Welcome to my Puerto Duquesa blog

I've been visiting Puerto Duquesa three or four times a year for the past 20 years and have seen the area change enormously in that time. Where once there were dirt tracks and open countryside, there are now two lane motorways and apartment complexes. And whilst the area has changed and grown dramatically, it has still retained its small town, or should that be 'small marina' feel, which keeps me, and thousands others, coming back year after year.

Since I am currently in the USA it is a slightly odd time to start a blog about Puerto Duquesa, but the reason for doing so is simple - I may actually have some time to write some stuff! Most of the things I'm going to write about are things I like doing in the area or places I like going. Clearly I am not going to be able to cover everything, but hopefully I can give you a taste of what makes this such a special place and give you some ideas for your next trip.

If you can't immediately find what you are looking for, please scroll down and look in the blog archive (click the triangles to expand the list of articles). You might also want to start with these articles: Puerto Duquesa: the basics, Favourite (best?) restaurants in Puerto Duquesa, Puerto Duquesa beaches and Holiday accommodation in Puerto Duquesa. Want to get to know the area? Try A walking tour of Puerto Duquesa.

I welcome contributions, comments, criticisms and...well...praise.

If you want to link to me or you want me to link to you, that'll work too. If I think you're a good local company and you're prepared to part with a few euros, you might be lucky enough to advertise on the blog (which, fyi, is page rank 3 on Google - just type in puerto duquesa at google.com).

Thanks / Gracias

Chris (chris@cdgsmith.com) (March 2007)


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Next trip to Puerto Duquesa...

I haven't managed to post anything for about 5 months (apologies for that), but we've just booked to go down to Puerto Duquesa for Christmas and New Year. Will update you all when I am there with local news and anything interesting new we get up to...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Puerto Duquesa Celebrities

For those of you who haven't seen him around, Keith Floyd has visited Puerto Duquesa on number of occasions and I believe he owns a property in the area. A legendary chef, Mr Floyd is making a number of appearances at the Roman Oasis this summer where he will show off his skills and cook up a mediterranean inspired treat. Tickets are 125 euros and he is performing on the following dates:

June: Tues 19, Thurs 21, Sat 23, Tues 26, Thurs 28 and Saturday 30.
September: Tues 18, Thurs 20, Sa 22, Tues 25, Thurs 27 and Sat. 29.

For more details, email romanoasis@europe.com

Thursday, June 7, 2007

"The Pain In Spain"

Whilst the content is familiar and somewhat sensationalist, it's worth watching Trevor McDonald's Tonight programme on house prices in Spain, especially if you are thinking of buying in the not too distant future. There is nothing specific on Puerto Duquesa, but I think it does reflect sentiment on the coast at the moment accurately. For the brave out there, there are bargains to be had...

Here's the link.

A walking tour of Puerto Duquesa

The route I'm about to describe is actually a favourite jogging track of mine (at least before the builders really started tearing up the road around the golf course and created lots of dust!). However, if you wanted to walk it, it would give you a really good idea of what Puerto Duquesa is all about, beyond the marina. If you are thinking about moving here or purchasing property, it will also give you a good idea of what's available and give you an opportunity to nosey around the different communities, all of which have their own distinct character.

Start

Starting in the marina, with the entrance arch behind you and the little 'supermercado' on the left, head out of Puerto Duquesa. You'll pass the car park on your right, followed by a relatively new development Mikinos Playa on the left (nice Greek architecture) and then the huge Marina de la Duquesa on the right. This development was met with some opposition when it was first proposed, largely because of its size, but I think it looks really smart and I'm told the apartments are well constructed and spacious.

Head under the main road via the hopefully-graffiti-free underpass and then follow the road round to the left. To the right, you'll notice a development built about 3-4 years ago just off the slip-road. Continue along the road and then bear right, having passed the garden centre on your left. You'll now be going up a very steep hill into the main residential area of Puerto Duquesa. Interestingly, the garden centre, which has previously been both a second-hand car dealer and a furniture shop, was originally owned by the local authorities. One night, some enterprising rogue fenced the whole site in and was, faced with a hopeless lack of opposition on the part of the powers that be, granted adverse possession of the site. Whilst a bit frustrating - it was meant to be an overflow car park - it really does reveal a lot about the Spanish psyche!

El Hacho

The residential area on the hillside overlooking the golf course is called El Hacho. As you near the top of the hill you'll get a good view over the golf course and the coast. The first property you come across is a private house on the right hand side and then you have the oldest hillside development on the left (not sure of the name) and the newer Las Brisas on the right, as the road flattens out. A telephone box marks the a junction where you should go straight over - turn right, almost double-backing on yourself up a steep hill, and you'll go up behind Las Brisas and on to some further new developments which have been built overlooking the golf course (a mixture of detached houses and flats). Interestingly, some of these had to be knocked down as the builders were careless/cheeky...a good sign that the Manilva Town Hall has started to enforce these things.

Los Castillos/Los Carmenes/Monte Duquesa

These are the next three developments you come across and they are probably the most mature. Los Castillos was built by Taylor Woodrow and is renowned as having excellent build quality and spacious interiors (apartments only). Monte Duquesa was built by Spanish builders and doesn't have any sea views, but is good value. It also has a newish Courtyard development which houses a range of useful shops and services, including an excellent cafe, Beccy's. The English influence is strongly felt here, perhaps more so than it other areas of Puerto Duquesa. Finally, as you head further up the hill you have a row of townhouses and villas on the left called Los Carmenes (the second oldest community). To the right is a large new development with attractive gardens and swimming pools...again I am not sure of the name.

Still further up the hill

Continue past Los Carmenes and you head up another steep hill. There are developments to the left (slightly older) and to the right (fairly new) which offer apartments. I do not know an awful lot about them, but the views should be pretty spectacular. Beyond these apartments is what is known locally as 'The Duquesa Palace', a detached house built by a wealthy Swiss expatriate on the site which the original visionary for the whole Puerto Duquesa development reserved for himself (the original visionary having returned to Sicily). It's a spectacularly tasteful property in a traditional style with great views...maybe one day I'll try and buy it!!

The summit

Beyond the Palace is a row of townhouses on the left (again, a fairly mature community and home to an above average number of Spanish families) is where a lot of the action is happening. There are numerous new developments and as you head to the highest point of your walking tour, you could across a scarred landscape full of building. There is going to be a huge range of new property and I am not that up to speed with it, but http://www.duquesagoldenmile.com/ has a good overview of what's being built and what's planned. My view (hope) is that once the dust settles, the increased number of people will encourage more businesses and amenities to move into the area and prosper, and that the typically excellent Spanish landscaping will turn all the little bits into a cohesive whole. Time will tell...

Heading back down now

Once you've admired (recovered from the shock of seeing) all the building, follow the road round to the left and head downhill. The road runs round the golf course so you can follow it all the way back to the main road. Again, there are lots of new developments here; apartments, little golf townhouses and substantial detached villas. I've always found the backdrop of this particular area very beautiful...absent the obvious draw of a sea view, but with rolling countryside and the odd wind farm in the distance...it's quintessential modern Andalucia.

One community of note is the tall town houses which hang over the road as you get back down to sea level and approach the refurbished Hotel La Duquesa. This area is particularly popular with expats and there tend to be lights on here in the evenings year round. Definitely something to consider if you are contemplating a permanent move to Puerto Duquesa...sitting in a community which is all dark is not very homely.

