Mijas is a municipality that has two main parts. First you’ve got the old village, a charming knot of shining white buildings in an epic landscape a few hundred metres above sea level, but just a short ride down to the beaches of Fuengirola.
It was a Moorish town, huddled around a castle of which a few small fragments and the original street plan remain.
Then there’s Mijas Costa, which is actually some way south, on the coast between Fuengirola and Marbella.
This area has all hallmarks of a modern Mediterranean getaway, with acres of golf courses, yet more sandy beaches and upscale holiday communities with modern homes.
1. Mijas Pueblo
The oldest part of Mijas is set high away from the coast and on a mountainside where the whitewashed old houses stand out brightly against the evergreen trees and bare rock.
It’s a rural Andalusian village in every sense, except for the large community of expats: The streets, following their Moorish plan, are laid with cobblestones, the upper floors of homes have wrought-iron balconies, and hanging flowerpots bring vivid colour to the white walls.
There are a few superb vantage points for photos of the Sierra de Mijas cradling the village: You can clamber up a section of the old walls, or the terracing at the Plaza de Toros where the vistas are sublime.
2. La Cala
Some way south of the mountain village, La Cala de Mijas is one of the coastal parts of Mijas.
Before tourism arrived it was also a traditional settlement, and even though it is now a bit more developed, the place still has a charming atmosphere.
The beach holds the prestigious Blue Flag for its amenities and hygiene, with a long drag of soft sand washed by moderate waves.
The boardwalk behind it is quite new and traces the beachfront for miles, boasting family-run shops, cafes and chiringuitos (typical Spanish beach bars). On summer nights there are concerts next to the 16th-century Torre Vieja watchtower, and the El Baratillo street market is held in La Cala on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
3. Museo Histórico – Etnológico
MIjas’ Pueblo’s history and ethnology museum has a quaint home in the village’s old town hall.
As you enter you’ll notice the two plaster sculptures of Hercules on either side of the doorway appearing to hold the building up; this is supposed to symbolise the responsibility of the Mijas’s old municipal representatives! The museum has lots of exhibits that bring centuries-old industries and trades to life, so you’ll see the tools and methods involved in carpentry, basket-weaving, wine-making, tillage, baking, oil-pressing and fishing, as well as what the interiors of rural homes looked like.
4. Museo de Miniaturas
This museum contains the miniature collections of the eccentric stage hypnotist and magician, Juan Elegido Millán, known as Professor Max.
He died in 1975, and during his career he travelled the world and picked up hundreds of tiny curiosities, which are now on show.
The original museum was actually inside Professor Max’s own wagon, but this was replaced by the current mock version in 1992. One of the strangest things inside is a real shrunken head, which was the work of the Shuar people in Ecuador and Peru.
There’s also a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on a pinhead, and the Seven Wonders of the World painted on a toothpick.
5. Castillo de Colomares
When the doctor Esteban Martín y Martín was disappointed by the absence of monuments to the 15th-century explorer Christopher Columbus he decided to do something about it, and this fairytale castle is the outcome.
It was designed by the doctor himself in the mid-80s and as unbelievable as it might sound, it was constructed by just two local bricklayers over the next seven years.
Architecturally it’s a romantic expression of all the styles that Spain is famous for, so there are overtones of romanesque, gothic, mudéjar (Moorish-style) as well as the renaissance.
A tongue-in-cheek feature here is the oriental pagoda, as a reminder that Columbus had been searching for a route to China when he landed at the New World.
6. Ermita de la Virgen de la Peña
Carved into the rock next to the Mirador de El Compás, this little hermitage dates to the mid-16th century.
The story goes that the carving of the virgin inside dates to before the Moors arrived and lay hidden for hundreds of years to prevent them finding it.
The representation had been completely forgotten about until the 1500s, after Mijas was re-conquered by the Crown of Castile.
A dove is said to have led two brothers to the castle tower where they rediscovered the carving.
Whether you believe that story, the grotto is lovely and worth pausing at for a few minutes.
7. Los Boliches
If you’re staying in Mijas Pueblo then the closest beach will be Los Boliches-Gaviotas, around ten minutes down the slope by car and part of Fuengirola.
This one also has the Blue Flag and is full of the things people want from a Costa del Sol beach.
The sand is spotlessly clean and has rows upon rows of sun loungers next to palm sunshades, and you can make your way around via small boardwalks.
The surf is moderate, but on rare days it might be a bit too choppy for little ones.
