Nerja is a pretty place, with building restrictions that have prevented the high-rise skyline that dominates much of the coast. Instead it has whitewashed houses, and in the old quarter these are particularly pretty with their wrought-iron work balconies and flowers spilling out of pots. The town has inevitably sprawled out somewhat with new residential developments, but the town centre retains a historic feel. Nerja has some famous caves just outside it, and that draws a lot of tourists to the area. We've never been! We're much more interested in the amazing food, the gorgeous beaches, the laid back atmosphere and the vast quantities of reasonably priced Spanish wine available.
Sunrise view from the Balcon
Eating and Drinking
Nerja is one of those towns where they do the proper Spanish thing in many bars and give you a free plate of tapas when you buy a drink (usually just if you're seated at the bar, although a few places have some outside tables). We really love to bar hop in an evening when we're not after a full meal, perhaps visiting up to four different places. One of our favourites is El Pulguilla. At first we rather unfairly branded it 'McTapas' due to its bright, fast-food steel interior. However, it does the best seafood on the planet and it's incredibly cheap (a glass of red wine is 2.40 Euros, and don't forget that includes the tapas). Everything is freshly caught and on display at the counter. You can watch the clams move (slightly freaky!). My favourite dish is the little squids that they char on the grill in front of you, splashed with garlic infused olive oil. Heaven.
There are also some higher-end places where you can buy individual tapas dishes. If you love gastro-tapas, then head to the bar area at Pata Negra 57 and try the award-winning oxtail ravioli, or perhaps the cherry salmojero (cold soup) with goats cheese ice-cream. Washed down with a chilled glass of red wine (yes, some reds need to be chilled in Spain's heat!).
Above: I tried the cherry salmorejo, while my husband tried a sort of spring roll
Above: The award-winning oxtail ravioli
If a more substantial meal is more your thing, you will be absolutely spoilt for choice by the restaurants in Nerja. All cuisines are catered for (Italian, Japanese, Chinese, British, Thai, etc.) and recently there have been a few places opening that cater for vegetarian, gluten free and vegan. For a special meal out, you could do as we did and return to Pata Negra 57 for a sit-down meal in their cool and modern restaurant. A novelty for me was that my clutch bag, which I'd placed on the table, was swiftly removed and placed on its own tiny stool beside me. I've never seen that before!
Enjoying a cold melon and ham soup appetiser at Pata Negra 57
Above: my main course of sphere of goat, at Pata Negra 57
The other higher-end restaurant we tried, for our anniversary, was Restaurant 34. We requested a table outside, by the pool, where we could listen to the Spanish guitar players and inhale the heady jasmine-infused night air. Their 25 Euro set menu was good value.
Outside at Restaurant 34, there are tables around the pool and on the terrace overlooking the sea
Dessert at Restaurant 34
At the heart of the town is a pretty square dominated by El Salvador Church, and leading off from the square is the Balcon De Europa. This is a beautiful promenade that juts out into the sea, affording the most wonderful views of the sea, the town, and the Sierra Almijara mountains behind. As the sun starts to set, the Balcon becomes a place to people watch. Everybody comes out for a walk, to sit, to watch, to have a drink and a bite to eat, and to socialise. There are street artists, stall holders, and musicians, and the bars, cafes and restaurants around the Balcon are packed. It gets very busy, but the atmosphere is quite different to the average UK city at night. The difference is in part due to the age range perhaps; babies and grandparents are still out and about at 11 o'clock at night.
The main square is transformed at night
Sunset view from the Balcon
There aren't really any clubby clubs, but there are lots of bars, some of which stay open until the wee small hours on a weekend. Don't forget to look up either as you're walking the streets - many bars are on the roof terraces, with wonderful views. The Buddha Lounge does good cocktails, and has an Ibiza chill-out lounge vibe.
Sightseeing & Culture
The El Salvador Church in the main square is 17th Century. Regular services are held that you are welcome to attend, and when the doors are open you can wander in and marvel at all the art and gold adorning the interiors. Weddings take place frequently in the summer months, I think we saw at least three while we were there!