The hotel, the castle

As you arrive back at the coast road, have a peek around the hotel and the golf club and then use the elevated pedestrian crossing to cross the main road safely. Once the other side of the main road, if you still have the energy, head right and explore the castillo and the little village next to it. Otherwise, you can walk back to the marina via the beach front promenade. Again, there are lots of communities around the marina itself so have a peek at these. One thing to note in the marina is that petty thefts (sneak thieves) do occur - if this is something that concerns you, ensure that your property is either not on the ground floor or has good security (wrought iron bars are aesthetically pleasing and put off these chancers).

I think you'd want an hour to an hour and a half to do the work, but it might take a bit longer if you amble. Take water it it's hot and don't do it in the middle of the day in the summer. Have fun.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Thanks for all the comments!

I've received a number of emails and comments on the blog, which have all been positive (so far!), and I thought I'd put all the suggestions together in one post. So here goes...

The Roman Oasis

The Roman Oasis has been mentioned a couple of times for its unique setting, excellent atmosphere and good food. I went here a long time ago and it was great fun, but I haven't managed to go there for some years. For those that are keen to give it a try, you can see more information on their website. It's only a 10 minute drive from Puerto Duquesa.

You could combine a hearty BBQ lunch and then hit the banos romanos (see Roman Baths near Puerto Duquesa).

Gran Hotel Elba Estepona

One visitor left the following comment: "For any ladies (and gents) who like to use Spa facilities Gran Hotel Elba Estepona, on the right as you head from Duquesa to the main Estepona roundabout has excellent treatments, massage and pool spa facilities." I'm a huge fan of spas so I will definitely be giving this a try on my next trip. I've heard that the restaurants at the hotel are meant to be good too.

Breakfast

The same visitor who mentioned the spa above (so obviously of good taste!), also commented that: "You should also visit the Straw Donkey Restaurant for breakfast, the owner is a terrific Canadian chap." Again, I will definitely be giving this a go. I usually go to Beccy's up in Monte Duquesa (on the hillside overlooking Puerto Duquesa) as this is nearer home...they do an excellent breakfast too.

Gaucin and Gibraltar

I stumbled across two excellent articles in The Times today. The first discusses the history of tapas and recommends a tapas bar in Gaucin (a 30 minute drive from Puerto Duquesa). The second discusses the continuing growth and modernisation of Gibraltar, and includes a list of attractions and things to do.

Click here for the Gaucin article.

Click here for the Gibraltar article.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A spare afternoon in Puerto Duquesa?

You can't fail to notice the magnificient site of Los Reales (the large mountain) dominating the skyline to the east of Puerto Duquesa. Rising 1,449 metres, or nearly 5,000 feet, it is one of the most recognisable features on this part of the coast and the views from the top are mindblowing.

Getting to the summit

One afternoon, my father and I set off for a drive. We hadn't planned to drive up the mountain, but the light that particular day, combined with a small amount of cloud cover, made it look even more magical than before. As we got close, we both decided that we would have to try and find our way to the top. We made a number of wrong turns to start with, but managed to find our way onto the main road winding up the mountain side. As we passed the expensive houses at the base, we wondered how long it would take to get up there...

It took us just under 2 hours, but I think it should only take an hour and a half if you avoid getting too lost at the beginning. It's definitely not a drive for those with vertigo as the latter stages are almost non-stop hairpins bends with some substantial drops if you get it wrong. My advice - take it very slowly and enjoy the view. There are viewing areas to stop on the way up and you'll know you've reached the summit when you arrive at a broadcasting station.

On the day we went, the viewing points offered clear views of the coast, but once we got to the broadcasting station at the summit we were actually above the clouds which gave it a very 'X-Files' type feel. It was also bloody freezing! If you fancy the idea of being an explorer from the comfort of your car, I'd definitely suggest waiting for a nice clear day - there would be nothing worse than driving all that way only to be up in the clouds the whole time!

I've always thought the top of Los Reales would be a fantastic vantage point to watch the sunrise, but I've never manged to get up in time...zzzzzzzzz...

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Roman Baths near Puerto Duquesa

Nestled in the hills above Manilva, a 10 minute drive from Puerto Duquesa, are some well hidden Roman Baths (Banos Romanos) which are well worth a visit if you enjoy pampering yourself and don't mind the rustic setting. Manilvalife has some useful background details and directions in this article.

Making the most of your visit

The baths are known for their healing properties and the high sulphur content helps a number of different skin complaints as well as having a general toning and smoothing effect. To get the most out of your trip, you need to soak in the baths to soften the skin, then cover yourself in mud and bake in the sun, and then soak in the baths again to wash the mud off. The whole process takes around an hour and would cost you around €60 at a day spa!

Finding the mud!

It's not immediately obvious where the mud is. In order to find the 'mud wall' you need to head out of the Roman Baths down towards the river. Cross the river - it's not very deep - and head upstream (left). Here you'll find an area of the hill side which has been chisled away to reveal fresh mud. To get it off the wall, pick up a stone and scrape it against the wall (you can use your hands, but it's takes ages and will make your hands almost too smooth). Once you are covered from head to toe, it takes around 15 minutes to bake dry in the sun.

The charm of these baths is that they haven't been commercialised and are open to all. This does mean, however, that it can get very busy indeed during the weekends in the summer. I'd suggest going in the week during siesta time (2pm-5pm) to avoid the crowds. The water temperature varies according to the season and is generally too cold from October to March.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Puerto Duquesa take-away food

If you don't feel like heading out to eat (like I don't this evening!) then there are plenty of take-away options in Puerto Duquesa. I'm a huge pizza fan so I will start with my favourite:

Paparazzi Pizza

Owed by the same chap behind Il Capitano (see Restaurants in Puerto Duquesa), this small take-away pizza outlet is fantastic. You can chose from a range of pizzas by the slice or get one made to your specifications. Although the slices are good, I think getting a whole pizza freshly made is definitely preferable, and I'm fairly confident they could feed at least 3 or 4 people. A delivery service is offered although I always tend to go down to the marina to collect it myself to ensure that it doesn't get cold on the way home (I can drive faster when I'm hungry than a delivery driver!).

Chinese

There are three Chinese restaurants in Puerto Duquesa and they vary in quality. I forget the names of them and which ones are good so I will save making any comments about them. However, they are all pretty good value and all offer a take-away service.

Indian

There are two Indian restaurants in Puerto Duquesa. Passage to India (downstairs on the front line) and the other one upstairs, which used to be quite smart, but was shut down last time I was there. Again, I can't make any comments as to quality, but I know that the best Indian is a matter of extensive discussions over at the Manilvalife forums.

Icecream!

Garibalidis is quite frankly the best ice cream parlour in the world. Better than Ben and Jerrys and Hagaan Dazs put together, there are at least 30 flavours of ice creams and sorbets to satisfy any sugar craving. From small cones right the way up to large tubs to take home for the whole family, the whole range is very reasonably priced. Milkshakes or batidos are also highly recommended...

A new take-away unit next to Paparazzi Pizza was opening up last time I was in Puerto Duquesa and the chap I talked to said that it was going to be a kebab joint. If anybody wants to let me know if it's any good, I'll add some comments to the site.

La Menorah restaurant

Some good friends of mine reminded me about this excellent restaurant no more than a 10 minute drive from Puerto Duquesa. To get there, you simply head towards Estepona until you get to the main roundabout on the main road. Go all the way round the roundabout so you are coming back towards Puerto Duquesa and its the second exit on the right (the restaurant has yellow awnings and is in a small commercial area (Arena Beach) where there is also an excellent modern art gallery).

