GR 249. Stage 30. Estepona - Marbella
Coastal cliffs and narrow pebble beaches
Arroyo de la Cala has been a regular companion of the Great Path during the previous stage and now serves as the mark for the starting point. You will have walked less than 500 metres from the beach promenade when the walk takes you to and area of sand and cliffs.
Your proximity to Estepona makes it possible to try to predict how the waves and tides are affecting this potentially problematic spot which can be slightly diffi cult to walk through at times. The escarpment which confi nes this tiny pebbled beach is made of clay and it is fairly high. Additionally, the narrow strip you can walk along is getting narrower with time. Under normal circumstances, there should be no problems to pass through. However, it is up to you to retrace your steps and look for a pavement which leads along the top of the cliff, through a garden, if the situation so requires. Also beware of the compacted greenish clay at the beach, which is extremely slippery when splashed by the waves.
Having crossed Punta de los Mármoles you arrive at a small beach, Bahía de la Plata, where there is the mouth of a stream, and which is bordered by earthen cliffs and it marks the beginning of another narrow area. This time caused by houses, which are literally in the sea in some cases. La Playa de Punta Plata is not a great quality beach because of its size and tendency to be covered with pebbles, but it is a great place to watch Turnstones, Sandpipers, Dunlins and other waders next to flocks of gulls relaxing or preening in the fresh waters of the deltas.
As a curiosity, it is very easy to detect where the waste pipelines run underground, as in some places the ditch has opened above the compacted clays which appear in the terrain and then has been filled in with rocks and sand forming a channel visible between the elevated inspection covers.
The mouths of Bermeja’s rivers and the beacon towers
And so you arrive at km 3, to an area of much wider beaches, a fact due to, amongst other things, the large number of rivers fl owing here into the sea.
The first river is the Padrón or Paredón, characteristic because of its clumps of cane and reed beds. If there is an area which is exemplary of the coast and its contrasts, this would be it. Right next to a luxurious hotel, in whose gardens the fi rst watch tower is situated, you can also find one of the Estepona-style traditional gardens at the foot of the beach, protected from sea breeze by cane fences and native vegetation. The first plant specimens adapted to dune environments start appearing, marked with a sign explaining their importance to the European community. The sign shows the name “malcomietalia” which refers to Sand Stock (Malcolmia littorea), one of the most conspicuous and colourful species.
Next, Río del Castor makes its appearance, very similar to its predecessor. It lends its name to another cape, Punta del Castor. Then there is the Río Velerín (km 5.2), with somewhat more diverse vegetation but shallower pools and less water volume. In its vicinity, on top of a hill, there is Torre del Velerín. It is slightly less well preserved than the Padrón Tower but it is much more accessible and located next to a small pine wood. Construction materials can be easily identified: very uneven stone blocks came from areas where rivers passed over them, and these blocks have been held together with mortar made of sand and lime. Ceramic brick has been used for the finishes (this is the reason why the vault and arches of the windows-doors are still surviving) and, sometimes, cut sandstone blocks used above all to support the machicolations. The latter have not been preserved. The towers were plastered and some of them still show traces of mortar on the north sides. Period foundations and the wall base are also visible, surrounding living quarters next to the tower. Other towers of similar structure tend to be, just as this one, Christian in origin dating back to the beginning of the16th Century.
When you pass the Arroyo de las Cañas (km 6.5) you arrive at Punta del Guadalmansa, past a very pronounced turn, and it is where you should look for a watch tower which stands out from the usual tronconical shaped models. La Torre del Guadalmansa (or Desmochada) is large, with two fl oors contained by its 14 metre high square construction, and of much earlier origin. It was built in the 10th century, during the Al Andalus period, however quite possibly an older site was used for the construction, as suggested by a Roman site at its foot, located inside a landscaped area of a housing estate. What is striking about the Torre de Guadalmansa is its dimension, the sandstone blocks used on its corners and arches, and a couple of sgraffi to motifs, one of them depicting an encircled Jerusalem cross.
The Beach and Dunes of El Saladillo
The mouth of the Guadalmansa river is close now, and this is the fi rst really large one. The end pool of the river is many hundreds of metres long and very wide. The large water surface makes it a comfortable place to watch waterfowl, which find refuge between the two strips of riparian vegetation with reeds, cane, tamarisks and a dense carpeting of bulrush on the right river bank.
