We take our children on a whistlestop tour of Malaga before heading for relaxation in Estepona.
It’s one of family travel’s trickiest conundrums.
How do you please mum and dad as well as the tiny travellers?
How to balance a need for sandcastles with a desire to trek around real castles?
The answer may well lie in two less familiar parts of that very familiar destination – the Costa del Sol.
We mixed a city break in Malaga with child-friendly sun and swimming in Estepona – and everyone was happy.
We flew with Norwegian from Manchester Airport.
There was good legroom, discounts on child tickets and free WiFi on board with entertainment and children’s programmes to watch on your own tablets and phones.
It’s clear why the company has often won Europe’s best low-cost airline.
Our first stop – the city of Malaga – is often overlooked as just an airport.
But this is a child-friendly city – ours loved walking around the 1,000-year-old fortress palace Alcazaba and tasting tapas in Plaza de la Merced.
There are gorgeous gardens, playgrounds a plenty plus a modern, renovated port area.
There are beaches too. On Playa San Andres you can get a well-priced paella and a dip in the sea – 10 minutes’ walk from our hotel.
The Barceló Málaga, next to the train station, is one of the most modern hotels around. Our suite was straight out of a designer’s dream and bath time will never be the same again for our children after enjoying the jacuzzi in the bathroom.
The room at Barceló Málaga hotel
They liked the slide almost as much. Not outside the hotel – this one is inside – taking guests from their tasty breakfast on the first floor down to reception to explore the city.
Using the slide to get to reception
After two days, it was time to head 50 miles south for part two.
A good tip if you need car seats – there’s a company called Tots Store which provides proper modern seats and meets you in arrivals at Malaga Airport to get you kitted out.
Safely strapped in we head down the motorway.
Next stop, relaxation, as we check into the Kempinski Hotel Bahía on the outskirts of Estepona.
The town itself is more traditionally Spanish than the likes of Marbella and Torremolinos. Think packed plazas and tasty tapas at every turn.
The Kempinski is the area’s premier hotel – and you can see why.
A swimming pool at Kempinski Hotel Bahía in Estepona
It’s worth a stay here for the pool alone. Or should I say pools, there are four after all.
The main children’s one is perfect for small swimmers, winding its way under bridges and past trees so you can create your own adventures.
The beach in front of the hotel is not the most beautiful but has enough sand to bury a dad up to his knees, enough stones to keep a two-year-old happy and the gentle waves of the Mediterranean inviting everyone in for a swim with views of Gibraltar on a clear day.
The beach in front of the hotel
The hotel has four restaurants, a spa, gym and indoor pool. Rooms are spacious and luxurious with beautiful views.
Dining at Kempinski Hotel Bahía
It’s an upmarket hotel but caters for children well with a kids’ corner at the breakfast buffet, mini dressing gowns and an ice cream bar along with a children’s club at peak times.
The last night
After five days, two hotels, one city and one town, our last night was the same as our first.
The four of us sharing a paella at a beachfront restaurant.
Even on a twin-stop balanced break there are some things equally popular with all of us.
*For our more detailed review of the Kempinski Hotel Bahía, click here.
*For a more detailed review on the Barcelo Malago hotel, click here.
*You may also like this article about why Malaga makes a great city for a family beach holiday.
Accommodation: We stayed as guests at Barceló Málaga hotel and Kempinski Hotel Bahía in Estepona for the purpose of this review. All opinions are our own.
Travel: Norwegian Air – fares from £29.90 – we received a discount for the purpose of this review.
Malaga is well worth a family break with its parks, port, beaches and castles
Malaga is a very green city and its main park, called the Parque de Malaga, is an oblong oasis of huge trees, curving paths and children’s playgrounds.
It is situated between the port and the city and on a hot day is an ideal place to grab a bit of shade.
A view of the port and park area of Malaga
The new port
This recently-developed area has wide, open walkways and plenty of shops and restaurants.
There is a huge underground car park and a small version of Paris’ Pompidou Centre for modern art.
We ate a meal here at one of the small outside stalls and it was a great spot to people watch.
Malaga’s most famous historical site is child-friendly.
The Alcazaba is child-friendly but watch little ones on the raised wall areas
There aren’t too many steps but you have to be careful when walking along some of the walls. This Moorish palace has great views of the sea and the city.
There is no shortage of restaurants on squares to indulge in tapas. Our children liked the variety of the options and the Spanish cheeses.
Plaza de la Merced is one of the best squares with plenty of places to choose from.
Top tip: When in Spain with children, it is better to eat your main meal out at lunchtime as the Spanish eat their evening meal very late. Try to eat early evening and the best restaurants will be closed or very quiet.
Malaga’s beaches aren’t pure white sand but they are plenty good enough for an afternoon’s entertainment.
One of the many beaches in and around Malaga
The man-made Playa de la Malagueta is nearest the city centre and has a playground.
We also liked Playa San Andres near our hotel and the quieter Playa de la Caleta.
We visited at the end of October and found the temperature of the sand and sea to be perfect.
Often overlooked as an industrial gateway to the Costa Del Sol, Malaga is actually very child-friendly. Well worth a couple of days.
Near a beach, with modern rooms, we explain why the Barcelo Malaga hotel on the Costa Del Sol is a good family choice
It has a slide
Not just any old slide in a playground, this one is inside the hotel and takes you from the first floor breakfast room down to the lobby.
Our children were beyond excited by this wacky feature and loved whizzing down after breakfast.
Our family room was split in two divided by a door you could pull shut.
The ultra-modern room complete with jacuzzi bath
There was one double bed and a sofa bed with plenty of space around both.
The bathroom was massive with a jacuzzi bath which the children loved using, they spent hours enjoying the noise and bubbles.
There is also a double shower. The decor is ultra-modern with funky wallpaper and moody lighting, there’s even an okay view of the hills beyond Malaga from the huge window.
Cava was available but so too was plenty of fresh fruit, continental and cooked options.
The pastries were fresh, the service good and there was lots of choice. The room where breakfast is served is on the first floor next to the slide – it is fairly bland but spacious.
It is right next to one of Malaga’s main stations, the Maria Zambrano station.
That makes it straightforward if you are catching the train from the airport.
It is a fair walk into the heart of the city but just 10 minutes to the nearest beach, Playa de San Andres, which has a couple of good chiringuitos or beach restaurants and a playground.
The nearest beach is about a 10 minute walk away
Eating and drinking
There is a nice, small bar with some cool booth-style seating next to the lobby, there are also some seats outside but it is not a view to write home about.
You can eat and drink in the funky lobby bar area
The El Anden restaurant serves local food all day long. There is a terrace bar in high season but that was not open when we visited.
Smart, sleek and well-positioned. The Barcelo Malaga hotel has enough wacky touches to be a hit with children and adults.
*For a full review of our holiday, click here.
(We stayed as guests of the hotel for this review. For more information and rates visit Barcelo Malaga).