Retiring in Spain is the dream of many retirees, especially those from countries with cold or rainy winters who seek year-round sun, warmth and beach life.
The two most popular Spanish regions are the Costa Blanca (White Coast) and the Costa del Sol (Sun Coast). The Costa Blanca is a 120 mile stretch along the Mediterranean coast in southeastern Spain.
The Costa del Sol stretches approximately 95 miles along the southern coast of Spain in Andalucia. The Costa Blanca stretches from Denia in the north to Pilar de la Horadada in the south, the largest city being Alicante. It is adjacent to Costa Calida and many other resorts and historic towns like Cartagena.
The Costa del Sol stretches 95 miles along the southern Mediterranean coast and stretches from Sotogrande in the west to Nerja in the east with Malaga as its capital.
The number of retirees who have taken up residence on either coast shows just how desirable these two destinations are. The census recorded 37,000 foreigners on the Costa Blanca and 300,000 on the Costa del Sol. There are many similarities between the two but also differences. I’ve lived for several years on each, most recently in Torrevieja near Alicante and before that in Marbella, and I’ve had plenty of time to familiarize myself with the vibe, expat communities and lifestyle of each. Here’s what you need to know.
Location, size and population
The Costa Blanca is to the southeast, the Costa del Sol to the south, and the distance between Alicante and Malaga is 360 miles more or less in a straight line. The Costa Blanca is slightly larger than the Costa del Sol with a coastline of beaches, coves, the huge lagoon of the Mar Menor and mountains beyond the beaches. The Costa del Sol is slightly shorter, with equally beautiful beaches although a little smaller as they are bordered by mountains, for example the Sierra Bermeja and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
The rugged mountainsides are home to a series of charming whitewashed towns known as the White Villages of Andalucia, seaside resorts and ports like the exclusive Puerto Banus in Marbella or the upscale Sotogrande near Cadiz .
The population on both coasts is a mix of foreigners and Spaniards, including locals born and raised there and those coming from other parts of Spain, some on holiday or owning second homes or retiring there to escape the winter cold in northern Spain. , such as Galicia and the Basque Country. The foreign population comes mainly from the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, but also from the United States, Russia and, more recently, Morocco and other Arab countries.
Both coasts have lively and active expat communities, mostly from the UK.
Alicante on the Costa Blanca has an international airport, although Malaga on the Costa del Sol is larger and serves more airlines.
Public transport on both coasts is good, with some high-speed trains from Malaga to Madrid and Barcelona and more rail links from Alicante to cities like Santander to the north and Bilbao to the south. What is not covered by train or plane is served by coaches, ALSA being the largest bus company.
If you wish to travel by car, there are numerous motorways running north to south and along the coast, the best known being the 110km long Autopista del Sol which connects Malaga to Estepona on the Costa del Sol. It is a toll road like many others.
Local bus connections are much better and more frequent on the Costa del Sol than on the Costa Blanca. To really get around there, it is better to buy or rent a car.
Geography and architecture
The province of Alicante on the Costa Blanca has a very mountainous landscape in the northern and western regions while the south is rather flat with the Segura river flowing through it. The region is separated into the upper marina area with towns such as Calp, Teulada and Xabia and the lower marina area including Benidorm and Altea.
The architecture in cities like Alicante is stunning with wide avenues and art deco buildings. Altea is famous for its roofs covered with blue tiles, its many art galleries and its murals. Benidorm, on the other hand, is the typical resort town with skyscrapers and apartment buildings, just like my current hometown, Torrevieja. All have lovely beach promenades with flowers and palm trees.
The Costa del Sol is also mountainous, but the beaches sometimes stretch to the many beaches and protect them from the wind, giving it a very pleasant climate. Besides the beaches, there are coves, valleys, ports and cliffs, not forgetting the spectacular caves of Nerja. Malaga is a city with many historic buildings and over 30 museums, including the Picasso Museum. The most interesting architecture along the coast are the white villages, the most famous of them being Frigiliana (near Nerja) and Benalmadena.