The best place to marvel at the fl ora and fauna of the dune systems of the Costa del Sol starts right here. In order to do this, walk away from the sand affected by tidal waves and walk towards the promontories direction north. The remnants of long-gone vegetation thrive here. Also, along the fi rst section there are, here and there, poppies, sea daffodils, sea holly and beachgrass. Having covered 9 kilometres, at La Punta del Saladillo, you can find abundant Ononis ramosissima and the fragrant, everlasting Helychrysum stoechas on top of the dunes. There are also the erect flower stems of Great mullein and some Samphire plants.
Along this whole section it is worthwhile searching for the long list of species connected to the sandy environment which reaches up to a few metres towards the sea. It would be unusual not to fi nd some of the plants fl owering during any season of the year, even in most unfavourable times such as mid August; this is when the Sea Daffodil is in fl ower.
The Arroyo Taraje is a little further and it is quite interesting, given its location: surrounded by dunes and on the way to the Torre del Saladillo, which is similar to previous towers but situated at a tarmac roundabout.
At the Arroyo del Saladillo, very similar in its vegetation composition to the previous stream, there is the residual water pumping station (Estación de Bombeo de Aguas Residuales) and another one a little further, at the mouth of Arroyo de Dos Hermanas; this stream also harbours a few good specimens of White poplar.
A little further still, passing by a few Stone pines with their quaint shapes caused by battling the wind, there is another dune system, Matas Verdes or Casasola. It is separated from the previous system, located amongst coastal woods of Estepona, by a row of wooden stakes which block access to a low pine wood with a few maturing Cork oaks. In the clearings the dense scrub prospers: Lentisc, Dwarf palm, Phoenician juniper, Buckthorn, Rhamnus and Spiny broom. The fauna, though elusive, tends to leave traces revealing their whereabouts such as rabbit latrines, wasp tunnels in the ground or prints left by beetles on the sand.
A sign informs the walker that the sea bed contains the second population of Neptune grass (posidonia oceanica) during this stage, and this site is also protected as a European Community interest site (LIC). La Torre de Baños (or de Casasola) is your next landmark. Inaccessible due to being surrounded by a fence, this tower is two fl oors and 15 metres high and though it is of Muslim origin (15th century) it had to be strengthened two centuries later using a tronconical fortification as the tower was very slim. This is the only tower with one of the floors shaped like a horseshoe, as its north wall is completely fl at. This watchtower marks the entrance of a river and the beginning of Marbella district at Guadalmina, having passed another pumping station.
The beach promenades of San Pedro and Marbella
An unusually located hotel golf course whose grass almost touches the sand of the beach leads to Torre de las Bóvedas. Exceptionally well preserved but very similar to the previous ones with its tronconical shape, this tower is in the middle of a first-rate and well taken care of archaeological complex. The Roman Baths (Las Termas Romanas de las Bóvedas) are just on the side of the tower, however there is a fence surrounding them and you cannot enter unless you book a tour.
The thermae building dates back to the beginning of the past millennium and is structured around an octagonal central patio, surrounded by seven, also octagonal shaped rooms, the famous bathing chambers. The whole building used to be covered with pink marble sheets, and even now, with the bare walls, its state of conservation is still surprising.
Surprises at km 17 around the Arroyo del Chopo stream mouth do not end here. Next, a group of fi shing boats and traditional boat winches resting on high ground indicate the spot where you can fi nd a sort of small community of fi shermen under a few Eucalyptus trees. At the back fi nd the early Christian church Basílica Paleocristiana de Vega del Mar, also surrounded by a fence but you can get close enough to admire its main features. One of its most recognizable characteristics is a baptismal font shaped like a fish and made of mortar.
You will cross the Río Guadaiza when you already are in the middle of Paseo Marítimo of San Pedro de Alcántara, which turns into Marbella promenade and continues to the end. One of the aspects which liven up the walk along the beach promenades is their variable design. The surface can be tiled or paved, of natural stone, clay or wood. Sometimes there is a railings of different shapes jetties in some places and rock breakwaters in others.
In all of the cases the landscaped areas are a thing in common, showing a different variety of styles. Meanwhile, the housing estates are placed at varied distances from the beach but there is always a margin wide enough to walk along the path or stroll peacefully along the successive beaches.
And so the breakwaters and coves of the Playa de Nueva Andalucía give way to the cape of Punta del Duque with its famous Puerto Banús. Just before that, in private gardens, you can locate the square Muslim tower Torre del Duque. It owes its name to the Duke of Cádiz and Arcos, named Don Rodrigo Ponce de León, one of the protectors of the so-called Christian rulers (Reyes Católicos) during the conquest of Al Andalus.
