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)


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