The coastline that stretches out along the N340 coastal road from Torre del Mar, through Almayate, Valle Niza, Benajarafe and Chilches is not only steeped in history but also a treat for the eyes and soul in the 21st century. The road, which was once the only one connecting Malaga city with its eastern province, curves around the cliffs and almost appears to be a continuation of the beach in some parts.
Generally there’s no organised parking and nobody trying to charge you to park. Parking is, just off the road, on a first-come first-served basis. By the end of the day, any vehicle perched on the side of the road will be covered in dust, if not from the slow moving trafic of the N340, from sand blown on to them from the beach on which they are practically parked.
This section of the N340 was, from 1908 until 1968 shared with ‘La Cochinita’, the train that ran from Malaga up to Zafarraya, stopping at El Palo, Rincón de la Victoria, Chilches, Benajarafe, Torre del Mar, Vélez-Málaga and Periana, before ending its journey in Zafarraya, up in the mountains on the border of Granada province.
The old train station buildings have a uniformity about them; each one almost identical in design and size. The ones in Rincón de la Victoria and Benajarafe are used today as tourist information offices and lifeguard bases and in Torre del Mar and Vélez-Málaga they are home to the towns’ bus stations.
In February 1937 the N340 witnessed hundreds of thousands of people from Malaga trying to flee to Almería as news that Franco’s and Fascist Italian troops had enetered the city. The event is known as the Desbandá and it is marked every year on the anniversary of what was to become one of the greatest losses of lives in the Spanish Civil War. The fleeing civilians were bombed from the area and attacked from land and sea; several thousand were massacred.
This coastal road takes us back even further in history, however, as it is also lined with watchtowers. Most of them date back to the 18th century, when the Spanish military used them to warn of attack during the French-Spanish and Anglo-Spanish wars of the time. This stretch of coastline has also been used heavily by pirates over the centuries.
Now the beaches simply offer wide stretches of sand, calm waters and a natural backdrop for those wishing to avoid the noisier and more crowded beaches of neighbouring towns.
Playa de Almayate
From the mouth of the Río Vélez on the western most point of Torre del Mar, heading in the direction of Malaga, high-rise buildings and trendy beach bars disappear altogether and are replaced by reeds, followed by fields growing peppers, tomatoes and other local produce and the occasional boatyard.
The first beach on this journey has become a favourite among dog owners since Vélez-Málaga Town Hall designated the space up to the Río Vélez as a dog beach in 2016. A little further along and the beach-goers change somewhat to naturists; a section of beach around the Almayate campsite has been a long-term favourite for those seeking a nudist beach.
A row of hidden chiringuitos lines Playa del Hornillo, also in Almayate, a wide expanse of beach accessible via minor roads off the N340. The famous Osborne black bull has been overlooking sunbathers from the hill on the other side of the road since the company launched its famous advertising in...and Spaniards voted en masse to keep them where they were when the company stopped the publicity.
On one side of the N340 is a series of large-modern looking housing developments and on the other, the wide beach continues, with the occasional authentic looking beach-shack, no worse equipped than any in a larger town. It’s also home to the large Puerto Niza restaurant and a campsite.
Fields, the occasional housing development and sporadic fishermen’s cottages give way to the town of Benajarafe. For many years the beach has been awarded blue-flag status and the Spanish ‘Q for Quality.’ La Estación hostel and cafeteria displays old photos of the train as it passed through the town bringing daytrippers from Malaga. Those daytrips continue today; locals say that the town’s fish restaurants are hugely popular with Malaga CF players who allegedly regularly dine there, as does Mayor of Malaga, Franisco de la Torre. The town is also frequented by Spanish singer and actress, Victoria Abril, who has a summer home there.
The beach itself is equipped with leisure facilities and has lifeguards on duty (using the old train station as their base) and is probably the widest part of the N340 stretch.
Chilches - the final stop
After leaving Benajarafe the beach becomes narrow again and the N340 feels like it almost forms part of it. Limited off-road parking is available on this undeveloped stretch of coastline. Once again fields and the occasional cottage form the landscape on the other side of the road, before reaching Chilches. Much less developed than its neighbours Benajarafe and Rincón de la Victoria, Chilches is the last stop for unspoilt, completely natural beaches along this fascinating stretch of Malaga’s coast, before entering Torre de Benagalbón, Rincón de la Victoria and eventually the eastern suburbs of Malaga city.
For unspoilt and award-winning beaches with a large dose of history, train stations and watch towers still providing reminders of the past, a visit to some or all of the N340’s lesser-known beaches is well worth the effort. Buses from Malaga have replaced the train service and stop at all the aforementioned places.