One of my favourite Marbella early morning walks, is east along the beachfront promenade to Marbella’s fishing port.
This is a much quieter stretch to walk along at any time of day or year, simply because there are not so many restaurants and bars along the way – but early in the morning like today, when I set off at 7 just before sunrise, it was not only blissfully cool but there was hardly a soul to be seen apart from the odd street cleaner or fanatical jogger.
As you approach Marbella’s fishing port, the promenade narrows and leads past a row of excellent fish restaurants and then past a cluster of 28 lovingly maintained fishermen’s cottages built in the 1950’s, where Marbella’s fishing community families still live. You then go down some steps and all the way along the length of an immense boat winter storage unit on the left.
When you reach the end, you want to turn right at the roundabout and walk all the way along the length of the quayside. As well as all the fishing boats that are moored along this section of the so-named Bajadilla Marina which has 266 berths in total, you will see fishermen mending their colourful nets in the mornings and if you walk to the very end onto the breakwater section, you can take some marvellous shots of Marbella as though you were out at sea.
It is to this breakwater that I made my way this morning and sat next to a retired fisherman, José, who was waiting patiently for his son to come in after a night’s fishing. He was a great source of information and told me how his family had lived in one of the cottages since they were first built in 1952, although back then they had no electricity or running water. He talked about how the fishing fleet had depleted from more than 60 boats back in the 50’s, to less than half that number today, mainly because many of the younger generation were dedicating themselves to more profitable professions. The life of a fisherman was a tough one, he said, but at least when he started working on the family boat at the age of 8, it had an engine. Unlike in his father’s youth and his grandfather’s day, when all the fishing boats were powered by sails and when there was no wind, they had to resort to rowing.
While we sat there chatting away, two larger boats came in; one of them his son’s, laden with anchovies and another packed with sardines, while yet another smaller boat made its way out to sea. He explained that this was going in search of octopus and would return at around 11 am. Apparently there were other trawler boats that had already set out at 6 a.m. for a 12-hour shift at sea in search of lobsters, shrimp and red mullet among other fish. He explained that the larger boats, moored sideways near the breakwater, go out a couple of times a day to gather heaps of mussels that are farmed out at sea to the east of the fishing port, or to gather oysters from the farms at the western tip of Marbella town.
As we sat there, the crew were busy cleaning and packing a small mountain of mussels into 6 kilo string bags which were loaded straight into a waiting refrigerated lorry bound for Malaga.
I followed José to the Lonja (the port’s fish market auction house) which is closed to the general public. Here, the daily catch is weighed and auctioned off to local restaurants along the Coast and further afield. According to another helpful retired fisherman who stood watching the proceedings with me from the doorway, 80% of the octopus from Marbella’s shores is sent up north to Galicia for example. The auction process nowadays is totally automated with the bids flashing up on an electronic screen – which is a pity as I was hoping for a bit of live auction action, although it was interesting to watch the market workers washing and packing the fish into ice-topped polystyrene boxes, ready for transport.
Before making my way home, I stopped off at Bar Los Pescadores where all the fishermen go to have breakfast and had a coffee and a delicious grilled mackerel roll (mollete de caballa). For just € 3.50 I was fed and fuelled up for the day.
With plans on hold since 2011 to convert the Bajadilla marina into a mega-yacht luxury harbour complex, I urge you to visit Marbella’s fishing port as it is right now, before it loses its authentic charm.
Enjoy your walk and should you decide to stop off for breakfast – ¡que aproveche!
(Text and photos: Liz Glazer)