Socialite and shockingly bad driver Rose Macaulay 'discovered' the 'little playa of Torremolinos'...
Novelist, 1920s It girl and dreadful driver, Rose Macaulay (1881-1958)
Since Rose Macaulay visit Spain's south coast in 1948, millions of us have thudded onto the tarmac of Malaga’s vast airport, and places like Marbella and Torremolinos are now familiar to the point of contempt. But when Macaulay wrote about them, she was introducing the undiscovered and the exotic. This is how she described Torremolinos:
“The mountains had withdrawn a little from the sea; the road ran a mile inland; the sunset burned on my right, over vines and canes and olive gardens. I came into Torremolinos, a pretty country place, with the little Santa Clara hotel, white and tiled and rambling, with square arches and trellises and a white-walled garden dropping down by stages to the sea. One could bathe either from the beach below, or from the garden, where a steep, cobbled path twisted down the rocks to a little terrace, from which one dropped down into 10 feet of green water heaving gently against a rocky wall.
“A round full moon rose corn-coloured behind a fringe of palms. Swimming out to sea, I saw the whole of the bay, and the Malaga lights twinkling in the middle of it, as if the wedge of cheese were being devoured by a thousand fireflies. Behind the bay, the dark mountains reared, with here and there a light. It was an exquisite bathe.
Scenes from 1950s Torremolinos
“I got up early next morning and went down to the garden path again to bathe. There were blue shadows on the white garden walls, and cactuses and aloes above them, and golden cucumbers and pumpkins and palms. I dropped into the green water and swam out; Malaga across the bay was golden pale like a pearl; the little playa of Torremolinos had fishing boats and nets on it, and tiny lapping waves.”
BORN IN 1881, Macaulay was instilled with a sense of adventure from the age of six, when her family moved to a small village in Italy. Returning to England, she graduated from Oxford and set herself up in London, where she achieved great acclaim as an author, writing 23 novels. She became something of a 1920s It girl, fraternising with Rupert Brooke, EM Forster, Christopher Isherwood and WH Auden.
She also had a passion for speed and, despite being an appalling driver, managed to survive a spin across the USA in 1929, a wartime stint as a London ambulance driver and, in 1948, the tour described above. Fabled Shore was her only factual travel book, but rarely has one account had such a profound effect on the development of a region. Macaulay missed the package boom, though — she died in 1958.
Reading the Fabled Shore on the beach at Torremolinos today is an unusual experience, so scarred by development is the landscape, but take an evening swim and squint, and Malaga still looks as though a “wedge of cheese were being devoured by a thousand fireflies”.
Torremolinos was an 80s byword for overdevelopment and overcrowding, but today is popular with Spanish holiday makers
Visiting today: the resort town had its heyday in the 50s and 60s, when - hard to imagine I know - stars like Marlon Brando, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren and Orson Wells would rush to be seen there.
But then the resort built too many hotels too fast and became notorious for being the very worst of the Costa Del Sol - think Kiss me Quick hats, oversized Whicker Donkeys and Watney's Red Barrel.
Today the town has jettisoned the worst of its image and has a more Spanish feel again. A few more discerning restaurants and bars have opened, and of course there are still lovely spots along the coast and just inland, and places such as Marbella have worked hard to resurrect themselves as more upmarket resorts.
One more thing...Frank Sinatra become embroiled in a nasty little incident in 1964. He was filming Von Ryan's Express in the area, and dropped into the then hip bar of the resort's first luxury hotel - the 1959 built Pez Espada Hotel. He was involved in a brawl with a Spanish tabloid journalist/photographer and his bodyguards, over a a Cuban 'singer' who had likely been planted by the journalist to get a story. He was arrested and subsequently fined fined of 25,000 Pesetas, which only added to his bad boy image.
The hotel is still there, and its bar is now called 'Frankies Bar', with Sinatra themed cocktails and a wall of his framed album covers. See Hotel Pez Espada
Getting there: Torremolinos is just eight kilometres southwest from Malaga's Costa del Sol Airport, which is Spain's fourth busiest and handled nearly 17 million passengers in 2016. You can fly to Malaga year round from across Europe, with even more destinations served over the summer months. Airlines include Aer Lingus, British Airways, Easyjet, Finnair, Flybe, Iberia, Jet2, Lufthansa, Monarch, Niki, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Ryanair, SAS, Thomson Airways, and Vueling.
Further information: see Visit Costa del Sol
What to read: alas Fabled Shore is out now of print, but you can easily find the marvellous Towers of Trebizond (Flamingo £8.99) for a flavour of Macaulay’s lively and eccentric style. It begins thus: “‘Take my camel, dear," said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.”