Start your 24 hours in this lovely place by exploring its old town. Though much less famous, Estepona’s oldest quarter is just as beautiful and enchanting as those in Córdoba, Granada and Seville. This romantic maze of pretty white houses and steep, winding cobbled lanes is bound to the east by Avenida Juan Carlos I, to the north and east by the Avenida Andalucia and to the south by the Rada beach. As you spend a couple of hours wandering around, you’ll notice that most of the whitewashed houses are decorated with flower pots that bring streets to life with loud primary colours, just as in Córdoba.
Whilst you’re in the old town, visit Estepona’s stunning orchid house (orquidario). Situated towards the north of the barrio, it’ll be visible long before you reach it owing to its principal 30-metre high glass dome (it features two smaller domes of 16 and 6 metres), rising above the whitewashed apartment blocks like a miniature version of London’s “Gherkin”. Inside, a circuitous, self-guided route takes you amongst the 1,300 species and 500 plants on display as well as underneath an impressive 30-metre high waterfall. Allow about half an hour for the visit, which will cost you 3 euros.
After exploring the old town and the orchid house, head to the lovely Plaza de las Flores for lunch. This is the old town’s principal open space and one of the Costa del Sol‘s best-kept secrets. Surrounded by classical old Andalusian houses and lined with orange trees, it boasts several sunny terraces on which you can enjoy traditional tapas from its numerous bars and restaurants. A pretty fountain sits in the centre and, although tourists flock here, it has never lost its old-school Andalusian charm. Lunch as the locals do and allow a good couple of hours to eat, drink and soak up the ambiance of to this paradisaical little plaza.
Post-lunch, take a gentle stroll along the shaded Paseo Maritimo Pedro Manrique towards the paleontology museum and the bullring. This elegant promenade was built in the 1920s and runs alongside Playa Rada, Estepona’s most popular beach, leading you to the western outskirts of the town and to a cluster of intriguing attractions. To your right as you walk along the sea front are Estepona’s 1960s/1070s tourism apartments and hotels (few in number here, as opposed to the rest of Málaga’s coastal towns) whilst to your left is the bright blue Mediterranean.
Located in Estepona’s bullring – well worth a visit in itself, due to its uniquely asymmetrical design – are three small but interesting museums. Firstly, the bullfighting museum explores the history of this mysterious and controversial spectacle, displaying the elaborate traje de luces – “Suit of Lights” – worn by some of Spain’s top bullfighters. Via this exhibition you enter the Local (Etnografico) Museum, which explores the importance of fishing and agriculture to Estepona over the centuries through its 2,000-odd pieces. Finally, the Paleontology Museum displays more than 2,000 fossils from 600 species of fauna. All museums are free to enter.
After a couple of hours or so at the bullring and its museums, head back to town along the Paseo Maritimo Pedro Manrique and spend the rest of the long, hot Andalusian afternoon on Estepona’s central beach, Playa Rada. Rada offers some wonderful bathing and backs onto a length of lively chiringuitos, the decked terraces which just cry out for you to sit down and order a cold beer and a tapas of fresh sardines. The views out to the north coast of Africa on a clear day are quite something, too.
When the sun starts packing up, head to the excellent Restaurante El Pescador (Fisherman’s Restaurant) to round off your day here. El Pescador serves some of the freshest and best-cooked fish on the Costa del Sol and is sought out for its huge juicy mussels and black paella, both of which can be enjoyed along with uninterrupted sea views.