“We’re the garden of the Costa del Sol”
If it has been some time since you last walked through Estepona, in the heart of the Costa del Sol, then you will not recognise it. The changes over the past few years have been radical.
In a certain way the transformation has been a silent one, returning to the city the pride and good image it had lost for reasons beyond its control.
The increase in tourism has been spectacular – 48 per cent more in 2013 – and investor confidence has been regained.
To a great extent, the person responsible for this major renewal has been its current mayor, José María García Urbano, who with a touch of imagination and limited resources has achieved a miracle.
– Mr. García Urbano, do you feel like it is a close-knit village community?
The changes have been incredible in every way. Some may not be as noticeable as others – as they are due to internal organisation by the town hall – but they are indispensable in order to balance and bring order to the accounts, which is what enables us to carry out the structural reforms we need.
I would say this transformation of the city has been in three aspects: on the one hand, everything related to maintenance and care of the gardens and beaches, which is being carried out in model fashion, if you would allow me to say that.
In addition, we have equipped Estepona with basic amenities that we didn’t have before, such as the fairground which we are now finishing, and a theatre for 600 spectators which is also well advanced.
And the third aspect, which you notice much clearer when arriving in the city, is the decoration and repairs carried out in the old part of town, which is now well worth strolling through and checking out, because it’s full of flowers, of fragrant smells… It returns value to an historic centre that has a network of streets dating to the 18th and 19th centuries, extremely interesting and well preserved. All of this we are doing with walls, plants, sculptures, poems on ceramic plaques, etc.
It’s a daily perception. Before, the streets were full of cars and potholes: now they are full of flowers, trees and happiness – and, at times, bicycles. Yesterday I came across a group of Japanese with their cameras. Before, that was unthinkable. You would find them in Ronda, in Granada… but not here.
The town hall describes Estepona as the garden of the Costa del Sol…
Yes, it’s a concept that we are displaying with initiatives: among other things, we have now installed more than 9,000 pot plants in the streets. The famous patios of Córdoba might have 200 or 500, at the most; and here every street is a garden.
- What other projects are you planning for the city to give it greater tourist appeal?
There is one in particular that I believe is extremely interesting. It involves the installation of a large artificial geyser opposite the coastline that will be the only one in the Mediterranean. It has been designed and we are just waiting for authorisation to begin work.
The idea is to generate a sea fountain 250 metres from the shoreline that will produce a 100-metre-high stream of water. Like a building of more than 30 storeys… It will be seen from all points in the Marbella and Estepona bay, from Gibraltar and even Ceuta. It will be complemented by a set of lights and sound, which will make it very attractive in the evenings, and it will undoubtedly become a focus of attention.
- When is it expected to be finished?
The project takes three months, and as soon as we have authorisation we’ll begin work. If they gave it to us now, it would be finished by the start of summer.
Estepona has eight golf courses of nine and 18 holes. What does this sport represent for Estepona as part of the tourism segment?
Golf is very important to us because it’s a key attraction, especially during the low season. And, together with the courses we have in Estepona, we should add those in Marbella and Benahavís, all forming part of what is like a golden triangle here on the Costa del Sol – nearly 40 courses in barely 30 kilometres.
Many visitors come here to play golf, and there is also a new phenomenon little seen in previous years, in that the people of Estepona are also beginning to play golf. And that’s very good, not only that we have courses to attract tourists but also for Estepona residents who want to play.
- There are courses in Estepona designed by prestigious international architects. Presumably, that is a very useful advantage when promoting them?
Certainly, the names of Bernhard Von Limburger, Gary Player and Cabell B. Robinson arouse interest among golfers.
- In addition to golf courses, Estepona has the perfect array of hotels for golf tourism…
We have a great range of four and fivestar hotels that are excellent, very well located and managed by prestigious international brand chains. They are buildings with attractive architectural features, always frontline beach, and in the best positions along our 23 kilometres of coastline. Not many cities have been reserving plots and amenities in such areas for hotels.
As for chains, for example, we have Kempinski, an international standard-bearer that we have just honoured with a special award coinciding with Andalucía Day, for its work and contribution to the city.
ESTEPONA, CHANGE OF CYCLE
“From 2012 to 2013 the increase in tourism has been impressive,” notes García Urbano. “It increased by 48 per cent. These are figures from the INE (National Statistics Institute), not our own. This is a tremendous rise, because the city is regaining the place it should never have lost.
“We have always had great tourist amenities, and a magnificent climate, but the Estepona brand lost its lustre a few years ago with the stories of corruption and cheap politics that were around for a period. Now the city’s image had been completely restored. And I have very clear proof of that: investor confidence.
”Recently, we offered a plot of land for tender to build a commercial centre with hotel amenities, and three companies made offers for an investment of 40 million euros. For every project we put out to tender, more and more companies are responding, because now there is a serious and secure scenario… Things are much better than before; we don’t shift the paperwork for anyone who wants to invest here. Estepona is on the way up, in a change of cycle. It’s like the starting gun has sounded for a new era for the city...”