When to go to Costa del Sol

Impromptu dancing at Malaga feria

By George Prior, your Costa del Sol expert

I write for Monocle, OUT, SUR in .... Read more

The best time to visit Costa del Sol

The Costa del Sol remains a world-class destination any time of the year, hence why it continues to attract millions of holidaymakers from January through to December every year. The place I call 'home' has a distinct energy and feel in each season. What time of year you come will depend very much on what kind of holiday you’re looking for.

Of course, one of the reasons why the area is so popular is its enviable climate - 325 days of sunshine a year! In spring, you should expect warm (around 22-26C), clear, long days of sunshine and mild evenings (averaging 17C). It's definitely my favourite time of year as it's warm, not scorching, and less crowded. Spring and autumn are the most popular seasons for golfers as it’s not too hot or too wet.

Sun worshippers love the summer months on the Costa del Sol as the mercury can easily hit 40C in August. It can feel even hotter if you venture away from the coast as there will be less of a breeze. The average temperature is a pleasant 30C, however.

Autumn is a popular time for older visitors from northern Europe who want to escape the harshness of their native country’s weather. Being a subtropical climate, be prepared for some heavy rain, followed by bright sunshine between September and November. It gets quite chilly in the evenings so don’t go for dinner without a jacket.

Winter, as we’d know it in the UK, doesn’t really exist on the Costa del Sol as it’s nearly always sunny. However, it does get cold (relatively speaking) as it can drop to about eight or nine degrees during the day, and it feels a lot colder at night due to the clear skies.

Fiestas - the Costa del Sol loves a party

Like most of Spain, the Costa del Sol loves a party, a parade and a procession, and, for my money, they’re the ideal way of getting into the spirit of the local people. Here, in the south, they take fiestas and folklore to a whole new level. For instance, every village and town has its own patron saint and, unsurprisingly, a week-long celebration, or feria, is staged to pay tribute to that saint. This is in addition to the other national and regional holidays and religious days.

During the day, ferias are about eating local food and drinking local wine, elaborate street parties, dancing, horse shows and the occasional bullfight. In the evenings, the party tends to move to an out-of-town fairground where there’ll be rides, attractions and open-air bars and clubs that are open until the sunrises the next day.

Benalmadena Feria: June 24-29, 2011.
Estepona Feria: July 7-12, 2011.
Malaga Feria: August 14-23, 2011.
Marbella Feria: June 8-14, 2011.
Nerja Feria: October 8-13, 2011.

Spring - Holy Week and a quirky festival

In spring, the major celebration is Holy Week, when each village and town will hold its own sombre processions each day as hundreds, if not thousands, of people, followed by marching bands, take to the incense-filled streets as they carry swaying statutes of the religious figures from their shrines to the churches. The massive proceedings in Malaga City have been declared of “International Tourist Interest” by the UN. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday are particularly grand and moving.

The May Cross Festival is a quirky, religious and floral event which takes place in the first week of May. Monasteries, convents, schools and associations adorn the most powerful Christian symbol, the Cross, with flowers and parade them in the streets. It has a competitive element to it too as town halls award prizes for the best, most vibrant crucifix.

Summer - the biggest and boldest ferias

Many of the biggest, boldest and best ferias take place in the summer, including Malaga city’s feria. See my Malaga overview page for more information.

The Night of San Juan (June 23) is one of my favourite Spanish festivals. It’s a celebration held on beaches all over the Costa del Sol involving roaring bonfires, barbecues, drinking, eating and lots of friends. At midnight people wash their faces and feet three times in the sea in order to be granted three wishes and for a happy 12 months ahead. It's an amazing sight seeing thousands of revellers jumping over fires to get into the sea - fully clothed!

The Virgen of El Carmen is the patron saint of the seas and fishermen. On July 16, thousands of people in every town follow her image as she is carried into the Mediterranean Sea to be cleansed. It’s all very celebratory - and watch out for the spectacular fireworks at midnight.

With such a large expatriate community on the Costa del Sol, many towns and villages hold annual celebrations to honour their foreign residents.

One of the biggest and best-attended is in the traditional white village of Mijas. This year the two-day event takes place between 10th and 12th June in several of the town squares.

There are stands, music and dance shows, cuisine and crafts from more than 20 countries including Britain, Cuba, Germany, Denmark, France, and Morocco to represent the different nationalities that live in Mijas. For more information, visit: www.mijas.es
 

Autumn - bullfighting and culinary celebrations

Autumn is the season of Ronda’s Goyesque Festival, which takes place in the first week of September. The main attraction of this fiesta is the bullfight, which takes place on the first Saturday of the month, in the town’s revered bullring. Before the bullfight there's a procession of horse-drawn carriages through the streets of Ronda with everyone dressed in traditional costumes.

Of course, autumn is also harvest time and many villages surrounding the Costa del Sol organise culinary fiestas to celebrate. My highlights in September include the Ajoblanco (garlic broth) Festival in Almachar, the Wine Festival in Atajate, and the Roasted Chestnut and Liquor Festival in El Borge.

Winter - a great music festival and the Three Kings

November 1 is All Saints’ Day and almost everything will be closed as it’s the day families pay respect to their dead relatives in cemeteries.

The Fiesta de San Martin takes place on November 11, and is marked by the slaughtering of pigs in rural communities, in preparation for the drying of hams throughout the winter. It’s usually a boozy affair staged in squares in the village/town centres.

Christmas Eve is the quietest day of the year on the Costa del Sol as most businesses will close, including bars and restaurants, so staff can spend it with their families. Most Spaniards have a large family dinner at around 10pm.

One of my calendar highlights is the Los Verdiales Music Festival on December 28 at the Puerta de la Torre country inn, near the village of Almogia. Musicians from all over the area compete with each other on stage in traditional costumes. It’s a mammoth, drink-fuelled, jam session with a historical twist.

On New Year’s Eve, everyone gathers in the local square, or in front of the town hall, to eat grapes in time with the chimes. There’s usually a fair bit of cava flowing - in fact, many councils give out free cava pre-midnight!

On January 5, the mythical Three Kings arrive in every village and town on huge, elaborate floats and throw sweets into the crowd. I love watching the kids line the streets with upside down umbrellas to catch them – genius!

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