Malaga is a wonderfully picturesque city on Spain‘s Costa del Sol that is sandwiched between the looming Montes de Malaga and the azure Mediterranean. It’s right in the middle of Europe’s most tourist-heavy stretch of coastline.
Marbella, with its wealth of golf courses, large expat community and high-end restaurants, is considered the most desirable spot on Spain’s Costa del Sol, and prices reflect that. The stretch of coast between Malaga and Marbella features towns such as Torremolinos, Benalmadena, and Fuengirola, all two-star destinations at best. There are blocks of cheap concrete apartments packed tightly together and beaches stacked high with hordes of sunburned tourists on vacation who have often had a few too many. This section of the coast is the go-to spot for British vacationers and others in the market for a little sunshine. These folks aren’t looking for an authentic Spanish experience. They want burgers for the kids.
However, if you move east of Malaga you come to villages like Torrox. Torrox is reputed as having one of the best climates in Europe. It’s a 30-minute drive from Malaga Airport and boasts nearly 5 miles of clean, attractive beaches. Torrox is essentially split in half. There’s the more tourist-heavy Torrox Costa, next to the beaches, and the quieter and more authentic Torrox Pueblo. Costs are lower here than in Malaga. You can get a beer for about a dollar and tapas for 70 cents.
In addition to great beaches and mountain trails that make for superb hiking, the stretch of Spain’s coast from Malaga to Torrox boasts remarkable architectural sites and art museums that befit the birthplace of Pablo Picasso. It also offers a surprisingly authentic slice of Spanish life. Retired here, you could shop in bustling ancient markets for freshly landed fish, enjoy tapas in hidden old town eateries, and watch flamenco dancers showing off their skills on the cobblestone streets. Malaga is the postcard image of a traditional Spanish lifestyle.
Despite all this, Malaga has been largely overlooked. Seville, Granada, and Cordoba are some of the most visited cities in the world, but Malaga has remained off the world’s radar until recently. However, over the past two decades, this city has enjoyed a makeover. Today, it could be described as elegant, with great eating, new shopping facilities, and, in the background of it all, the reliable sunshine and great beaches for which this region is known.
Malaga is the fastest-growing cruise destination in Europe, and the port has been modernized and expanded to support the traffic. The city’s domestic population is expanding, and more foreign visitors are coming to this spot on the Costa del Sol every year. Malaga is a city on the rise, meaning a continually improving quality of life.
Malaga is emerging as a new hub for the millions of visitors who pour into the Costa del Sol each summer, and the city is geared up to grab its share of the tourist market. Resorts and hotels loom over stretches of Malaga’s beaches, particularly on the outer fringes. However, it’s possible to distance yourself from the vacationer hubbub and connect with the authentic Spanish lifestyle that continues to flourish here.
In addition to its appealing traditional Spanish lifestyle and its affordable cost of living, Malaga has two other things going for it. First is its accessibility. Malaga is within two or three hours of most major European capitals. It has the fourth biggest international airport in Spain. There are even direct and affordable flights to New York in the summer.
Malaga’s other big plus worth noting is the cost of property, which is low relative to other spots of interest along Spain’s Costa del Sol. For example, recently on offer was a three-bedroom, two-bathroom townhouse with a double garage and a roof terrace within walking distance of the town’s main square. The house came with air conditioning, satellite TV, and marble floors, and was listed for 150,000 euros (about US$190,000 at the current exchange rate).
Spain became more interesting as a retirement choice last year when the country announced its new Golden Visa program. This allows anyone from outside the European Union to obtain residency by investing 500,000 euros either in government bonds or real estate. Interestingly, you don’t have to buy a single piece of property of this value. You can spread your investment over two or more properties. Keep in mind, too, that residency in Spain doesn’t just allow you to live in Spain. You can stay as long as you like in any of the 26 Schengen visa countries, meaning you could move as you wanted among Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and beyond.
Costa del Sol-based real estate agent Barbara Woods explains that the new Golden Visa program is attracting a lot of attention. “My website used to get maybe 100 or so hits a month from the United States,” she says. “Now I get 5,000 a month. This spike started literally the day the law came into effect.”
Kathleen Peddicord is the publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, offering retirement and overseas living advice in her free daily Overseas Opportunity Letter and the monthly Overseas Retirement Letter. Her preceding essay originally appeared on US News & World Report.