The Paseo Marítimo Rey de España to the side is a broad walkway with beach bars every few strides and a long line of apartment blocks across the road.
8. Water Activities
Fuengirola also has a large marina where several of water sports companies have their offices.
thrill-seekers can try some high-speed motorised fun, such as wake-boarding, tubing, waterskiing, or parasailing high above the water.
There’s also a jet boat, for a white-knuckle ride hitting speeds of 55 mph and making 360° spins.
If your idea of a water-based activities is a bit more serene, then most of the firms here also provide cruises, including dolphin-spotting trips.
Yacht charters are also on offer, and you can spend half a day or more on a crewed ship going wherever you please!
9. Bioparc Fuengirola
On the Costa del Sol, zoos with cramped cages and sad-looking animals are a thing of the past.
This is the replacement, and it’s altogether more ethical.
Bioparc Fuengirola has some 200 animal species across four different zones: Equatorial Africa, Indo-Pacific, Madagascar and Southeast Asia, all in large enclosures that synthesise the original habitats as closely as possible.
Kids will love being able to see pygmy hippos, orangutans, Sumatran Tigers, meerkats, gibbons and gorillas as if in the wild.
In summer the park is even open until 01:00; great if you want to see the nocturnal species up and about.
10. Parque Acuático Mijas
This water park promises loads of fun for kids and a surprising degree of relaxation for parents.
All around this carefully-planned park are palms and grassy areas with tropical-style sunshades where you can make camp for the day while the kids try out all the pools and plunges, like the steep kamikaze.
For the little guys there’s also a recently installed attraction called Lizard Island, a climbing area with slides and surrounded by water.
The park also boasts a wave pool, mini-golf and even live entertainment geared towards children.
11. Butterfly Park
Less than 15 minutes in the car from Mijas Pueblo is a different kind of attraction to what you might expect from the Costa del Sol.
The Benalmádena Butterfly Park is in a Thai-style temple, with blue roof tiles that were actually imported all the way from Thailand.
The temperature is permanently set in the high-20s, with high-humidity, ideal for a wide variety of butterflies representing species from tropical regions throughout the world.
At any one time there will be 1,500 of these brightly-coloured insects on the wing, and you can also see their eggs and caterpillars, so kids will get to know every stage of the butterfly’s lifecycle.
Mijas Pueblo may have a rural ambience, but you’re still on the Costa del Sol, and that means you can’t travel a few minutes without ending up at a golf course.
So if you’re handy with a club it’s easy to include a round or two in your holiday.
There are nine golf clubs within the municipality alone.
Down by the coast at La Cala de Mijas is La Cala Resort Golf, with three challenging 18-hole courses that make the most of the area’s steep topography.
A tad more forgiving for people getting their groove back is La Noria, a totally flat nine-hole par 33 and like all courses here offers full club, buggy hire and a great bar if you need to cool off.
13. Sierra de Mijas
The views in Mijas Pueblo are great, but if you want more then you can hit one of the trails that leads from the edge of the village up into the Sierra de Mijas.
These paths are well-signposted and the going is easy enough for most ages.
All you need is a decent pair of shoes, as well as a hat, water and maybe gps on your phone.
Atop Pico Mijas, at 1,150 metres you’ll be able to see out past Gibraltar to Morocco’s Atlas Mountains.
The aromas of the pine scrub and wild rosemary, and the sight of kestrels and Spanish imperial eagles will also remain with you long after you’ve returned to Mijas for a cold drink.
14. Centro de Arte Contemporáneo
There has been a large community of artists and writers in Mijas Pueblo for decades, so it’s little wonder that the village should have an art gallery as good as this one.
The attraction is centred on 130 different works by Pablo Picasso.
These include sculptures, engravings and lithographs, but the collection of Picasso’s ceramics is held as the second best in the world.
You can also see pieces by the surrealist, Salvador Dalí and wide array of works by 19th-century artists from around Málaga believed to have made an impact on the young Picasso.
On hot summer days one of the best appetizers you can have is a cold soup: Both ajoblanco and gazpacho originate in this part of Spain.
The former is made with almonds, garlic and olive oil, and usually garnished with slices of grape.
Gazpacho is a Spanish staple, made with tomatoes and cucumber.
If you visit a beachside chiringuito you should definitely give espetos a try, these are usually sardines skewered and barbecued over wood fires.
Tapas is also superb in this part of Spain, and a plate of calamares, pescaíto frito (whitebait) or chipirones (baby squid) goes great with a cold beer or a glass of white wine from the nearby Ronda region.