Nerja has a museum in the centre, along with a Cultural Centre that puts on various exhibitions and has an occasional cinema. There's also an art gallery on one of the main pedestrian streets that we stumbled into one evening when they were having some kind of event for a new exhibition there. We met some very nice people and had a very stilted conversation in French as that was the only mutual language we could come up with.
Above: At the art gallery
Up in the hills above Nerja is the pretty little village of Frigiliana. Full of artisans making everything from art to honey or wine, this little place is only 1 Euro on the bus. We went for lunch and a wander.
Looking down from Frigiliana towards Nerja and the sea
Nerja has many, many beaches. The biggest is Burriana, on the East of the town (which does mean it's down a big hill that you'll have to walk back up at some point...). We were among the first people on it early one morning, my husband was first in the sea, beating the elderly Spanish ladies to it for once. This beach has many bars and restaurants, and a few shops selling beachy things. There are lots of other smaller beaches dotted along the town's coast. We were staying literally a minute's walk from El Salon, so that's the beach we spent the most time on this year.
Above: My husband first in the sea at Burriana
Nerja is a relatively small town so there is some shopping, but not a vast range. There's an odd mix of really cheap fast fashion places, and higher end stores with quality hand-made goods. Not that much in between. There are some shops selling handmade leather goods, they're not cheap, but they're very good quality. Like any Spanish town, there is an abundance of shoe-shops.
There's a big beauty store stocking perfumes and cosmetics from all of the major brands, and there are a few trendy stores such as Desigual. But, if you're after some serious shopping, you'll have to head to Malaga.
The supermarkets are incredibly cheap, if you're buying fresh fish and booze. (Basically what we live off) Just look at all that wine. I tried lots of different brands of cava on this trip. My favourite was a blue one that was just 2.67 a bottle.
So have I sold Nerja to you? If so, here are the basic details you need to know.
Malaga is the closest airport. We fly from Bristol or Cardiff on Vueling airlines to Malaga. You can book a private transfer (probably around 70 Euros each way). This time we tried the bus from Malaga, because it was only 4 Euros each! It did take a lot longer, but if you're on a budget it will save you enough for a few nights out.
Nerja is very reasonable, and we generally pay around £300 for an apartment for two for a week.
The very first time we went to Nerja was on a late package holiday deal. We stayed in the North East of the town, in the 'Capistrano Villages' area. It's targeted at the self-catering market, with purpose built pretty 'villages' containing apartments and villas. Many are privately owned, but some are rented out through various rental management companies. We ended up in a ground floor apartment with a pretty walled garden. It was really private, and though basic - as any apartments in Greece or Spain tend to be - it was clean, nicely equipped, and met all our needs. The complex has a shared swimming pool, is close to supermarkets, and if you have a hire care then there is parking available. The downside is that the main beach, Burriana, is downhill (about 25 minutes walk, which in the heat can be a mission!), and the town centre is also a fair walk, downhill (it's the return journeys that are tough!!).
The second and third times we went to Nerja, we booked our own accommodation through the agency Menyber. We chose an apartment in the Capistrano Playa complex, that overlooks Burriana beach. There are lots of steps in this complex, so not one for anybody with mobility issues. It does have the most amazing views over the beach though, and each apartment has a great terrace. The downside again is that it's a little walk into town, though it's closer than the Capistrano Villages complex.
This year, we booked through Rent In Nerja, and chose an apartment overlooking the main square in the town. We did wonder if it would be really noisy, and yes, the square gets bustling at night, but we were only woken up at 4am on one night, by some rowdy teenagers leaving the bar around the corner. The apartment was 2 minutes to the beach, and we had all of the bars and restaurants on our doorstep. Supermarkets were a 10 minute walk. We didn't really have any outside space with this apartment, just tiny Juilet style balconies, so that would be a downside if you are a sun-worshipper and need a terrace to lie out on.
I hope that gives you a good overview of this wonderful Spanish town. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me or just leave a comment.
What do you think, does this sound like the kind of holiday you'd enjoy?