THESE days you’re hard pushed not to spot a famous face on a wander through star-studded La Cala de Mijas.
Well known characters such as Elliott Wright from The Only Way is Essex and TV chef Steven Saunders run their bustling restaurants with panache while Marbella’s it crowd is never far away.
Long gone are the days when the place was merely a haunt for gangland heroes, including ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser, Kray minder George Dixon and notorious Ronnie Knight.
These days there is a distinct sense of glamour about the charming village, which has become a genuine foil to the buzz of Marbella.
Alongside a mix of well-heeled international tourists keep your eyes peeled for British celebrities including Antony Worrall Thompson, Chris Tarrant and Rick Parfitt of Status Quo who have been spotted there.
Thanks to the prime location between Marbella and Fuengirola, visitors are close to urban action while revelling in the provincial charm of a waterfront fisherman’s cottage or backstreet bar.
The eighteenth-century watchtower, recently restored, stands as a beacon to the town’s history, with almost all local transport conducted by donkey up to the 1970s!
The defiantly low-rise La Cala de Mijas has preserved its Spanish charm while absorbing waves of tourists and smartening up its act in recent years especially.
And with the boardwalk, completed a year ago, which connects the village with Riviera there is all the more reason to strut your stuff in La Cala.
It is fast becoming a little corner of Marbella in Mijas, with a booming property market, a splendid promenade and vibrant bar and restaurant scene.
It was here that TOWIE’s Elliot Wright chose to sink three million euros in a stunning restaurant Olivia’s last year, rather than in the perhaps more obvious resort of Marbella.
“The Only way is La Cala these days,” he explains. “Bit by bit it is getting more and more glamourous and more and more upmarket.
“Forget Marbs, this is the place to hang out these days.”
Fellow restaurateur Steven Saunders, of Ready Steady Cook fame, agrees. “It is incredible how much this area has come up in the last year.
“It has always been charming but now there is a real buzz about the place.”
The central hub for many an expat in La Cala is Irish bar Biddy Mulligan’s.
The perfect place to watch sport or grab a Guinness, manager David Reilly explains how La Cala is going from strength-to-strength.
“La Cala de Mijas is the best kept secret on the Costa Del Sol,” he says. “It really is an amazing village with everything you could wish for – all within a short walk from each other.
“There are fantastic restaurants, a picturesque beach and a family friendly atmosphere.”
La Cala’s star really is in the ascendent and estate agent Andrew Dodd, at Homefinders, has the numbers to prove it.
“What we were selling for €130,000 two years ago is now easily selling for €170,000 and more,” he reveals nonchalantly. “Our big problem is high demand but very low supply: everybody wants to be close to La Cala, with a sea view and walking distance from the centre, and nobody wants to compromise.”
The 48-year-old continues: “Most agents are receiving ten requests every day for long term lets here and there simply isn’t the supply.”
Dodd adds that as well as Brits, the Scandinavians and the Dutch are also coming in their droves.
After a stroll along the beachfront I drop into Olivia’s, where Elliot treats me to an ice-cold Sauvignon Blanc on the roof terrace.
This is a glamorous spot, soon to be seen regularly in a new TV show on his life in Spain.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch,” he says with his trademark grin.
Down the road, for a totally different atmosphere, Olive Press columnist Saunders and previous Michelin star chef is gearing up for his evening service at The Little Geranium.
Wearing a natty black trilby (‘It’s from the days where I had to rush between my 15 restaurants and chefs hats got in the way’) and a denim chef’s top, Saunders personally explains each course of the seven-plate tasting menu to enthralled diners.
His restaurant has been full to bursting every day since he reopened on February 1.
And this is reflected in Mijas as a whole – more than 300,000 visitors registered at the tourist office last year alone (the actual visitor number will be much higher), and the most popular month was October.
Tourists are flocking to Mijas and it’s easy to see why – a melting pot of glitz and glam and down-to-earth family values, La Cala is most certainly moving in the right direction.