Typical resorts are Estepona, Torremolinos, Benalmadena Costa and Marbella.
Both coasts are teeming with beaches – which is why they are such popular vacation and retirement destinations. Alicante has a particularly large and wide beach, called Playa de San Juan, located just below the castle of Santa Barbara and Platja de Postquet.
On the Costa del Sol, the beaches of Marbella – with their beach clubs and water activities as well as their lively nightlife – deserve a special mention.
The vibe of a place has a lot to do with the average age of the population. Here is one of the biggest differences between the Costa Blanca and the Costa del Sol: while the average age of residents of Torrevieja, for example, is retirement age, and there are probably no in big difference to the second retirement hotspot, Benidorm, the average age of those in Marbella are between 40 and 45 years old.
This means that the atmosphere on the Costa Blanca is much calmer. You’ll see more people sitting in the sun on benches on the beach and getting around town with some kind of walking aid. They also dress more casually, sit longer in bars while drinking, and certainly don’t go to nightclubs. Marbella, the best-known resort on the Costa del Sol, on the other hand, is much more glamorous and romantic. The town is also known for its nightlife, with many clubs and bars located in Puerto Banus and the so-called Golden Mile, where the most expensive mansions are located.
Torrevieja has a theater and concert hall but very rarely top performers perform. Marbella is a totally different story. Take for example the annual charity event called Starlite or the Red Cross Ball, which are among the many charities active in Marbella. All attendees, of course, dress in their best attire, which they purchase from the many chic boutiques in Marbella and Puerto Banus, including Valentino and Gucci. People are younger and more international on the Costa del Sol, and this is reflected in their more upscale lifestyle.
In Torrevieja, for example, there’s a reasonably posh mall called La Zenia Boulevard, but no Dior or Chanel, and it’s outside the city center, so to get there you either have to take the bus or taxi, or take your car.
It is not only the food, culture and fashion that make the difference, but also the fact that the different nationalities of the Costa del Sol mix much more. As the foreign residents of the Costa Blanca are mainly from the UK, they tend to socialize with each other, which also applies to Russians and Chinese, although expats of both nationalities are notable for their efforts to learn Spanish.
Pro Tip: Spanish stores, with the exception of supermarkets and some pharmacies (also called drugstores), observe siesta closing times (2 p.m. to 5 p.m.), and foreign stores, especially those run by Asian immigrants, do not not open on Sunday.
Cost of life
If money is an important factor when it comes to choosing a coast to retire to, then the Costa Blanca is definitely your coast of choice. A friend of mine rents a two-bedroom apartment there with a shared pool and garden for 350 euros per month.
The Costa del Sol is a more expensive place, even if you avoid the glamor of Marbella. Here is a selection of rentals in Torremolinos that range between $1,000 and $2,000 per month. As always, it depends on your lifestyle, requirements and budget as a whole, but overall the Costa Blanca is less expensive.
Pro Tip: If you’re seriously considering the Costa Blanca, consider this rundown of other equally budget-friendly places to live.
Health care for retirees is also an important factor, but there is no difference between the two coasts. It is advisable to take out private health insurance, as I did, which, with the exception of dental care, covers almost everything. The hospitals here are excellent. The same goes for dentists in Spain, but you have to pay out of pocket.
A word on COVID: Each Autonomous Province in Spain has its own restrictions and regulations, requirements for the Covid Pass etc. so before you move make sure you are fully up to date as these may change from time to time. day to day.
In summary, I have to say that the pros and cons are evenly split between the Costa Del Sol and the Costa Blanca. Both have great weather all year round, interesting towns and fabulous beaches. Personally, I plan to return to the Costa del Sol simply because life on the Costa Blanca is too quiet for me. But if that’s exactly what you’re looking for, you’ll choose the right place.
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