9 Apr, 2023 @ 08:47
4 mins read

Benahavis on the Costa del Sol: Land of milk and honey

Village Of Benahavis In Malaga, Spain
Village of Benahavis in Malaga, Spain

FREE tennis, football and golf lessons for kids, plus language, yoga and pilates for adults… is it any wonder Benahavis has seen nearly 30% growth in just over a year?

The statistics for this tiny, privileged enclave, a vulture’s wing flap inland from on the Costa del Sol, are nothing short of remarkable.

Long the highest-earning place in Andalucia (with an average earnings of €38,000), its population (of which 65% is foreign) has soared from 7,300 residents to a healthy 9,244 since 2022.

“It’s a massive amount of growth and we are still amazed by it,” explains expat councillor Scott Marshall, who grew up in Benahavis.

The growth is mostly down to digital nomads and teleworkers looking to live somewhere warm surrounded by nature and open spaces.

And Benahavis really has exactly that and, in particular, now that its nearby hills have been officially designated the Sierra de las Nieves National Park.

Benahavis From Malaga Ayuntamiento

Spain’s sixteenth national park, the soaring peaks often covered with snow in winter (hence the name), are some of the most amazing for hiking and bird-watching, with eagles and vultures soaring above with increasing frequency.

Best reached from the Benahavis urbanisation of La Quinta, a three-hour circular walk takes you up to the famous ‘castano santo’ – holy chestnut tree – that at 1000 years old is said to be the oldest in Malaga province.

River Walk Start
Benahavis: The Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park

But there are many other walks right from the village, in particular down into its famous river gorge, where many people combine hiking with swimming, or up towards the stunning country retreat of the wealthy Goldsmith family, where the UK’s former Prime Minister Boris Johnson stayed two years ago.

First revealed by the Olive Press, Johnson had turned up to enjoy what Benahavis offers best: a week of hiking followed by a dabble with a paintbrush out in the open air. 

By coincidence his visit came at the same time as Netflix descended on the village to film a couple of scenes from the hit series The Crown. Renting out a villa in the exclusive Benahavis enclave of Zagaleta  they portrayed the mid-1990s holiday that Lady Diana took with her friend Jemima Goldsmith at her family estate, Tramores. 

The cast and crew were regularly seen around the village, both filming various scenes, as well as enjoying their time off.

“It is the best possible promotion we could have had,” explains Marshall, who’s artist father David moved to Benahavis in the 1970s.

Both visits were thanks to the village’s connection to the Goldsmith family, who are heavily focussed on protecting the local environment, in particular planting trees. 

Benahavis is already one of the greenest places to live in Spain with 75% of its land being protected and non-urbanizable, but now the town hall is slimming down its urban plans, even more.

In total, just 2,500 more homes will be allowed inside its borders, while there are plans to have its own 1,500-pupil school (see sidebar).

Finally passed by the Junta, construction will begin later this year and will feature the ‘most impressive outdoor spaces’ in Andalucia.

Patio Benahavís

Visitors will be more impressed by the village itself, which is so nicely secluded from the buzzing Costa del Sol, yet only a short 10 to 15 minute drive to the hotspots of Marbella and Estepona.

Lungfulls of pure mountain air are on the house as you huff and puff up the cobbled streets to the top of this beautifully-kept pueblo hung with painted flower pots, and ornamented with stylish street lanterns, fountains and viewpoints, ten to the pound.

Keep an eye out for a glimpse of President Putin’s multi-towered castle at the top of one nearby hill (not that he is likely to be using it again anytime soon), while I was impressed with the electric car charger points, not to mention innovative bike repair stations around town.

A village hike is a free history tour taking you back to Moorish times, when this former Arabic stronghold was crowned by the 11th Century Montemayor castle, overlooking vast swathes of the Costa del Sol.

The village takes its name from Havis, a Moorish prince who ruled from the castle, before his family were finally ousted, the village reconquered by the Catholic monarchs in the late 15th century.

It was then that war broke out between Benahavis and Marbella and raged on for 350 years until the village gained its independence.

Near the village are a few things of note.

On Sundays there is the flea market set in the feria ground on the way , stalls selling art, clothes, knick knacks and bric-a-brac as far as the eye can see. It’s well worth a rummage.

Water babies meanwhile, will love the Rio Guadalmina gorge, which is one of its coolest natural attractions on the Costa del Sol. 

Benahavis Gorge Pools 1
Gorge in Benahavis

Take a river ramble along its banks, go wild swimming in one of the deep rock pools or try canyoning along the Canon de Las Angosturas. Not for the faint-hearted, the 50-metre descent starts at Charca de las Mozas – a popular picnic spot south of the water tower roundabout that’s become the unofficial swimming baths. Dive in – there’s no charge!

Parts of the river were channelled by the Arabs in order to supply nearby farms and orchards. These routes have since been adapted for hiking with the addition of a suspension bridge over the Angosturas canyon, opening up the Sendero Acequia del Guadalmina, an easy family walking route of around four kilometres beside a watercourse dug for the farmers. 

Finally, there is the Benahavis for foodies. With over a dozen restaurants and its own cookery school, it is no surprise it has been called the ‘gourmet capital’ of the Costa del Sol.

There is certainly healthy competition between the many restaurants in the heart of the village and each of them vie for your custom with enticing terraces facing out to the nearby hills.

While they may not be free for local residents, they are anything but expensive and far better value than their nearby rivals in Marbella or Estepona.

The Benahavis Effect

But equally, it’s a great place to retire, explains local expat Barry Segal, 76, a former radio DJ. “I call it the Benahavis effect and once you’ve lived here for a year you won’t want to leave.

“The people are so friendly, the climate is perfect and the place is so nice and quiet,” he continues. “Plus it is great all the free Spanish and exercise classes and even trips around Andalucia, one we recently took to Antequera.”

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Jon Clarke (Publisher & Editor)

Jon Clarke is a Londoner who worked at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday as an investigative journalist before moving permanently to Spain in 2003 where he helped set up the Olive Press. He is the author of three books; Costa Killer, Dining Secrets of Andalucia and My Search for Madeleine.

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