Tales of Torremolinos

Torremolinos is just 13 kilometres from Malaga City. Birthplace to tourism on the Costa del Sol, it is still an extremely popular tourist destination, especially for the British and the Dutch.

tourism ON THE COSTA DEL SOL started in torremolinos

One of the first places that comes to mind when people hear ‘ holidays on the Costa del Sol’- is Torremolinos. That’s probably because Torremolinos was where tourism first started in this part of Spain. In fact, it was all the idea of the dictator Francisco Franco to develop tourism here at the end of the 1950’s early 60’s.

La Carihuela Beach in Torremolinos, Malaga

La Carihuela Beach in Torremolinos, Málaga

Tourism already existed on the French and Italian Rivieras, as well as in San Sebastian in the north of Spain. The problem with Malaga was that it was a further two-day arduous train journey from those other tourist destinations. Luckily, however, the ‘Costabella’, as the Costa del Sol was first known, had an airport between Torremolinos and Málaga. It existed as a refuelling base for Aire Poste planes flying from Paris to Buenos Aires. Later it was developed into a Spanish military air base. Then in 1946, national and international scheduled flights began. Two years later saw the inauguration of a terminal devoted solely to civilian passengers.

The origins of the name Torremolinos

In Spanish, Torre means Tower and Molinos means mills. So there you have it! In the 18th century there were a large number of water mills in the area. As well, there was a watchtower which was built in Arabic times called the Pimental Tower. The tower was built on the coast to look out for pirates and invaders.  The water mills were built in the vicinity of  the watchtower. Therefore, it was the tower of the mills- Torremolinos.  

These days, only one of those mill remains. However, the centuries old tower is still standing. You can see it at the end of the main street, Calle San Miguel, just before the steps which lead down to the beach.

Torre Pimental in Torremolinos, Málaga, Spain

Torre Pimental, a watchtower from Arabic times, in Torremolinos, Málaga, Spain

The first recorded ‘topless’ sunbather in Spain was in Torremolinos

In the summer of 1930, the famous Catalán artist Salvador Dalí and his wife Gala visited Torremolinos. Back then it was a quiet fishing village. So you can imagine the local fisherman’s surprise when they witnessed Gala posing topless for her artist husband on the beach. In fact, she was the first documented topless bather in all of Spain! The image of the topless Gala has been immortalised in a statue on the promenade in Torremolinos.

Statue of Gala, the wife of Salvador Dali, posing topless in Torremolinos, Málaga

Statue of Salvador Dali’s wife, Gala, topless in Torremolinos.

The early years of tourism in Torremolinos

As I mentioned earlier, tourism started to develop during the times of the dictatorship of Franco. The first tourists to arrive en mass were the Swedish. Plane loads of blond-haired, blue-eyed foreigners descended on Torremolinos. Spanish women at that time did not wear bikinis. Whether it was prohibited or whether it was a personal choice is debatable. However, the female tourists did wear bikinis.

Older señoras here in Malaga have told me stories about bus excursions being organised for the local guys to go down to Torremolinos and hang out on the promenade to watch all the scantily-clad foreign ladies on the beach.

We can thank the early tourists to this part of Spain for the name that is given to us foreigners. We are not ‘gringos’ here. They call us ‘guiris’! Apparently, this invented word was what the locals thought they could hear the throngs of tourists saying. And that’s because of everyone walking around saying: Where is? Where is? Where is? Believe me, if you say if fast enough and often enough it will sound like you are saying: guiri, guiri, guiri. And to this day, we are all still guiris.

The Golden Years of tourism in Torremolinos

In its hey-day, Torremolinos was the favourite destination of all kinds of personalities, film stars and  great musicians. Frank Sinatra, Bridgit Bardot, John Lennon,  Ingrid Bergman, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Rainier of Monaco, Sophia Loren, Sean Connery, and Raquel Welch to name a few.

The hotel of choice for the ‘glitterati’ was Hotel Pez Espada. It was a 5-star hotel that opened on Sunday 31 May 1959. For the locals, opening a 5-star hotel in what, at that time, was not much more than a poor fishing-village, seemed preposterous. However, it was a great success. It held many extravagant  events for its illustrious guests. Its walls must know many star-studded stories. The hotel still exists today and has maintained its retro-style even with its modern renovations.

Hotel Pez Espada, where the glitterati stayed in the early days of tourism  in Torremolinos

Hotel Pez Espada, where the glitterati stayed in the early days of tourism in Torremolinos

One famous guest, Brigitte Bardot, famously tried to get her donkey, Romeo, into her hotel room. Frank Sinatra, ‘infamously’ had a very loud argument in the Hotel Pez Espada, was arrested and spent a night in the cells of the police station in Málaga. On  being released he swore he would ‘never visit this damned country again!’

Street art mural of Frank Sinatra in Torremolinos, Málaga

Street art mural of Frank Sinatra in Torremolinos, Málaga

Spanish celebrities in Torremolinos

In the 1970’s, Torremolinos was a favourite spot for Spanish celebrities such as Manolo Escobar, Lola Flores, Carmen Sevilla, the Duchess of Alba, El Fary and Rocío Jurado. They turned the town into a luxury, classy and cool destination with their party-going and antics filling the glossy magazines of the 70’s.  

As you wander around the town of Torremolinos, you can see street art murals that pay homage to its illustrious visitors of the past.

