Paradise destinations on our doorstep


The term staycation has become a familiar one over the last year and half, though its overuse could be classified as an annoying marketing campaign. After so many months staying at home, being coaxed into further staying is probably not the first choice for the traveler at heart. On the flip side, the appeal of paradise on your doorstep does motivate a duty of exploration within your region of residence.

Article by Sophie Ann Gatward-Wicks

Tarifa – Destination sand & sky

Route map Marbella to Tarifa

Undoubtedly the best staycation to be found nearby, heading westwards down the coastline. Picture the classic scene of someone stuck in their office cubicle on a rainy Monday, contemplating their life choices as the camera pans over to a postcard they keep taped to their monitor for motivation. That postcard featuring the dreamy white sandy beach lapped by turquoise waters? That’s Tarifa, baby.

Hand stand on the sand dunes

The combination of scenery where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean meets sand scape interrupted momentarily by the silhouettes of horseback riders at sunset can all be admired from the Hotel Dos Mares open-topped terrace bar. This makes for sipping an expertly concocted cocktail a real gem. Let the cocktails make their way to you as you sit comfortably draped in Moroccan architectural influence. All-in-all, it is quite an unforgettable experience.

Riding horses at sunset on the beach

Magical moments seem to happen in Tarifa in humble succession, never rushed. The pace is slower, and the locals live in the moment. It’s as if the outstretched landscape pulls at the length of the day itself, allowing for a more graceful motion of existence to unfold. Here, it is hard not to truly succumb to relaxation and awe at just how unimaginably beautiful planet earth can be.

Caños de Meca – Destination Cape Trafalgar

Route map, Marbella to Caños de Meca

Venturing about 50 minutes further down the coastline, reaching the point of Faro de Trafalgar in Caños de Meca, where the famous battle took place just off the shoreline on October 21st, 1805. A small concrete plinth commemorates the occurrence, where walking past the non intimidating dunes up the rocky formations takes you to the Cape Trafalgar lighthouse. Here you can look out toward the swirling seas and picture what conditions the armies might have faced all those years ago when Admiral Nelson finally met his end.

Monument to The Battle of Trafalgar with the famous Lighthouse in the background
Monument to The Battle of Trafalgar with the famous Lighthouse in the background

Even more reason to relax, knowing it’s only peace that surrounds the golden shores these days. At low tide, surrounding the lighthouse there are days of fun to be had clambering around the rock pools admiring baby crabs and trying to catch tiny sea snails. Aqua shoes, sunscreen, and little fishing nets complete the list for this trip for adults and children alike.

Caños is an even quieter, slower, less populated destination where the residents in Tarifa are known to go to ‘getaway’ from it all. The apart-hotel named Bahia de Trafalgar is a wonderful option for first-time visitors, with everything you could possibly want in a chilled beach-front hotel. Though if you really want privacy, a secluded airbnb is a more interesting option.

Caution: When swimming in the sea here, swim parallel to the shoreline. There are very strong currents around the lighthouse. 

Gibraltar Rock – Destination swanky soiree

Route map Marbella to Gibraltar

A midway point before reaching the aforementioned wind swept Tarifa, the mighty Rock of Gibraltar heaves up from the coastline, hogging the horizon with Africa as its backdrop. Spoiled for views in every direction, if you ever want to feel like you’re on a mission in a James Bond movie, or perhaps landing on the forbidden Jurassic island, take a flight into Gibraltar International Airport, with a window seat on the left hand side of the plane. Enjoy the vistas as you descend.

Gibraltar is well known for it’s duty-free shopping, cascading cliff drops and cavernous historic tours. Famously, (or infamously) one of the more commonly known attractions is Gibraltar’s very own non-human inhabitants. These being the mischievous Macaque monkeys that roam the cliffs freely, who were rumoured to have either been introduced by Arabian ships sometime after 711CE, or perhaps by the Brits after 1704. The fact of the matter is still a mystery.

Barbary macaques looking to Africa from Rock of Gibraltar
Barbary macaques looking to Africa from Rock of Gibraltar

Typical touristy attractions aside, Gibraltar offers a real swanky soiree vibe if you look in the right places. The Rock Hotel, for example, which likes to be known as one of the Mediterranean’s best kept secrets, boasts a rich history of clientele including Sir Winston Churchill, Errol Flynn, Alec Guinness and Sean Connery. John Lennon and Yoko Ono also exchanged their wedding vows in one of its private rooms.

Inside St. Michael’s Cave in Gibraltar
Inside St. Michael’s Cave in Gibraltar

Located on the west side of the rock, in full panoramic glory overlooking the Alameda botanical gardens and Gibraltar Bay, The Rock hotel is an experience for the bucket list. Dolphin watching, the Gibraltar museum, the original Rock Tour, the Windsor Suspension Bridge and a night at the casino are just some of the activities to enjoy, all easily accessible from the hotel. If you don’t feel like planning it all out before you arrive, just ask the concierge for some insider advice during your stay.

Istán – Destination nature, lakes and waterfalls

Route Marbella to Istan

The quaint village dreamscape which is often found etched into vintage pottery, borrowed as backdrops in Disney movies and derived from original folk tales is just a 14 km drive from Marbella into the base of the La Concha mountain.

Istán village

Situated at the fresh water source which feeds the Embalse de la Concepción, colloquially known as the Istan Lake or the Río Verde Reservoir which supplies some 450,000 inhabitants of the Costa del Sol with drinking water. It was built in 1971 and began functioning as a reservoir in 1973. The white washed village serves as the perfect starting point for a number of nature walks down to the lake or hikes further into the mountains passing waterfalls and aqueducts.

The Istan Lake supplies some 450,000 inhabitants of the Costa del Sol with drinking water
The Istan Lake supplies some 450,000 inhabitants of the Costa del Sol with drinking water

There is free parking found at the very top of the village, heading down into the central square you’ll come across a few cafes close to the church, and free drinkable water fountains peppered around the residential streets. To decide which walk is best suited for your fitness level and desired duration, just ask Guy Hunter Watts. Author and explorer of Andalucia with published books mapping out all the best walks in the area.

The books can be found online via Guy’s website, where you can submit a contact form for further advice and information.