What makes Puerto de la Duquesa so popular with the ex pat population and tourists? It has taken me about fifteen years, not to mention many trips along the coast, to realize why Duquesa is known as ‘The best kept secret on the Costa del Sol’.
On the 150 kilometre long stretch of coast, from La Linea to about 10 kilometres east of Nerja, Duquesa is unique due to a combination of reasons. It has no high rise hotels, all the accommodation available in the area is apartments or houses. To date no package holiday company has exploited the area, possibly due to it being just that little bit further from the main airport that serves the Costa, Malaga. For those ‘in the know’ and prepared to risk taking off and landing from one of the top ten most dangerous airfields in the world however, Gibraltar is a more than viable alternative and only 30 minutes away. Finally the marina and residential area of Puerto de la Duquesa is situated between two fantastic beaches and within an easy walk of two similarly unexploited Spanish villages, Sabinillas to the north and Castillo to the south. I suppose I should also mention the 300 days of sunshine per year.
Purpose built in the 1980s Duquesa sits around three sides of a marina that berths boats that range from the few hundred thousand pound gin palace that hardly ever leaves the safe confines of the harbour to the workhorse dinghy with an engine that putters out each morning for fish. Its owner no doubt prefers the ease of the marina to the more traditional methods of getting your boat in the water seen at Sabinillas and Castillo. There the parsimonious fishing folk pull their boats up the beach using a human powered windlass rather similar to the capstan used to raise the anchor in a 17th century sailing ship. I did see a couple of weeks ago that one such windlass now has a small engine that rather detracts from the simplicity of a design that has been around for at least four thousand years.
There are no amusement arcades, no pleasure beach and no big dipper. There are no night clubs, well, none similar to those found in Marbella or Puerto Banus anyway. Entertainment is all home grown. Many of the dozen or so bars have karaoke or other forms of live entertainment in the evening, limited only by the imaginations of their owners, and there is a whole raft of restaurants offering food from just about every nation, every continent certainly. The evenings tend to be lively with people enjoying the night air alongside the atmospheric waterfront perambulating from venue to venue.
During the day things tend to be more relaxed. There are the two beaches already mentioned. The one to the south between Duquesa and the small fishing village of Castillo de la Duquesa is a sheltered bay with rocks at the southern end that are ideal for snorkelling. You will see bass, wrasse, the occasional octopus, crabs and lobsters and anemones of all colours, that really is a magical experience. Right in the centre of this bay is another little secret I found some years ago, a small outcrop of rock protruding from the smooth sandy bottom, never revealed at low tide and covered in the tastiest mussels.
This beach has two Chiringuitos, Gaviotas and Andres and Maria. No longer wooden shacks with a plank and pallet floor with rough timber bar serving exquisitely cold beer and delicious simple fish and salad dishes, they have been modernised with concrete over breeze block, glass and chrome. Some will call it progress.
For those with the energy Castillo de la Duquesa itself is just at the end of the beach. A recent seawall now separates the fishing cottages from the beach but Castillo has still managed to keep its charm. It has its own 18th century castle that contains a museum, the ruins of a Roman villa that has been preserved a little better than the Roman cemetery whose long dead residents now repose beneath an apartment block. There is a Roman fish and salt factory nearby. There are a couple of bars and a few restaurants particularly popular at lunch times, still extended affairs in the true Spanish tradition.
In the other direction a paseo above a broad beach takes you to the town of San Luis de Sabinillas, less than a kilometre away. There you will find shops, supermarkets, banks and all that modern life seems to require.
Returning to Puerto de la Duquesa it would be remiss not to mention the strap line for the Costa del Sol, Costa del Golf. Duquesa has its own prestigious and immaculately kept golf course and you are within range of dozens more. Some of the bars in the port operate golf clubs that will happily welcome a visiting golfer and there are Golf Tour operators who will cater for groups.
Golf is not the only sport to be enjoyed in Duquesa. The local ex pat community, that includes some retired football players of international renown, have organised themselves into a team that plays Spanish teams from as far afield as Barcelona and the place is not short of bars for people who prefer to watch their sport rather than participate. Within 20 minutes drive you can also, in season, enjoy watching polo at Sotogrande, Prince Charles used to play there and his sons have followed in father’s stirrups. Hacking is also available locally for visitors. Sea fishing trips can be organised from the waterfront as can, during the summer, canoe and pedallo hire and other watersports.
Puerto de la Duquesa remains the ‘Best kept secret on the Costa del Sol.’