By Veronica

Open secret

It was S's birthday today, so I took him out for a "surprise" lunch. Except it wasn't a surprise at all, since he correctly surmised that I would be taking him to Oliva in Nerja, which we last visited five years ago when staying in nearby Almachar. In fact I wrote one of the first TripAdvisor reviews of it, and we visited twice in our 6-week stay, both times having the place virtually to ourselves. Now it's thriving and number 1 on TA, with good reason. I am happy to report that they still serve the whipped herb butter with powdered dehydrated olives on top that is like crack, and forces you to order more bread just in order to have more butter.

We felt confident enough in the chef's skills to have the tasting menu, with wines to match. I can't tell you how many courses there were because we lost count, but they were all tiny, so we weren't bloated when we got to dessert (mango panna cotta with coconut sorbet). And the selection of six wines all came in small doses too, so we were still able to walk when we left (although I did note that a Japanese tourist at the next table dozed off after his coffee and had to be roused by his friends). It was expensive, but a real treat.

Nerja is touristy, but it's touristy done right. A pretty town, centring around the broad plaza of the Balcon de Europa, which feels spacious even when there are crowds of tourists strolling around it. It's surrounded by bars and restaurants, so many that you never have trouble finding a table somewhere (except possibly at the height of summer, when many of Nerja's residents leave and let their houses to the highest bidder). All the shops selling tacky souvenirs and tourist tat are in two streets, so you can avoid them altogether if you want. And there's ample car parking just steps away in an underground car park.

Then there are the beaches. This is the one closest to the Balcon; after lunch (which lasted till nearly 5 pm), we spent what was left of the afternoon on a couple of the sun loungers you can see in this photo; it was a glorious day, even if once more the sea was rejected for being too cold. We weren't fit to do much for the rest of the day, although a bottle of cava may have been broached later.

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