The Absolute Best Resort Town On The Coast Of Spain, According To Rick Steves

What makes Costa del Sol the pride and joy of southern Spain? Okay, so it may not be named after the popular Instagram filter (we're looking at you, Valencia), or the pop hit single, "I Took a Pill in Ibiza," but it has more than 300 days of sunshine and 125 beaches to make up for it! Perched on the southern tip of Spain in Andalucia, there's a reason this southern European region's moniker translates to "Sun Coast." Backed by the Sierra Mountains and framed by unspoiled landscapes that cater to those with a spirit of wanderlust, Costa del Sol is one of Spain's most sacred treasures. According to travel expert and European specialist, Rick Steves, this underrated coastal city differs from the rest of Spain, allowing it to stand out as a coastal European gem. Costa del Sol trades the ubiquitous concrete eyesores, polluted shorelines, tourist traps, and extravagant prices for a collection of saltwater sanctuaries untainted by human hands.

This coveted oasis once began as nothing more than a far-flung fishing village, yet quickly evolved into a luxury resort center. Despite the flashy beach bungalows and pinnacle five-star hotels that parallel the shoreline, Costa del Sol hasn't lost its quirky personality that first drew visitors to its sun-soaked coastlines. According to Vogue Australia, Costa del Sol is one of the most beautiful coastal towns in all of Spain. This picturesque region comprises 20 coastal towns and villages, yet the charming village of Nerja is one of Spain's most underrated gems.

Nerja — a coastal gem

Popularized villages in the south of Spain, like Malaga and Marbella, might be your first instinct when selecting a landing point in Andalucia. Despite their coveted fame, consider the small seaside resort town of Nerja instead. Perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Alboran Sea and just under an hour from Malaga, Nerja has garnered a reputation as the "Balcony of Europe." This inspirational nickname was first coined by the Spanish King, King Alfonso XII, who recalled Nerja's scenic vistas and declared this village as the official balcony of Europe.

According to Steves, Nerja also houses some of Costa del Sol's most opulent resorts, including Hotel Balcon de Europa. This lavish hotel features elegant sea view suites, a rooftop infinity pool and jacuzzi, and more than one upscale dining venue to feast on the region's cuisine. Word on the street is that this hotel's enviable panoramic balcony is the very place where King Alfonso XII stood during his visit in 1885.

For those whose only concern is where the best beach in town is, Cala del Canuelo would be the answer to that question. Located 15-minutes from this upscale resort, its crystal clear waters are alive with an abundance of marine life, accompanied by aquatic coves tucked into the sea cliffs. The Mediterranean-style village of Nerja is rich with traditional Spanish-style facades, al fresco tapas bars, and boutiques. The intricate maze of eclectic establishments means travelers can get lost for hours inside each tightly packed bungalow.

A region of many natural wonders

Even outside of Nerja's popular seaside promenade is a wealth of natural treasures to uncover. The Nerja Caves, in particular, is an archeological underground wonder hidden underneath the earth's surface. This underground limestone cave network is divided into columns, each with a uniquely chiseled pattern of stalactites and stalagmites. The deepest and largest cave, known as the Cataclysm room, is home to the largest column (when a stalagmite and stalactite meet) on earth. This prehistoric treasure was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest in 2006, making it one of the most intricate naturally formed caves in all of Spain.

After an all-day exploration in these captivating underground chambers, return to the seaside retreat of Nerja for an all-you-can-eat paella buffet at one of Steves' top favorite seaside bars in the world. While paella may have originated from Valencia, it's the national food of Spain, making it an integral staple on nearly every menu in this nation. Situated on the golden dunes of Burriana Beach, Ayo's has been delivering this coveted dish to locals and visitors for more than 50 years. Waiting for your food while impatiently tapping your foot is a thing of the past at this beach bar. Their oversized paella pan cooks this regional specialty in bulk, resulting in crispy, sizzled-to-perfection works of art in each batch. The only thing better than indulging in this local delicacy is enjoying it with a view. With an alfresco dining patio that faces the water, guests can enjoy the flavors of Spain alongside a fresh ocean sea breeze.