This is a typically Spanish place, albeit with a slight Basque influence, and the effusive owner and manager makes you feel very at home. If you dine early, there are likely to be a number of other English people in the restaurant, but go a little later, say 9 or 10pm, and the place is full of local Spanish people chattering away creating a nice continental atmosphere. The decor is smart and unpretentious and you can sit outside on the patio in the summer, although it is quite close to the main road so inside may be preferable.

The food is excellent and the menu wide ranging. I typically go for the gambas pil pil or the pate to start and then a filet steak or a fish dish to follow. It's good quality and simple, and for that reason quite charming. In terms of price, it is a little cheaper than the Macus (see Restaurants in Puerto Duquesa), but I would say the quality of the food is on a par.

Reservations are suggested, especially in season, and the telephone number is 952 792 734.

Gibraltar to Morocco boat race

A good friend of mine entered this a couple of years ago and had a brilliant time. Not having a crew, he left Puerto Duquesa early in the morning and made for Gibraltar. There he found a number of willing volunteers to help him guide his beloved vessel across the Straits in pretty good time (I believe he came in the top ten!).

This year the event is held on 8th June and, as in previous years, there are boats from Puerto Duquesa joining the race.

For full details click here for the Sur in English article.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Safety in Puerto Duquesa

I was browsing the forums at Andalucia.com today and came across this thread discussing safety in Puerto Duquesa. Having spent 20 years or so in and around the marina, including during the summer tourist season, I have to say that I have never seen anything untoward, but I do know that, as some of the posters on the forum say, there have been muggings in the port before.

Should this concern you? Not really! There have only been a handful of muggings and any other violent incidents (very limited) have been in the very early hours of the morning outside a couple of bars. If you apply common sense and remain aware of your surroundings when you are at the cashpoint/ATM then you should be fine. Incidentally, the other incidents I referred to have been between groups of Spanish and English youths who, after a litre of so of vodka each, have failed to settle their difference through diplomacy!

I was once in Puerto Banus when it 'kicked off' in a bar - some idiot knocked over a table of drinks, there was pushing and shoving, more tables got knocked over - and within a minute or two security men on mopeds were whizzing to the scene to sort everything out. It was, until recently, the lack of any co-ordinated security presence in Puerto Duquesa that was my only concern (especially given the increasing number of people in the area), but this has now been resolved by the installation of a 24 hour security post. See 24/7 security for Puerto Duquesa.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

More Spanish property articles today

Further to my post yesterday about the increasing 'chatter' concerning a property crash in Spain, the Telegraph published an article today as did thisismoney.co.uk.

Amongst all the doom and gloom, I thought the following quote was quite accurate:

"Natalia Aguirre, head analyst at Spanish broker Renta 4, said: 'The real estate bubble has not burst. It is the inflated valuations of some real estate companies that have been pricked."

Interestingly, one source in Sabnillas (just down the road from Puerto Duquesa) told me on the Manilvalife forums that her next door neighbour put his apartment on the market and sold it within a week. This quick sale was put down to the fact that it was sensibly priced. Perhaps the market isn't as bad as the press are trying to make out then.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Puerto Duquesa property - what next?

I've noticed an increasing amount of 'chatter' on the internet recently about the bursting of the property bubble in Spain. Two articles in particular caught my attention. The first is from The Resident and reveals that properties on the Costa del Sol now take on average 35 months to sell (that's nearly 3 years!) and that prices have been falling in recent months. The second is from Bloomberg and discusses the impact on the Spanish stock market of the recent collapse in confidence.

Sellers

The outlook for sellers is pretty grim. Since there are now so many properties on the market - and currently being built - in the Puerto Duquesa area, it has become a typical case of supply exceeding demand. However, if you can afford to hold on to your property in the medium to long term, there is every chance that once the building finally stops, the supply-demand balance will be restored. Moreover, more people in the area should translate into improved infrastructure and an increase in the variety and quality of amenities being offered. There is also no shortage of people wanting to move to Puerto Duquesa and the Costa del Sol.

Buyers

Timing the market is a very dangerous thing to try and do, but now, or in the next year or two, could be an ideal time to pick up a bargain. Distressed sales are the new hot commodity on the Costa del Sol. They typically arise when a buyer has put down a deposit on an off-plan property and (a) hasn't been able to sell it on before completion at a profit (this is known as flipping) and (b) cannot afford to raise the finance to complete. Rather than lose the deposit, the buyer must find someone to buy very quickly, which leads to deep discounting.

Tips

Whether you want to buy a property in Puerto Duquesa now is going to depend on your ability to negotiate a good price and your appetite for risk - maybe the market is nearing the bottom, maybe the downward slide has just started. As with most things in life, it's hard to look into the future, but I would suggest the following common sense tips:

(1) If you are purchasing a property using a mortgage, ensure that you can afford the repayments comfortably if interest rates rise by a couple of per cent. For security, you may wish to chose a fixed rate mortage.

(2) Do not rely on holiday rentals as a guaranteed source of income to help pay the mortgage; consider them a luxury. The reality is that unless you have an excellent online presence or unique way of attracting holiday-makers, there are far too many properties for rent and not enough people to fill them.

(3) Do consider buying a property if you want a full or part time home away from home in Puerto Duquesa. Do not consider buying a property solely for investment as there are, at present, better and more secure places to put your money.

You may also find the following article useful: Buying property in Puerto Duquesa.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Puerto de la Duquesa = Port of the Duchess

I've been learning Spanish on and off for years now. Whilst I'm starting to get the correct accent and can conjugate my verbs (well, some of them at least), I find that the main missing ingredient is vocabularly. Which is where Babelfish comes in. It's a free online translation tool which allows you to translate words, sentences or even entire web sites from English to Spanish and vice versa, and it can be particularly useful when you get a letter in Spanish and don't want to pay to have it translated. The technology isn't perfect, but it is getting there, and even if you don't have any business use for it, you can have some fun making up amusing sentences to write on your postcards to send back home!

Try typing Puerto de la Duquesa into the text box, select 'Spanish to English', hit translate and you'll see that it means Port of the Duchess.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Aerial image of Puerto Duquesa

I was browsing the forums at Manilvalife and came across a post about a new web site called flashearth.com. This site allows you to see satellite images from a number of different providers (including Google and Microsoft) without having to download any software. The images load very quickly and you can literally go anywhere in the world. If you type 'la duquesa, spain' in the search box in the bottom right hand corner, you'll be able to see Puerto Duquesa and the rest of the Costa del Sol from the air!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Driving to Puerto Duquesa

Driving to Puerto Duquesa is becoming an increasingly popular option for some people – you just have to look at the number of ‘Brit plate’ cars on the roads – and in the following article I set out some of my experiences of the continent-crossing drive.

Where should I start?

The first thing to consider when you are planning to drive to Puerto Duquesa is whether you are going to get the ferry to Northern Spain (Santandar) and start your journey from there, or start from Calais. I’ve done both and I suppose it depends on how long you’ve got to do the journey, what you want to see and what your budget is. While the crossing to France can be relatively cheap (either via Eurotunnel or ferry), the ferry to Spain (via Brittany Ferries), assuming you want a cabin to sleep in during the 24 hour journey, is going to set you back at least £500. Timing wise, there probably isn’t that much in it, although with the ferry option, you can hit Santandar fresh and drive the length of Spain in a day and a half (maybe even quicker).

What’s the drive like?

The roads are excellent – wide, dual-carriageways with smooth surfaces. And provided you avoid the European holiday rush (at the beginning and end of August), the roads are, for the most part, relatively quiet too.

