THE ocean defines Mijas Costa in the way the mountains shape Mijas Pueblo.
They are two halves of the same municipality, like a well-matched couple with different hobbies.
While the bijou pueblo appeals to country lovers and culture vultures, the racy oceanfront resort is big on social life and sport. It’s not the only municipality with a split personality.
Mijas is Malaga province’s fourth largest municipality and one of the most profitable destinations on the Costa del Sol, thanks to its beach clubs, golf courses and vibrant nightlife.
It spreads over almost 150km² of the province, encompassing a 12km ribbon of coastal communities: Las Lagunas, La Cala de Mijas, Riviera del Sol, Miraflores and Calahonda.
While its sister pueblo is sometimes shrouded in early morning mist, Mijas Costa takes full advantage of the Costa del Sol’s 300 days of sunshine annually and, like its neighbours, it’s rising againfrom the smouldering ashes of the financial crisis.
Its coastline curves around secluded rocky coves fringed with sandy beaches and it spreads inland, too, to a fertile golf valley that’s a fairway to heaven for visitors.
Its six golf clubs offer a huge range of courses to suit all handicaps and budgets.
Sandwiched between glitzy Marbella and funky Fuengirola, like the satisfying filling in a deli sandwich, no wonder famous Brits like TV presenter Chris Tarrant, Olympic rower Sir Steve Redgrave and soccer star Ryan Giggs have been smitten.
Celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson owns a property in the area and Irish singer Val Doonican (of diamond-patterned jumper fame) has been coming here for nigh on 30 years.
Between the authentic historical charms of the pueblo and all the sporting and leisure facilities of the coastal scene, Mijas refuses to be pinned down into one single identity.
Its string of seaside villages (see map, far right) showcase an array of great restaurants, bars, hotels and beach hideaways, dazzling like charms on a bracelet.
La Cala de Mijas is one of the jewels, known as the Bay of Mulberries until the 1970s after its signature mulberry trees.
Since the boom of the 1960s, it has been transformed from an Andalucian fishing village to a bustling resort with sophisticated places to dine and dance.
But you’ll still see fishermen hauling in their catch and you can enjoy sardines fresh from the sea from Easter.
There is no doubt that La Cala truly comes alive in summer, as the beach and neighbouring restaurants start to hum with people.
But the big mix of Spanish with English, German, Dutch and Scandinavians is quickly apparent.
“We do not want anyone to feel like a foreigner in Mijas, no matter where they come from,” insists local councillor Mario Bravo.
Historically a place of defence, La Cala’s past is hinted at by the fortified watchtower in the centre of the village.
The tower was originally part of a series along the coast that provided an important system of defence duing the 12th century, warning Fuengirola, Benalmadena and Marbella of the presence of pirates and enemy ships.
Now a museum and tourist information centre, the tower’s exhibitions tell the story of General Torrijos – who led a revolt against King Ferdinand VII’s regime in 1831 – the history of other coastal watchtowers, and the traditional fishing customs of the Mijas Costa.
It was only four decades ago that the village consisted of little more than the watchtower and half a dozen fisherman’s cottages.
Even up to the 1970s, almost all transport was by donkey, recalls Pepe Martin, 58, who has lived in La Cala all his life.
“I was actually born in Malaga and my mother got there just in time with an hour donkey ride to Fuengirola, where she took the train,” he explains.
A gardener at Las Buganvillas urbanisation, he explains how back in the late 1950s most of the land in the area was split between two big families, the first a German family called Berne and the other a wealthy Malaga family called Cotrina.
The two families between them owned most of the land up to Fuengirola and inland towards Mijas village.
“They had most of the land carved up between them and employed many local labourers,” he adds.
His family had a little bit of land of its own, where they grew vines to produce raisins.
“My grandfather used to own a lot of vines but they all died when the phylloxera virus hit. But we grew other things as well and shared farming equipment with other families in the area.
“It was beautiful back then, the land was so unspoilt and the fields were full of life. We had an incredible time growing up here.
“If you had a little bit of land you could live very well, but if you lived in the town of Fuengirola with no land say, you would be pretty poor,” he explains.
Many expat Brits have now settled in the area so language is no longer a barrier, indeed many of the attractions and local businesses are run by foreigners, so you’ll feel quite at home.
With Malaga airport just 25 minutes drive away, Mijas Costa is spruced up for summer and perfectly poised to share in the profits from this year’s predicted tourism bonanza.