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Fuengirola's route to tourism

Enjoying the beach in Fuengirola in the 1950s.
Enjoying the beach in Fuengirola in the 1950s.
  • Costa HISTORY

  • How the traditional Villa Blanca became a modern resort with apartments and hotels

The beauty of Fuengirola was lauded by poet Salvador Rueda a century ago when he dedicated a sonnet to the town, which he defined as "God's mirror". At that time wealthy families who lived inland would spend the summers there; but they were few in number and their presence could not really be considered tourism in a village whose economy was based on agriculture and fishing.

Even in the mid-1960s writers who described Fuengirola said the Villa Blanca (White Town), as it was known, was a model of town planning with no tall buildings. Diego Vázquez Otero wrote: "One could say that the numerous farms hidden in the valleys or on the tops of the 100 hills that surround Fuengirola have served as a model for the modern buildings which still retain a traditional character, being low-level and whitewashed."

Tourist guides usually referred to Fuengirola as a white town nestling between the Sierra de Mijas and the Mediterranean. One, published by Ediciones La Garza in 1960, even told its readers what was grown in this small municipality: sugar cane, olives, vines, wheat, barley, vegetables.

Fuengirola’s seafront promenade.

Fuengirola’s seafront promenade.

It also, however, successfully predicted its future: "Above all, overwhelmed by an influx of tourists, Fuengirola aims to become a comfortable place for all the Spanish and foreign visitors who come to enjoy its beauty and its climate."

The care taken in keeping the town clean and well-maintained merited Fuengirola a top prize among the towns and villages of the province, and its beaches were reputedly the best on the Malaga coast, or even the whole of southern Spain, according to a sign placed beside the main road.

The arrival of tourism radically changed the local economy which, like the rest of the coast, advanced towards a different focus. The tourism boom resulted in numerous apartment blocks being constructed and a proliferation of businesses specifically aimed at the floating population.

Right from the start, apartments became the preferred residential format for long stays by middle-class visitors. When it came to hotels, Fuengirola was much slower to build up this sector compared with other pioneering resorts such as Torremolinos and Marbella. There were no hotels at all until the mid-1950s.

Before then, there were a few inns such as Donoso, El Centro and El Rondeño, and 'pensiones', which were mentioned by local historian Cristóbal Vega: Sedeño, Italia, Coca, La Morera and Rodymar, in Los Boliches. This is where the few people who used to come to Fuengirola in the summers of the 1940s and early 1950s used to stay.

The Hotel Florida, the first of certain pretensions, opened in 1957. In the following years it was joined by La Concha in Los Boliches, the Somió, the Mare Nostrum, the Sarasol, the Caballo Blanco, the Enriqueta, El Cid and the Cendrillón. In general these were very small, with the exception of the Mare Nostrum, which had 242 rooms.

Town and harbour.

Town and harbour.

The inauguration of the 12-storey Stella Polaris in 1969, built by the Danish tour operator Tjaereborg, marked the start of a frenzy in the opening of large hotels, some in complexes with blocks of apartments. Seven opened in Fuengirola between 1970 and 1974.

The first was Las Pirámides, a four-star with 320 rooms which boasted the first automatic door on the Costa del Sol. It was followed by Las Palmeras and El Puerto, Mas Playa, Torreblanca del Sol, Ángela and Stella Maris.

By 1974, when international tourism began to feel the effects of the oil crisis, Fuengirola could boast an extensive range of hotels for middle-class tourists (three and four-star establishments) from Spain, Britain and Scandinavia.

A guide from those years described Fuengirola as "a tourism centre with an ultra-modern urban landscape".

The model of the Villa Blanca had been left behind.