The town is particularly popular with the British expatriate population
In May 1957 the first charter flight to land in Malaga arrived from Munich. Hundreds of German visitors were heading, for the first time, to the yet to be christened Costa del Sol in search of the enduring holiday staples of sun, sand and sea. Package tourism was born - and a major tourist resort, Torremolinos, which continues to be the most successful on southern Spain’s coastline, was created.
With nine kilometres of sandy beach and the Costa’s virtually year-round climate of warm days and cloudless skies - manna to Northern Europeans escaping long dark winters - Torremolinos has more than 200,000 hotel rooms and still hosts more holidaymakers than anywhere else in Andalucía.
It has become a byword for budget holidays, particularly in comparison with neighbouring Marbella which has pitched itself as cool, classy and upmarket. Many think of Torremolinos as a concrete jungle of tower block hotels, British-style pubs and cheap as chips nights out.
What many people, enjoying their pint by the Med fifteen minutes after landing at Malaga airport, or playing crazy golf or wandering past shops selling sangria in bull-shaped bottles, don’t realize is that Torremolinos was once one of the most glamorous places in Spain.
It was a British man, George Langworthy, at the end of the first world war in which he fought as a captain, who initiated tourism in Torremolinos. Setting his sights on the Castillo de Santa Clara around 1929 or 1930, he transformed the estate into a luxurious hotel, with enviable gardens, where his numerous friends spent their holidays.
In the days when flying to Europe was the ultimate status symbol for wealthy and famous Americans, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, Marlon Brando and Grace Kelly sashayed through town. French film star Brigitte Bardot walked barefoot down Calle San Miguel. Newspapers reported on the flourishing Bohemian resort, filled with party loving writers, artists and - shockingly then - topless young Swedes who flocked to the former fishing village to have fun in the sun.
The legacy of those days is a plethora of original fifties, sixties and seventies architecture, of interior hotel and bar fittings and graphic designs which are cherished by lovers of the style of those days. Such as the Pez Espada, Torremolinos’s first five star hotel with its cool Californian aesthetic, or the gay bar zone - created as a replica of a typical whitewashed village - and fittingly called Pueblo Blanco, which once attracted hedonists from all over Spain. And many authentic places to eat like the Marisquería La Chacha seafood bar with its piles of deep red crayfish and giant stripy prawns or Bodega La Guerola, a stuccoed cave-like restaurant with sherry barrels outside which hasn’t really altered its look for fifty years.
In 2008 British journalist Mark Jones included Torremolinos in High Life magazine’s list of the 50 most authentic places on earth. He wrote, “After 40 years of mass tourism, Torremolinos continues to evolve and away from the coast, it’s a bustling Andalucian town. The high-rise 1950s and 1960s hotels are now admired by fashionable architects. The campaign to make it a Unesco World Heritage Site begins here.”
Not surprisingly Torremolinos plays host annually to both the Spanish and European ballroom dancing championships, events which attract thousands to the town and are celebrated with street parades of dancing couples in sequins and spray tan. Several rock and roll festivals happen in Torremolinos every year, in venues that fit the music and its era seamlessly.
It also has a distinguished history of tolerance. During Franco’s dictatorship when homosexuals were referred to as deviants and punished for their sexuality, Torremolinos offered a safe haven to gay men and women who built up businesses in the Pueblo Blanco and the central bar zone of La Nogalera - (a little tired looking these days but apparently undergoing a refurbishment programme). And it has long been a multi-cultural resort with Brits, Scandinavians and South Americans making it their home. There’s a Japanese hotel in Torremolinos and a Kosher one.
But still Torremolinos is very Spanish. Its main feria or celebration is the Romería de San Miguel, which takes place at the end of September and is considered the second largest ‘romería’ (or pilgrimage) in Spain. Hundreds of people in beautifully decorated ox carts parade slowly through the centre of the town and wind their way up to the pine forests at the northern fringes to spend the night dancing, eating and drinking.
Nowadays the town brings in all kinds of holidaymakers with family friendly attractions such as Aqualand, the largest waterpark on the Costa del Sol and the Crocodile Park where children can see very large reptiles at close hand. The town is very proud, also, of its Olympic sized swimming pool and a huge congress centre for business and other large events.
But more importantly, it is still a wonderful place to take a break. Minutes from Malaga airport, with a massive sandy beach lined with palm trees and seafront restaurants serving up fresh fish and seafood, it’s a perfect and perfectly affordable weekend break.
Long term Malaga resident Scott McKenzie says, “I first came to Torremolinos in 1976 on a package tour from Aberdeen. It is one of the reasons I moved to Spain and now that I live here, I still visit regularly and I still love it”.