Since you’ll be driving on the wrong side of the road, and by that I mean the right hand side of the road is a right hand drive car, you need to be prepared for this and take it easy to start with. Most importantly, when changing lanes and manouevering, ensure that you get a good look over your shoulder and check all your blind spots (there will be new ones). Having a passenger is a massive help when it comes to overtaking on single carriageways, but if you don’t have one, be patient and do not take any risks – your aim is to arrive in Puerto Duquesa in one piece without any dents!

The French and the Spanish drive differently from the British. Avoiding any unnecessary stereotypes and generalisations (you’ll come to your own conclusions when you do the trip!), the French don’t tend to be particularly aware of cars behind them and have a habit of pulling out in front of you just as the road opens up and you put your foot down. Not good. The Spanish are, in my experience, slightly more aware, but you should still be cautious and drive defensively. Remember that you are abroad and be polite too…it costs nothing and I think you’ll agree that we want to have a good reputation abroad.

Finally, a couple of pointers: (i) have your car checked over/serviced before you do the drive (especially if you don’t have Europe-wide breakdown cover); (ii) inform your insurance company and make sure you are covered; (iii) make sure that you have the necessary ‘beam benders’ to put on your lights so as to not to startle oncoming traffic; and (iv) always carry with you a good supply of water and food and a (fully charged) mobile phone.

Place to stay

For me, one of the great attractions of driving down to Puerto Duquesa is that you get to spend a couple of nights in places that you wouldn’t otherwise visit. In just two trips, I’ve been to Santandar, Burgos, Madrid, Chinchon, Salamanca and Segovia, to name a few.

When trying to find a good place to stay, Alistair Sawday's excellent range of guidebooks have been very useful (especially in France). In Spain, we have relied almost solely on The Paradors. These are government owned hotels which are usually situated in buildings of historical interest (convents, monasteries, churches, etc.). Whilst not the cheapest option, they represent good value for 3-4* style accommodation. Of course, the choice is virtually endless, from camping to 5* hotels, and I’m sure you can find something to suit on the internet.

In terms of pacing yourselves, if you opt to drive through both France and Spain, you should be looking to stop in Southern France on your first night (say Bordeaux), around Madrid on your second night, and in Puerto Duquesa on your final night! If you are just driving through Spain, you should aim to get south of Madrid in your first day in order to arrive in Puerto Duquesa at the end of your second day driving.

Favourite places:

Chinchon

This is a beautiful small town 45km from Madrid. If you stay in the Parador here, you will be right in the heart of the place, next to the main square, which is turned into a bull ring during the summer months. Of particular note is the local liquor, which goes by the name Chinchon, and the excellent steaks you can get in one of the many restaurants surrounding the main square. For more information about Chinchon, click here.

Salamanca

The plaza mayor in Salamanca is truly stunning, especially during the summer months when it is filled with thousands of Spaniards having their paseos, eating tapas or just chatting to their friends. For architect buffs, the cobbled streets and buildings that line them are well worth a few hours of your time. For more information about Salamanca, click here.

Santillana del Mar

In Northern Spain, not that far from Santandar, Santillana del Mar is a beautiful, picturesque little town which is the perfect spot for an overnight before boarding the ferry back to England early the following morning. For more information about Santillana del Mar, click here.

!buen viaje!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Photos of Puerto Duquesa

A couple of visitors to my blog have pointed out that there aren't many photos of Puerto Duquesa on the site. I agree and I'll definitely be adding a load of photos of both Puerto Duquesa and the surrounding area as soon as I can (although my next visit to Puerto Duquesa is not scheduled until the end of September). In the meantime, here's a link to an excellent archive over at Iberian Image. Another way to get good photos of Puerto Duquesa is to go to Google Images and type in 'Puerto Duquesa'. Of course, if you want to email me any photos you have, I'll happily add them to the blog with a credit.

Estepona International Festival, 22nd April

If you fancy a day of live music and entertainment, consider heading to the III Estepona International Festival on 22nd April. There will be music from 36 different countries. It starts at midday and continues until 6pm (although will probably end up running later). For more details, The Resident has the complete schedule.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

Actually, it is a plane!

I found the video below on YouTube. It's of a specially equipped plane, which the authorities in Spain use to douse large forest fires, flying over the coast line at Puerto Duquesa and filling its tanks with water. These are really incredible machines as they have the power and manoueverability to literally scoop water up from the sea, fly to the site of the fire and then dump the water. If you see one on your travels, you'll probably also be able to see some smoke somewhere in the distance.

Many years ago I also saw a helicopter hover over the lake at the La Duquesa Golf & Country Club and pick up water. Given the greater quantities of water than these planes can carry, I think the helicopters are now obsolete near the coast.

I should add that, generally speaking, Puerto Duquesa is relatively well protected from forest fires by the golf course and that the authorities in Spain, in the years when there have been fires in the surrounding areas, have dealt with them quickly and efficiently. In fact, on one occasion back in 1991, we were in the marina having dinner at the Macues and all we could hear was sirens and loud explosions (rocks exploding in the heat)...but all worked out just fine.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Holiday accommodation in Puerto Duquesa

Most of the available holiday accommodation in Puerto Duquesa is self-catering. If you want to stay in a hotel, and benefit from its services, there is only one hotel in Puerto Duquesa called La Duquesa Golf Hotel.

La Duquesa Golf Hotel

This is a 4* hotel which has recently undergone a complete refurbishment. It’s located a 10 minute walk from the marina, right on the golf course. I’ve never stayed there myself, but having been in the communal areas, and talking to people who have, it seems like a nice, smart hotel with a good range of services. For keen golfers, it is absolutely ideal as you can literally stroll out of your bedroom onto the 1st tee when the sun comes up!

Self-catering/private rental

The vast majority of people spending time in Puerto Duquesa chose to rent a privately owned apartment, townhouse or villa. These tend to be excellent value, especially if you book directly with the owner.

There are a number of communities to chose from. When working out which is right for you, you need to think about the setting (is it quiet/noisy?) and whether you are going to have a car or not. Whilst most of the communities in the marina will not require a car, if you’re up on the hillside overlooking the golf course, it would be preferable to have one, especially in the summer when what sounds like a nice 10 minute stroll could actually turn into an agonisingly sweaty 20 minute hike under the powerful Spanish sun!

There are a number of useful links to holiday accomodation providers throughout my blog so please click around. You could also try Holiday rentals Puerto Duquesa.

For more useful information about Puerto Duquesa see the Puerto Duquesa: the Basics section.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Cheaper flights to Puerto Duquesa?

Fly Gibraltar was due to launch in April this year offering budget flights to Gibraltar from London Stansted, Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham and Dublin. With a total of 28 return flights a week this would have significantly enhanced access to Gibraltar (and Puerto Duquesa) from the UK – currently only BA and Monarch operate from the UK to Gibraltar on a restricted two-a-day schedule from London Gatwick and Luton respectively.

Unfortunately, the launch has not happened and Fly Gibraltar’s web site simply states that ‘an announcement will follow shortly’. Chatter on the internet suggests that the venture will never take off (no pun intended), which would be a great shame. I will update the blog as and when I hear anything on this. In the meantime, if you book as early as possible with BA or Monarch, you can still get good prices. Alternatively, if you don't mind the drive from Malaga, try Avro and/or Flight, two excellent flight search engines.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Laguna Village near Puerto Duquesa

Laguna Village is a recent arrival to the New Golden Mile (just West of Estepona and about a 15 minute drive from Puerto Duquesa). It's a glamourous mix of boutiques, restaurants and a beach club (Puro Beach) set in wonderful gardens with abundant water features.