The First Gay & Lesbian Bars in Spain

 As well as being a pioneer in tourism, Torremolinos was a pioneer in openness, opening the first gay bar and lesbian bar in Spain, La Nogalera. The bar was located not far from Pasaje la Begoña. In this small L-shaped street, there were around 50 gay bars and live music venues between 1962 and 1971.

With the tourism boom, the international jet-set and Hollywood celebrities, Torremolinos desired to project a modern image to the world. Torremolinos became an oasis of freedom for the LGTBI community. Even though homosexuality was illegal and punishable by imprisonment at that time, the authorities turned a blind eye for the most part.

Pasaje la Begoña became nationally and internationally famous with celebrities of all sexual orientations hanging out there. John Lennon and the Beatles manager Brian Epstein hung out on some of the terraces there as well as other celebs like Grace Jones and Sara Montiel.

Old image of Pasaje la Begoña in its hey-day

Unfortunately, this age of freedom came to an end on the night of June 24th 1971. The police raided the area. 114 people were arrested and around 20 bars were shut down.

Now, years later, the government of Andalusia has officially declared the Pasaje la Begoña a Place of Historical Memory and Cradle of the Freedoms and Rights of LGTBI people. As well, it has been twinned with the Stonewall Inn in New York, which suffered police raids in 1969. These days, Torremolinos is actively marketed by the local authorities as a gay-friendly town. In 2017, Torremolinos co-hosted World Pride along with Madrid and celebrates its own Pride Festival every June. In fact, it is the third biggest Pride Festival in Spain.

visit la casa de navajas

In the 1920s and ’30s, before the tourism boom, some affluent families chose Torremolinos as a place to have their second home. Therefore, we can still see today some houses and buildings of very interesting archictecture from that era, such as that of the Navajas family.

Casa de Navajas, Torremolinos, Málaga

Casa de Navajas, Torremolinos, Málaga

The archictectural style is neo- mudejar (new arabic style) which was very popular in Andalusia during that time. More like a palace than a house, you can find it not far from the Bajondillo beach (and the main tourist office) in C/ Antonio Navajas Ruiz. Today it is mainly used for weddings and other private events. It is worth the visit to see how the wealthy lived back then and to enjoy the lovely views from the terraces. Entrance is free. Closed on Mondays & Tuesdays. The rest of the week it is open from 10.30 – 14.00h & 18.30 – 22.00h.

Homage to Pablo Picasso in Torremolinos

Did you know that the most famous painter of the 20th century was born in the city of Malaga? And that Malaga is the only city in the world that has TWO Picasso museums. (Just two more reasons to visit!) And as you cycle or walk along the promenade in Torremolinos, you can’t miss the enormous sculpture inspired by Picasso’s painting “Two Women Running on the Beach”. The statue was made by sculptor Salvador Garcia. It is located in the middle of the roundabout of the Plaza de Lido, Torremolinos.

Statue that pays homage to Picasso's painting "Two Women Running On The Beach", Torremolinos, Málaga.

Sculpture that pays homage to Picasso’s painting: Two Women Running On The Beach

cycling to torremolinos

The town of Torremolinos is approximately 13 kms from Malaga City Centre. Of course, we recommend renting a MALAGA BIKE city or trekking bike. Follow our going west bike route which not only takes you along the Mediterranean coast but also through a nature reserve and across the longest wooden bridge in Europe!

The longest wooden bridge in Europe over the River Guadalhorce, Malaga

Once you arrive in Torremolinos, enjoy a cycle along the bike path for a few kilometres. There are plenty of typical beach bars that serve the local famous fish dishes. As well, the first few beach bars are more kind of chill out cocktail bars, often with DJs or live music in summer months. The town of Torremolinos is above the coast. So you can choose to cycle up a bit of a steep hill or lock your bike at the promenade and either walk up the steps or take the elevator. The main street of the town is called Calle San Miguel. The end of the street terminates in a large pedestrianised area full of shops and bars.

If you want to continue along the promenade, you will reach La Carihuela. This is a quaint fisherman’s area where the famous Hotel Pez Espada is located. This area is very popular with the Dutch, so you can find some Dutch restaurants and shops over there.

How to get to Torremolinos by public transport

If you are not up for cycling to Torremolinos, don’t worry, it is very easy to get to by public transport.

By train

Take the C1 line Cercanias train from the Malaga Centro Alameda station, which is just a 5 minute walk from the MALAGA BIKE shop. Trains run every 20 minutes and the trip takes approximately 20 minutes. When you come out of the station in Torremolinos, you will be in the actual town, not far from the main street Calle San Miguel. (Useful tip: you don’t need to buy a train ticket. Simply scan a debit card to enter to the platform and then scan it again to leave).

By bus

Just behind the MALAGA BIKE shop, you can find the sub-bus station on Avda. Manuel Agustín Heredia. Buses run regularly and the journey takes approximately half an hour. Once in Torremolinos, the bus drops you off in the town. If you would like to visit the beach, then you have to walk down the steps at the end of Calle San Miguel or take the elevator.

fiestas in torremolinos

Every town and city in Andalusia celebrates their own fair or ‘feria’. Feria is usually a week-long party involving singing, dancing and drinking in the streets. As well, it is typical to see the locals all dressed up in their traditional clothes and riding horseback around the town. In Torremolinos, they hold a romeria- a parade with gypsy caravans. The feria in Torremolinos is called the San Miguel Fair. It is held late September- early October. However, there are a plethora of other fiestas all throughout the year.

The Romeria during the San Miguel Fair in Torremolinos Photo: Turismo Torremolinos