When the package holiday boom exploded in the mid-80s, the Costa del Sol boasted a couple of pace-setters like Fuengirola. Slightly farther away from Málaga airport, huddled around an old Spanish fishing village, Fuengirola became a cheap and way for foreigners (for the most part Brits) to experience their first taste of 'abroad'.
But just look at what Fuengirola offers: whilst parts of the town are a little shabby, the atmosphere is delightfully intoxicating. Striking the right balance between expat convenience and Spanish authenticity, Fuengirola delivers an intriguing melting pot of cultures, where it is common to see British, Irish, Danish and German inhabitants not only cohabiting but mingling with the local Spanish population, creating a cheerful cultural cocktail.
Whereas the fast food cafés, Brits and youngsters favorite, are highly visible, their numbers are more than matched by traditional tapas bars, chiringuitos, inviting Irish pubs and a good variety of Scandinavian bars and eateries too. In Fuengirola, there is a lot to be enjoyed, particularly for younger members of the family. Fuengirola Zoo is a brilliant example of smart layout in a tight space: sited right in the town center, the zoo manages to cram in a wide selection of species in a small area: a truly enjoyable day out for all the family.
Another day of family fun option: Mijas Aquapark, open from early June until late September, offers plenty of slides, wave's pools, Jacuzzis and shaded areas to guarantee all ages to have a fun-packed time.
For a more traditional slice of the town, Fuengirola's Los Boliches area, built around the old fishing port, has a more relaxed atmosphere: authentic bodegas, quaint cottages and a superb selection of modest but excellent fish and shellfish restaurants.
In May, Fuengirola hosts its famous Feria Internacional de los Pueblos, where the town celebrates much more than just its Spanish culture; it actively invites nations from all over the world to promote their own nations, making for a great day out for all.
Easily accessible, bathed in beautiful sunshine all year round, affordable and lively, Fuengirola's reputation belies its undeniable charm. While Marbella is certainly easier on the eye, Puerto Banús has a more glamorous nightlife and Benalmádena is the more family-friendly option, Fuengirola's everyman appeal is its main strength.
Fuengirola is certainly an option and has all the ingredients for a pretty fine family place in the sun with everything at hand at affordable price.