Bars and nightlife in the alternative Costa del Sol

The first thing to strike visitors when drinking in Spanish bars is usually the price as alcohol is so much cheaper here than in the UK. A glass of draught beer (una caña) or wine (una copa de vino) starts at €1.00 (about 85p) in the less touristy areas such as Vélez-Málaga but expect to pay between €1.50 and €2.00 for the same drink in resorts such as Nerja. Even the more expensive drinks such as gin and tonic or bacardi and coke offer fantastic value when you take into account the enormous size of the Spanish spirit measure.

Tapas Bars

Spanish bar culture has a lot more to offer than low prices. Take tapas for example, a tradition which originated here in Andalucia, tapa literally means lid or top in Spanish and they started as just that - a slice of bread or a saucer placed over the glass of wine to keep the flies off it. Some enterprising barmen found that if they put a couple of slices of spicy sausage or a few salty olives on the bread they sold more drinks and so the tradition developed.

Today a typical tapa is a small saucer of any one of a countless variety of foods along with a slice of bread or a couple of breadsticks. Although the more traditional bars still include them in the price of a drink, many bars, especially in the resorts, now charge about €1 per tapa. Every bar has its own specialities and the local custom is to wander from bar to bar sampling the best on offer in each. The best tactic for choosing is to simply go and look into the chilled cabinet on top of the bar and point out whatever you fancy, as not many bars actually provide a card or menu.

These are a few of the more common tapas available and make a good starting point:

Jamon serrano is the salt-cured, air-dried mountain ham similar to Parma ham.

Chorizo is a Spanish salami flavoured with paprika.

Aceitunas are olives.

Ensalada Rusa is potato salad with vegetables such as peppers, peas, sweetcorn and sometimes tuna mixed in.

Salpicón is a seafood salad in a tangy vinaigrette.

Boquerones en Vinagre are fresh anhovies marinated in vinegar and garlic.

Albóndigas are meatballs usually in a tomato sauce.

Pinchos are small spicy pork kebabs.

Tortilla de patatas is Spanish potato omelette.

Tapas Bar Recommendations:

La Pulgilla in c/Bolivia in Nerja's old town is a very typical Spanish bar specialising in fish and seafood where a tapa of whatever has just been cooked is thrown in with each drink.

Pepe's Bar on the Paseo Maritimo in Torrox Costa has a good selection of tapas for €1 each. Be sure to have a slice of tortilla here - it's fab!

Las Tablas in c/Levante, just off Paseo Larios in Torre del Mar only opened recently and offers a more modern take on the tradition. Each time you order a drink the waiter will bring you a different tapa usually presented like a canapé on a slice of bread.

Nightlife

Another big difference between drinking here and in Britain are the licensing laws. There are no set opening hours here and most bars tend to stay open whilst the customers are still drinking, lending a more relaxed air to an evening out. If you want some real nightlife though you need to head for Nerja or Torre del Mar which both have an area dedicated to late night music bars and discos. This idea seems to have advantages for all - if you're interested in playing the drinking equivalent of 'party poker' among the bars you can wander around the compact area choosing the establishment that most appeals, moving on when you feel like it, and for residents and holidaymakers who don't like loud music and late hours the areas are small enough to be easily avoided.

Nerja's nightlife area is Plaza Tutti Frutti and Torre del Mar's is centred around a small section of the Paseo Maritimo adjacent to the eastern side of Paseo Larios. The bars in both these areas get going at about midnight and stay open until about 5am, and are extremely popular with the local young people especially on Friday and Saturday nights.