish, maybe.

Its transformation from fishing village into holiday resort superstar began in the 1950s when the first jumbo charter flights began disgorging thousands of pasty Brits onto the runway at Malaga airport.

With its big, modern hotels and cheap family prices, it was the top choice for Brits off to sunny Spain. Y viva España!

By the 1960s the fishermen were being outnumbered by hotels and the future of the Costa del Sol was sealed. Una paloma blanca! Where Torremolinos led, other resorts couldn’t wait to follow.

An Irish bar, next to a tapas restaurant, next to a souvenir shop, squeezed between two high-rise hotels with sea views became the blueprint from which the rest of the Costa del Sol borrowed.

Bull ring in the old town, picture by Rob Horgan
Bull ring in the old town, picture by Rob Horgan

The rebirth of Torremolinos has arguably impacted modern-day Spain as deeply as the Civil War or the death of Franco.

Today, the attraction of a home-away-from-home brings thousands of Brits to the area, not just for a two-week holiday but to live and enjoy the lifestyle permanently. In many parts of town you can hear more English spoken than Spanish, and even French, Dutch and Scandinavian in this cosmopolitan Tower of Babel.

Behind the seafront tourist strip, British home comforts are all on offer: fish and chip shops, a Rose and Crown pub…; there’s even a carvery (called The Carvery) where you can enjoy traditional British Sunday roast with a choice of five meats and all the trimmings on Wednesdays-to-Saturdays too!

However, Torremolinos has not let go of its Spanish roots and gradually, a more upmarket tourism is sweeping away the tacky image parodied by Monty Python in the Watneys Red Barrel sketch.

For every Irish pub, there are two chiringuitos; for every fish and chip shop, three or four tapas bars.

The mix of people is reflected in the mix of restaurants. The blend supplies a best-of-both-worlds compromise which captures the atmosphere of the area.

A walk down bustling Calle San Miguel typifies this blend. Local shops and tapas bars sit comfortably between British themed pubs and designer stores.

The route also bears witness to another facet of Torremolinos’ character. Rainbow flags flutter outside many of the bars and houses, emphasising the importance of the ‘pink peseta’ as the LGBT community was once referred to.

As well as being the birthplace of the British package-holiday, Torremolinos is the gay capital of the coast. The flags have become a symbol of the area’s past and present – a marker as significant as the high-rise beach hotels.

Toni’s bar, still open today, was established in 1962 and became Spain’s first ever gay bar, christening the resort’s gay status. Today there are even designated gay beaches, the most popular being the one in front of the popular El Gato Lounge – identified by its large rainbow flag and groin-to-groin line-up of gay sunbathers, mainly men.

Behind its 20th century facelift, if you step back, it is not hard to find the vestiges of the fishing village that once was.

Make your way uphill to the outskirts of town and you’ll catch whispers of former days.

Around the Plaza de Toros (bullring) I watched children play among a fleet of rotting old fishing boats, not quite forgotten but pushed to one side. The town has embraced it’s transformation rather than dwelling on its past.

Community squares such as the Plaza de Espana and the Plaza Federico Garcia Lorca in the old town feel authentically Spanish, and Spaniards still predominate in the cafe bars here.

The town’s numerous ferias spread throughout the year are another reminder that the Spanish population still has a huge say in what goes on in Torremolinos.

At this time of year, the Feria de San Miguel begins. And despite the thousands of tourists who flock to the area, the feria has preserved an unmistakably Andalucian charactver.

And if you remove yourself from the hustle and bustle of the coast, there are flavours of former times to be found. The Parque de la Bateria, to the west of town, provides spectacular views from a series of miradors, while the botanical gardens to the north offer an escape through nature.

On the face of it, Torremolinos is still a place where guys can feel free to wear budgie smugglers… An antidote to the male midlife crisis with the promise of a life lived like Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast.

But when you look a little deeper, there’s so much more. The balance between native and settler demonstrates a harmonious cohabitation which has rarely been so successfully replicated elsewhere.

With its eternal ability to accept new customs and adapt, trend-setting Torremolinos will no doubt continue to attract Spaniards, Brits and half the world and his wife for many years to come.

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