One visitor to my blog commented that it was a great addition to the area and that Trader Vics was a great place for lunch or dinner. I definitely agree with this and have had a couple of excellent meals at Trader Vics. It is not cheap and you are, to some degree, paying for the setting, but what's wrong with that?!!!

The video below gives you some idea of what it's like, although doesn't really do it justice.

Recommended beaches near Puerto Duquesa

The beaches in Puerto Duquesa are great, but if you're going to be staying in Puerto Duquesa for more than a week or have been down here a number of times before, you may feel like venturing a little further afield. Below are a selection of my favourite beaches...enjoy!

Family friendly

Puerto Duquesa is pretty good when it comes to being family friendly, but the beach at Estepona is also excellent. Not only to do you have a relatively nice, sandy/pebbley beach, but you also have pedaloes for hire (great fun, go for the one with the slide on the front) and all the attractions of the paseo maritimo, which includes childrens play areas. To get there, simply head East out of Puerto Duquesa towards Sabinillas on the main road and continue until you get to the Estepona roundabout. Turn right at the roundabout and follow the road through the town until you get to the paseo maritimo. Park along the road or in the underground car parks.

Peaceful

If you want a large expanse of sand and not many people on it (who doesn't?), then your best bet is to head West out of Puerto Duquesa towards Sotogrande. Along this stretch of coast, the crowds thin out and its easier to find a secluded spot. Some of the beaches require a bit of nouse to get to, but if you don't fancy clambering down cliff sides, just keep going along the main road until you reach the Sotogrande roundabout (where you can either go straight over on a dual carriageway or turn left onto an old single lane road). Turn left and then almost immediately left and drive down the unpaved road to the beach. When parking be careful not to get stuck in the sand - this has happened before and was not funny.

Glam

Being English, I find the idea of being 'glam' at the beach a difficult one to comprehend, but if you have managed to get a half-decent tan (not burn) and like your beach experience with a muscial accompaniment and cocktails, these two options should suit you perfectly:

Puro Beach

Puro Beach started in Palma and opened a Marbella location last year. Despite the fact it's called Puro Beach Marbella, it's actually situated on the New Golden Mile, just East of Estepona in the new Laguna Village complex (visible from the main road). It offers every conceivable luxury including pristine white sunloungers and tented bed areas, massages and spa treatments and cocktails, drinks and food delivered to you. This all comes at a price, but for a one off treat it's got to be worth a go. In the peak summer season, DJs spin house music until the early hours.

Puro Beach is part of the Laguna Village complex - see the Laguna Village near Puerto Duquesa section.

Puerto Banus

The beaches around Puerto Banus offer a similar experience to Puro Beach for less of your hard earned euros. Think beaches crammed with beautiful people (well, mainly), expensive beach bars and the occasional concert or DJ set. You can usually find out about upcoming events by picking up flyers from the designer shops or listening to one of the English radio stations.

If you need a car to get to these beaches, check out the Puerto Duquesa: the Basics section. If you want to go windsurfing or are looking for a more rugged beach experience, you want to head around to the Atlantic Coast and the town of Tarifa - see the Day Trips from Puerto Duquesa section.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Puerto Duquesa in the 80s?!!!

I watched an excellent film called The Business last night. It's set in 1980s Spain (or should that be Spaaaaaiiiiiinnnn!) and charts the story of some big time drug dealers (Charlie and Sammy) and their apprentice (Frankie). The language is dreadful (definitely justifying the 18 rating) and it's not something that the local tourist board would wholeheartedly endorse, but the story is rather good and enjoyably tongue-in-cheek.

More importantly, you'll get to see a good film set on the Costa del Sol, with places like Puerto Banus easily recognisable. The sound track is also mind blowingly good and I'm definitely going to be buying this to accompany me in the hire car as I fly down the N-340...



English radio in Puerto Duquesa

There are a number of radio stations on the Costa del Sol which broadcast in English and are tailored for the expat community. As well as playing music more suited to our British tastes, they are an excellent source of local information and often discuss upcoming events/parties/gatherings/club nights, etc..

Reception can be a little patchy in Puerto Duquesa, so you may not be able to get all the stations below, especially if the weather is overcast or there is rain. In the event that your radio won’t pick them up, then you can always try tuning in online.

Global FM

Global FM has been on the Costa del Sol for a number of years now and is my favourite station. It plays a real mix of music depending on the time of the day – generally it’s 90s/00s chart music in the morning, older stuff during the day, and R&B, hip hop and dance later in the evening. Johnno, Debs and Jimbo recently left the station to setup The Beat Spain (see below), but Global FM still has its fair share of good DJs. Reception is good in Puerto Duquesa, but patchy around Marbella.

Frequency? 96.5 FM
Listen online? Yes

The Beat Spain

Johnno, Debs and Jimbo setup The Beat Spain a year or so ago now. I haven’t listened to it very much, but the music policy is similar to Global FM. Johnno and Debs’ popular breakfast show is now broadcast weekdays on this station and has its share of dedicated fans.

Frequency? 95.5 FM & 92.4 FM
Listen online? Yes

REM FM

REM FM is one for the older expat crowd, playing a mix of older music. Local legend Maurice Bolland is one of the main DJs.

Frequency? ???FM
Listen online? Yes

BFBS Gibraltar

BFBS Gibraltar is the radio station for the Armed Forces in Gibraltar and plays mainstream chart music. If you’re feeling home sick, they have BBC News bulletins and the ‘Top 40’ countdown just like in the UK.

Frequency? 93.5FM & 97.8FM
Listen online? Yes

Central FM

Central FM one of the most popular stations on the coast playing a mix of music and appealing to all generations, but perhaps a slight focus on the older set.

Frequency? 98.6FM & 103.8 FM
Listen online? Yes

Spectrum FM

Spectrum FM is similar to Central FM above.

Frequency? 105.5FM
Listen online? No

Wave 96 FM

Wave 96 FM spins classic anthems from the 70s, 80s and 90s. The perfect accompaniment when driving down the N-340 with the wind in your hair!

Frequency? 96.0FM
Listen online? Yes

Golf courses near Puerto Duquesa

While the La Duquesa Golf & Country Club offers an excellent golf course, there are plenty of other courses along the coast which are worth playing.

Listed below are my three favorite golf courses near Puerto Duquesa:

Montenmedio

Montenmedio is about an hour and a half drive from Puerto Duquesa. The club’s web site contains detailed directions, but essentially you take the main road (N-340) heading West and continue until you get to a gated entrance with a small sign to Montenmedio (sorry I can’t be more specific!). It’s a beautiful drive and you’ll go past Tarifa and the stunning Atlantic Coast beaches (see Day Trips from Puerto Duquesa). How about combining morning golf and a late swim in the sea before heading home? Tiring, but exhilarating.

The course itself is described concisely on the Montenmedio web site: “Ringed by majestic trees, Montemedio’s 18 hole par 72 course is 5,930 meters long, covering gently rolling terrain. The unbeatable quality of its tees and greens blend in perfectly with their natural surroundings, guaranteeing excellent play.”

Green fees vary according to the season, but you’re looking at about 100 euros per person based on two sharing a buggy. Thankfully for lazy players like me, you are allowed to drive right up to your ball, which makes things a little more manageable.

The club house is a beautiful building and worth wandering round. Lunch and dinner are served daily and the food is very good. You can also stay overnight if you don’t fancy driving both ways in a day.