If there is an image that ought to stay in the mind of the GR-249 walker, summing up the actual Costa del Sol, it would be the contrast between the valuable heritage of the section of free coastline you have just left behind and Puerto José Banús, with its exclusive shops, flashy cars and luxurious boats. At km 21.5 of the itinerary, it is worthwhile stopping and marvelling at the pleasure boats, sometimes quite outrageously lavish in size and appearance, and gaze at the large Flathead mullets swimming meekly in the oily waters.
The mouth of the river Río Verde is quite wide, similar to the ones of Guadalmansa and Guadalmina, it has quite an extensive water surface and it is quite deep. It is told apart from the others by the fact that it has a lofty bridge made of metal and wood.
Here ducks are quite easy to see, both wild and domestic, very used to the constant traffi c of passers-by who are either strolling or exercising. Just after you cross the bridge, search through the villas on the left bank for a plot which is not too far from the beach; this is where the Villa Romana de Río Verde is situated, a very signifi cant archeological site. There is a fence stopping people from getting in but you can still see some of the mosaics with animal motifs and scenes and characters from classical mythology.
The last watchtower of today is somewhat diffi cult to fi nd because it is higher up from the beach than the others, at the Punta de Nabules. It is the Torre de Ancón, its dimensions and structure already familiar to the Gran Senda de Málaga; it is situated at km 24. The vantage point which has been used as the base for the tower shows the fact that now the coast becomes rocky again, although flat at the same time, which creates a good building platform compared to other terrains which may be prone to erosion. Thelastsection consists of walking along the large part of the Paseo Maritimo with its outdoors gym equipment.
Pass by the Arroyo de Nagü eles, the pretty pine grove at the Playa de Casablanca beach and on your right and fi nish the itinerary at the mouth of Arroyo Guadalpín, your walking companion which awaits you at the next stage.
1. Initiation Stage :
Access Starting point: The Mediterráneo motorway A-7 and the AP-7 Autopista de Peaje (toll motorway). The long coastal
Avenida de Litoral that leads to Estepona follows the route of the old N 340, which is the eastern access to the city, and this is the road that leads to the starting point.
Starting point: seafront promenade in Estepona, at the east end of the beach of la Cala, just above the little wooden bridge
built over the Arroyo de la Cala.
Enjoy the walk safely: In the fi rst section, just as you start walking along the beach, the path leads along a clay cliff. There is a potentially problematic point at the end of the cliff as water can rise right up to its edge during high tide.
It´s worth looking up the tide time-table and in case of the sea rising, take the paved path just above the escarpment instead. Also, the compacted clay terrain can be very slippery when wet, take care not to slip and fall. There are other sections where the stretch of sand you´re walking on is reduced to the minimum and becomes very narrow but this should not cause any serious problems. Another issue is your having to cross various rivers, especially the Guadalmansa and the Guadalmina. As there aren´t any pedestrian bridges, you must look for a road bridge in case the water levels are high, and these bridges are quite far from the coast.
As far as the rest of the rivers are concerned, and you cross them fi rst, fording them is less complicated and there are road bridges close by. Be careful with the sun, you will be walking either into the sun or having it right behind you,
considering the direction of the path. It is highly recommended that you use sun block cream and wear a hat.
2. Completion of Stage:
Access to finish point: The A-7 and AP-7. The main Avenida of Marbella is the perfect link; use as a reference the roundabout Boulevar Príncipe Alfonso de Hohenlohe.
Finish point: At the promenade (Paseo Marítimo) of Marbella and the mouth of the Arroyo Guadalpin, close to the Palacio de Congresos in the centre of the city.
3. Alternatives :
Possible "escape routes": The Autovía del Mediterráneo or the old N-340 are always located towards the interior, to the north, and not too far away. There are numerous streets that lead to these two main roads which have bus lines running in both directions.
No return point: the Guadalmina can be taken as the halfway point of the route, and therefore from there on it´s best to continue ahead.
Connections to other footpaths and trails: There isn´t a PR Pequeño Recorrido path which would join GR-249 directly, but there is the GR-92, with which GR-249 shares the path and direction.Los Paseos Marítimos of Estepona and Marbella, the pedestrian promenades meant for leisure walking are ideal places to walk on when they coincide with the path but it is perfectly feasable to complete almost the entire itinerary walking on the sand along the beach.