The Costa Del Sol boasts some of the best beaches in Europe, many flying the European Blue Flag, which means they have showers, nearby restaurants and toilet facilities, sometimes lifeguards too, and are clean and safe for families. Many have sunbed/sunbrella concessions and water sports (think jet skis, banana boats, pedalos and para gliding).

You can also find secluded coves where you can simply lay your beach towel on the sand and enjoy the solitude. Some beaches involve a drive through urbanisations, such as La Cala (great for families) and the 1,900 metre beach at Alicate Playa, Elviria, reached by the El Rosario exit of the N340, a stretch that features some of the finest sand on the coast.

Urban beaches offer greater access to restaurants and attractions, such as those in Fuengirola, Marbella, San Pedro and Estepona. Beaches close to marinas are also a safe bet if you like action, such as Plaza Beach, Puerto Banús and the sands next to Sotogrande Marina, bordering a nature reserve. There are three local nudist beaches too, popular with free spirits and the gay community: Dunas de Artola, west of Cabopino Port; Banalnatura, below the clifftop near the Hotel Torrequebrada (mind the steep steps); and the newly-designated beach at El Chaparral, west of Fuengirola, where textilists (clothes-wearers) are also welcome.

The Costa del Sol has a wealth of yacht marinas and from here you can charter ferries, glass bottom boats or even trips to go big game fishing. However, they have also been designed for landlubbers, with a glitzy nightlife, swanky waterfront restaurants and shops.

The jet set marina of Puerto Banús is THE place for celebrity spotting, with its line-up of ocean-megayachts, parades of exotic cars and waterfront shopping for Versace gowns and Hermès handbags. Neighbouring Marbella’s Puerto Deportivo hosts many top sailing regattas and is right on the seafront promenade, a pleasant stroll from town – or the Fly Blue ‘taxi’ catamaran offers regular shuttles between here and Banús.

Also in the top port category is Benalmádena’s swish Puerto Marina, a swinging haunt after dark with its al fresco disco pubs and artificial islands sporting stylish minaret-topped apartments with yacht moorings outside.

Sotogrande is a chic boutique port with a cobbled waterfront surrounded by polychrome-painted shops and apartments, a commercial centre and a great Sunday market. Also small but perfectly formed is pretty Cabopino Port, with its pine forest backdrop and sand dune-fringed beach.

More sizeable ports include Estepona, which has a huge choice of restaurants and a popular Sunday market. You’ll have more chance of parking at La Duquesa, 10 minutes drive from Estepona but still with plenty of drinking and dining choice.

Fuengirola probably wins the award for ugliest port but there’s a lot going on. Don’t miss the regular daily ferry between here and Benalmádena’s marina.

Málaga is the grandaddy of all marinas, the oldest continuously-operated harbour in Spain, port-of-call for some 220 transatlantic liners annually and which is being remodelled to offer berthing for the world’s largest cruise ships, a new passenger terminal and leisure attractions.

WORDS BY Belinda Beckett