Alcaidesa

A little nearer Puerto Duquesa – only a 15 minute drive heading West – Alcaidesa is perched on the cliff tops overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean sea. For views and setting alone, it wins hands down. The English version of the Alcaidesa web site gives an excellent overview of the course and some photos highlighting the magnificent views.

Green fees are roughly the same as Duquesa and, again, vary according to the season. The club house serves a range of snacks which are passable although nothing special.

Estepona

This course, a 15 minute drive East from Puerto Duquesa, is a great option for the novice player who doesn’t want to feel pressured, which can easily happen when playing one of the better known, busier courses. Green fees are very reasonable and, depending on the season, you can usually drive right up to your ball in the buggy. The only thing to note is that the course does have a number of power lines across it – if this sort of thing puts you off, then it’s probably not the course for you. Full details are available on the Estepona Golf web site.

If you need to hire a car to get to any of these beautiful golf courses, please see the Puerto Duquesa: Basics section.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Markets near Puerto Duquesa

Street markets are an institution in much of Europe, and Spain is no exception. Listed below are a few of my favourites which are no more than a 30 minute drive from Puerto Duquesa. If you need to hire a car, see the Puerto Duquesa:Basics section.

Monday

Marbella: this market is located next to the Football Stadium in Marbella and sells fresh vegetables and fruits, clothing, souvenirs, household goods and much more. Probably not the best option for a first visit, but good for the seasoned market go-er who wants to pick up some bargains.

Wednesday

Estepona: similar to the market in Marbella, this is a general market selling everything but (or sometimes even including) the kitchen sink. Again, more suitable to locals/seasoned market go-ers.

Saturday

Nueva Andalucia/Puerto Banus: as far as I’m concerned this is the DADDY! A huge range of stalls – from typical touristy gifts to antique wardrobes – with a buzzy atmosphere. You probably won’t find a true bargain here, given its proximity to Puerto Banus, but the quality of the merchandise tends to be a bit better as a result. There are also plenty of cafes, bar and restaurants where you can grab a drink or snack when the heat gets too much.

My ideal Saturday would include the market followed by a relaxed lunch in Puerto Banus watching the world go by.

Sunday

On Sunday you have a choice between the arts and craft stalls in Sotogrande (upmarket), the touristy stalls in Estepona marina and the flea market in Sabinillas. All are worth a visit, but I’d probably recommend Estepona for the first time visitor

Warning

Despite the fact that Spain is on the whole very safe, pickpockets thrive at street markets (especially in the summer when they get very crowded). Leave you valuables at home, carry a limited amount of cash and never put anything in your back pocket or out of site. Although not the height of fashion (*shudders*), a bum bag is a good option if you want to keep everything safe and away from wandering hands.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Semana Santa celebrations near Puerto Duquesa

If you haven’t yet been to a Semana Santa celebration, you really must go (you do not have to be religious to enjoy it). It’s an amazing spectacle, combining religion, history and drama, which culminates on Good Friday (6th April) with a procession through the streets ending at the local church. I spent last year perched on the terrace at Casanis watching Marbella’s strongest young chaps carry an enormous effigy through the narrow streets of the Old Town, followed by what seemed like the entire population of Marbella. It is hard to describe the atmosphere, but I suppose the best word would be ‘medieval-esque’.

The Resident provides details on the Semana Santa celebrations in Manilva & Sabinillas and the Semana Santa celebrations in San Roque, a 15 minute drive from Puerto Duquesa. If you need to hire a car, please see the Puerto Duquesa: Basics section.

If you do make it along, please send in any photos or comments.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Puerto Duquesa beaches

The beaches in Puerto Duquesa are excellent and have been awarded the Blue Flag standard for cleanliness and amenities.

West of Puerto Duquesa

The beach to the West of Puerto Duquesa (by the old castle (Castillo)) is sheltered and is definitely a good choice if you have young children as the water does not shelve - become too deep - too quickly. There are sunloungers available to hire by the day and a chiringuito which serves fairly decent snacks and sea food (the swordfish is a personal favourite, but you have to like a good dose of garlic!). As with all the beaches in Puerto Duquesa, there are changing facilities, toilets, and showers to wash either yourself or just your feet, depending on how warm the water was. Lifeguards patrol the beach during the summer months.

East of Puerto Duquesa

The beach to the East of Puerto Duquesa, accessed through the car park, is a longer, more open stretch of sand which tends to get larger waves when the wind kicks up. It also shelves a lot more quickly and is probably better suited to adults and older children. Again, there is chiringuito, toilets, changing facilities and showers, and a lifeguard during the summer, but no sunloungers. During high-season you can hire pedaloes and head out into the sea - brilliant fun, but remember to wear sun protection or you will get frazzled. Costs about 10 euros for 2 hours from memory. If you fancy a stroll, you can walk all the way along to Sabinillas (a neighbouring town) along the beach front.

The sea wall

You can get an excellent view of Puerto Duquesa's beaches from the sea wall, which is well worth the walk. Lots of people fish off here and do seem to catch...erm...fish, but the best thing I've ever caught was a half tonne of seaweed. In the winter, the waves can really kick up and come crashing over the sea wall (quite a sight).

Thursday, March 22, 2007

24/7 security for Puerto Duquesa

According to a recent article (19 March 2007) in The Resident, an established English-language newspaper for the expat community, Puerto Duquesa is set to benefit from 24 hour security at the entrance to the marina. Despite the fact that crime levels remain low in the area - I generally feel very safe - this is a welcome development given the increasing number of people who are now living or holidaying here. Click here to see the full article.

Buying property in Puerto Duquesa

I frequently get asked two questions with regard to property in and around Puerto Duquesa. These are – (i) is it a good investment and (2) is now a good time to buy. My philosophy on buying property is that you should buy somewhere because you love it and want to spend time there, not because you are looking for profit, and to focus on quality (in terms of location, build, access, etc.). Follow these two points and hopefully you'll end up with a place that you love to live/holiday in and will also make you some money in the long-term.

However, since I am far from an expert, here are some links to good articles written by people who live and work in the Puerto Duquesa/Manilva area:

(1) An overview of the market and a 2005 market update by Paul Grindrod, an independent property consultant;

(2) Buying property in Manilva by Tom Provan, author of Gone to Spain and Going to Live on The Costa del Sol; and

(3) Why Manilva, by Shanalle Bacarese-Hamilton from Hamilton Homes.

By all means contact me if you have any questions and I can put you in touch with somebody who knows the answers.

Happy House Hunting.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Puerto Duquesa: the basics

OK – here’s an overview of all the basic things (in no particular order) you need to know about Puerto Duquesa:

Supermarkets

There is a supermarket in the marina, right next to the entrance, which is good for basics, but doesn’t have much in the way of fresh produce and can be quite expensive. For bigger shops, there are two main options. You can either head towards Estepona and go to Carrefour or go to Supercor just the other side of Sotogrande. Supercor is a little more upmarket (say, Waitrose) compared to Carrefour (Tesco) and you do pay for this. Ultimately, I suppose it depends on your budget, but I prefer Supercor.

To get to Carrefour either: (i) take a right turn into Estepona from the main road and head through the town along the sea front or (ii) continue on the main road and take the Palacio de Congresos exit and turn right once you get off the motorway. The former is prettier, the latter quicker. There is ample parking both underground and right outside the shop.

For Supercor, take the main road towards Sotogrande and take the exit towards Valderamma (it’s basically the first exit once you’ve passed the supermarket on the other side of the road). Head under the main road and turn left. There is parking outside.

For smaller, local shops, there are a couple of supermarkets in Sabinillas which are all much the same. Personally, I go there to stock up and do major shops at Supercor.

Newspapers

There are three places that sell newspapers in the marina. They are: the supermarket by the entrance to the marina; the souvenir shop along the front (head into the marina through the main entrance and continue going straight until you see racks of postcards, etc.); and the newsagent upstairs just by the Macues. The majority of major English newspapers are now printed in Spain so you can get them same-day (no waiting for the plane to come in early evening….).

Internet

If you don’t have internet at home or at your hotel, there are a couple of internet cafes in the marina. The one I use is upstairs just off the ‘Italian Square’ (where Il Capitano is). The rates are fairly reasonably and you can either use the desktop machines they provide or bring your laptop and hook it up to a high-speed connection. They also offer fax and mail services if you need to conduct any business while in the area.

Calling home

There are a number of phone boxes in the marina. Generally, the cheapest method I’ve found is using DialAbroad Spain, but you can also buy phone cards. Using your mobile abroad is not a good idea as you will be hit with huge ‘roaming’ charges (fees levied to use your phone outside your home counrry), although this can be avoided by buying a local SIM (see for example, Sims4Abroad) or a service such as UK2Abroad.

Car hire

If you are staying in the marina, a car is not essential, but it can be useful (especially if you want to do one of my recommend day trips). I’ve used a range of companies over the years, but have found Brunos Car to be the best value with fully inclusive prices and free roof racks, baby seats, etc.

Post

There has been speculation amongst my friends that the post box in Puerto Duquesa is ‘merely there for decoration’ given the fact that I’ve always beaten my postcards home… If you are sending anything urgent, best speak to the chaps in the internet café (who offer a courier service) or go to a proper post office. Don’t forget to buy stamps when you buy postcards as some shops are reluctant to sell the former without the latter.

Health

Pharmacies in Spain are brilliant and can diagnose the majority of non-serious issues on the spot. Unlike the UK, prescriptions aren’t that widely used so most things can be obtained over the counter. The nearest pharmacy is in Sabinillas. If you need a doctor, I have called Doctor Furness before on 962 802 907 (I hope he won’t mind me posting his number here!) and he was fantastic – sympathetic and helpful.

For more serious issues, you can dial 112 (the international emergency number) or head to a local Hospiten, the nearest one is in Estepona (952 76 06 00).

Guidebooks

I have not yet found a guide book which provides a great deal of useful information about the Puerto Duquesa area (that's where this blog comes in!), but the following three guides are excellent if you plan on exploring further afield or fancy going on one of my Day trips from Puerto Duquesa.

The first is from the Rough Guides series and is called, somewhat unsurprisingly, The Rough Guide to Andalucia. The second is part of the well-known Lonely Planet series and is entitled Andalucia (Lonely Planet Regional Guide). And the third continues Dorling Kindersley's excellent range of 'Top 10' books - Top 10 Andalucia and Costa del Sol. Clicking on the links will take you straight through to the relevant information page on Amazon.co.uk.

Flights

There is a section on the right hand side of the blog which lists a range of flight related links. Typically, it is cheapest to use a comparison site like Avro, but I confess to being a big British Airways fan and always book directly with them for flights from Gatwick to Gibraltar.

Local radio

There are a number of excellent local radio stations which cater for the English-speaking/expat community. For full details see English radio in Puerto Duquesa.

Monday, March 19, 2007

La Duquesa Golf & Country Club

The Costa del Sol – or rather Costa del Golf – is home to some excellent golf courses. La Duquesa is one of them. Set on a spectacular hillside with views of the sea and the surrounding country it’s a challenging (or as my friend put it ‘bloody difficult’) course which is great fun to play. As of 19 March 2007, the green fees were 65 euros for 18 holes and 45 euros for 9 holes, plus the cost of a buggy should you require one. Usually there are out of season and twilight deals available which can bring the cost down.

The course was designed by Robert Trent Jones and is a good length, with some excellent par 3s (most notably hole 17 which sees you driving off a small cliff to the green only 100 or so yards away). Personally I’ve always found the par 4s a little long, but then that only goes to show that I’m not really a particularly successful golfer.

Food and drink in the Club House has recently improved, although I have yet to try it.

For reservations: 952 89 04 25

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Day trips from Puerto Duquesa

Puerto Duquesa is an ideal base for exploring the Costa Del Sol and Southern Spain. Below I've outlined a number of my favourite trips - most of which I've done many times - to give you some inspiration when you feel like leaving the beach or the pool...

(I've included some videos from You Tube to give you a real feel for the areas you might want to visit. They're definitely not the most professional clips ever produced, but they are insightful. It's probably worth watching them for the dodgy accents and cheesey music alone!)

Ronda

Ronda is a stunning town located about an hour and a half drive from Duquesa. To get there, you take the main road (N-340) to San Pedro and then follow the signs to Ronda. The drive takes you up and over mountains so isn't ideal for those who get car sick. Once in the town, the key attractions are the gorge (in the centre of the town), the bull ring (it was about €6 per person for entry last time) and the numerous gardens. Despite not being a fan of bull fighting, the bull ring has an amazing atmosphere and the museum provides an interesting insight into the history of the 'art'. There are numerous restaurants for lunch or dinner and I'm told that Tragabuches (not sure of the spelling) is the best place in town for traditional Spanish food.

Practical tip: it's best to follow the signs to the City Centre (Centro Ciudad) and then look for parking by following the 'P' signs which will lead you to one of the many underground car parks.




Malaga

The main reason for my most recent visit to Malaga was to see the recently opened Picasso museum. It really is worth a trip even if you are not an art buff. The collection of art is impressive enough, but there is also an archaeological exhibit in the basement and a great, albeit expensive, cafe (the pistachio cake and banana smoothies are heavenly!). Outside the museum, the hillside above the town offers great scope for exploration, and I spent a good two hours last time climbing about in the moorish castle on the outskirts of the town. It's not brilliantly maintained, and not on the same scale at the Alhambra in Granada, but it's the fact that it's not overly maintained and policed that adds to its charm. The main shopping street in Malaga has all the Spanish favourites including Zara and had a good atmosphere around Christmas time.

Practical tip: get a good map! I think the perfect day would be to arrive in Malaga after lunch, then head to the Picasso museum, followed by the moorish castle and finally for something to eat at one of the many tapas bars or restaurants. The views from the Parador were sensational, the food was not.



Gibraltar

Everybody that I've taken to Gibraltar says it's a bit of a dump. And, to some extent, that's probably fair; it is a bit run down, there are no good restaurants (to my knowledge) and the shopping is limited to booze, fags and perfume. But it is great fun. Park in La Linea in the underground car park then walk across the border - this avoids queuing for hours to get your car over the border and the chronic lack of parking in Gib itself. Once across the border you can arrange a tour from the grumpy chap in the customs hall (it's expensive, but the full taxi tour is a must for the monkeys, siege tunnels and caves) or walk or cab it into town. If the tour is too expensive or time consuming, the cable car at the top of the main street is a good alternative (although closed in windy weather). Prices for cigarettes (around £7 for 200), alcohol (£6-7 for a litre of spirits) and cosmetics (20-25% less than UK) are worth the trip along, although be careful with the customs limits when coming back over the border.

Practical tip: take sandwiches or expect Burger King to be as good as it gets!



Atlantic Coast

If the calm seas of the Med are a little too tame for you or you want to get away from the crowds, heading to the Atlantic Coast is a good option. There are a variety of places to go. My favourite is a beach just the other side of Barbate which is about an hour and a half drive from Duquesa. The beach is notable because it shelves so slowly, meaning you can walk out about 150 metres into the sea! Tarifa is a real 'surfer dude' town, which people tell me is worth exploring, although I've never found it particularly nice. If you want to learn to windsurf, there are schools all along the main road outside Tarifa.

Practical tip: if you are going swimming, try to avoid areas where windsurfers are practising. I've had a couple of near misses with high winds and inexperienced surfers. Also, expect it to be windy and, ideally, check the weather before you head off; it's been known to rain all day on the Atlantic Coast when it's perfectly sunny in Duquesa!



La Canada/Marbella/Puerto Banus

For those who like shopping, Puerto Banus and Marbella are meccas. The ideal shopping itinerary would start at La Canada, a giant shopping centre just off the N-340 outside Marbella, continue into Marbella New Town (underground parking in the centre of town, follow the 'P' signs) and end in Puerto Banus. Favourites chains including Zara and Massimo Dutti are represented in each location and the prices are the same in euros as they would be in pounds, saving about 30%. Puerto Banus has an impressive, and ever improving, selection of outrageously priced international boutiques, which are fun to browse.

NOTE: There is an excellent street market in Puerto Banus every Saturday, which is well worth a look. Typical tourist goods, but some quality stalls too.

Practical tip: Wrap It Up on the first level at La Canada is an excellent choice for lunch. They make freshly prepared wraps with a choice of fillings.



Casares/Gaucin

These two white hill villages - 20 minutes and 35 minutes from Duquesa respectively - are typical Pueblo Blancos and are worth a brief visit to see the 'real Spain'. There isn't an awful lot to see, but an afternoon spent strolling round the town, especially in Gaucin, with your camera is a good cultural injection!

Practical tip: some of the streets are SMALLER than your car so be careful when navigating the streets, especially if you have a big four wheel drive or estate car.

For all these trips your need a hire car so see my Puerto Duquesa: the basics section for info.




Friday, March 16, 2007

More food – four fabulous restaurants no more than a 30 minute drive from Puerto Duquesa…

In no particular order…

Casanis

This French owned, bistro style restaurant in the Old Town of Marbella is a well hidden gem. Situated in a beautifully restored old house, with a central courtyard and well, the atmosphere is relaxed and sophisticated. The food includes typically French dishes, such as foie gras and tarte tatin, with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal produce. From personal experience, I can tell you that the foie gras, sea bass and steak (especially the chips) are excellent. The owner is also friendly and accommodating. Advance booking required.

Location: Calle Ancha 8 (just up from the Orange Square)
Tel. 952 900 450


Aroyo Hondo

Christian and Noriko run this amazing restaurant up in the hills near Casares. Serving lunch and dinner (depending on the time of year), the menu strikes the right balance between contemporary and classic, with all the dishes using the finest ingredients. If you are struggling to find a good place for Sunday lunch, the roast beef here is simply the best I’ve had, and I’d also highly recommend any of the Japanese inspired dishes on the menu (Noriko’s influence!) Depending on the weather, you can sit either inside the characterful restaurant or outside by the swimming pool. Advance booking required.

Location: See web site
Tel. 952 895 152
Email: info@arroyo-hondo.com
Web site: http://www.arroyo-hondo.com/


Los Abanicos

Nestled high above the busy coast, Los Abanicos is situated in the heart of the pretty little village of Benahavis. It’s a typically Spanish restaurant, which serves up huge portions of fresh food. This is not a place for sophisticated dishes, but for simple things done well. The pork filet in mushroom sauce is epic and could probably be shared between at least two people. The atmosphere, with a largely Spanish crowd, is a welcome relief from the overt ‘Englishness’ of some parts of the coast. Very good value as well. Advance booking required.

Location: Benahavis (in the main town)
Tel. 952 855 131

Tai Pan

A fantastic, but expensive Chinese restaurant located on the Golden Mile in Marbella right next to the Puente Romano hotel. All your favourite Chinese dishes along with some local specialities. If you like fish, the whole sea bass in soy and garlic is memorable. Sophisticated, international atmosphere. Advance booking required.

Location: next to the Puente Romano, Marbella
Tel. 952 777 893

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Favourite (best?) restaurants in Puerto Duquesa - the top four. Do you agree?

Coming in at number one, it has to be...

La Traviata

Why La Traviata you ask? Well, I'm basing my judgment on three things: (1) quality of food; (2) atmosphere; and (3) consistency. This is not about who does the most sophisticated dishes (for that I'll write a separate and altogether more pompous entry), but about who produces a great, hearty, filling meal in a nice environment. At La Traviata, the food is as fresh as it can be - Robert, the owner, or one of his staff, visit the local markets every morning to get the best ingredients - and the atmosphere both inside and outside relaxed and fun. On every visit I have had a good meal and, although not the cheapest in the marina, I still think it is good value.

Favourite dishes: gabas pil-pil to start then either a filet steak with garlic and herb butter or the sea bass with lemon butter sauce and sauteed potatoes.

Number two goes to...

The Macues

The Macues is a very close second to La Traviata. It's a traditionally Spanish restaurant run by two amiable brothers (provided they are in a good mood) who take good care of their patrons. The menu is extensive and, generally speaking, the food is very good. In terms of atmosphere, it is a little less suitable for kids, especially if they are boisterous, than Traviata and slightly more upmarket. The view from the covered terrace over the marina is superb.

Favourite dishes: scrambled eggs and smoked salmon to start followed by either the pork fillet in mushroom sauce or the sea bass baked in salt.

And in third place...

Parapiros

This friendly Italian eatery has one of the largest menus I have ever seen and, for a change, does everything on the menu (that's I've tasted) extremely well. From a rich, creamy spaghetti carbonara to a thin-based prosciutto e funghi pizza to a steak, all is excellent. Price wise, this restaurant is amazing value and, unlike the two restaurants above, is the sort of place you can eat frequently without having to worry too much about your credit limit. Definitely a great place to bring kids too.

Favourite dishes: too many to chose from.

And fourth best in the marina...

Il Capitano

The Captain, Tony, has been serving up pizza e pasta for as long as I can remember and it's always a good choice for a nice Italian snack. Whilst the quality is not up on the three restaurants above, there are still nice, tasty pizzas and good pasta dishes. Another good place to bring kids as they can run riot round the fountain without causing too much damage while you keep an eye on them from the comfort of your table. This place gets very busy in the summer, but if you wait a few minutes, Tony can usually pluck a table from nowhere.

Favourite dishes: pizza, especially the calzeone (huge), vesuvio and cosa nostra.




Welcome to my Puerto Duquesa blog

I've been visiting Puerto Duquesa three or four times a year for the past 20 years and have seen the area change enormously in that time. Where once there were dirt tracks and open countryside, there are now two lane motorways and apartment complexes. And whilst the area has changed and grown dramatically, it has still retained its small town, or should that be 'small marina' feel, which keeps me, and thousands others, coming back year after year.

Since I am currently in the USA it is a slightly odd time to start a blog about Puerto Duquesa, but the reason for doing so is simple - I may actually have some time to write some stuff! Most of the things I'm going to write about are things I like doing in the area or places I like going. Clearly I am not going to be able to cover everything, but hopefully I can give you a taste of what makes this such a special place and give you some ideas for your next trip.

I welcome contributions, comments, criticisms and...well...praise.

If you want to link to me or you want me to link to you, that'll work too.

Thanks / Gracias