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#DiamondStories: Coming Home to Sahara Sunset

#DiamondStories: Coming Home to Sahara Sunset

By Stephanie Allen

Media & Content Editor

The words “Welcome Home” have a new meaning at Sahara Sunset.

Tucked on a quiet residential street in Benalmádena, Spain and less than 150 meters from the beach, the resort is a welcoming retreat, whether you’re looking for a relaxing couple’s getaway or family adventure. Of course, there are plenty of amenities such as an on-site restaurant, market, fitness center and several pools, but it’s the team members who really make Sahara Sunset special. They know how to turn any stay into an unforgettable vacation experience.

To showcase what it’s like to vacation as a Diamond Resorts member, our media team is exploring several of Diamond’s most desirable destinations this year, giving you an inside look at the best experiences in each location. From off-road tours and hot air balloon rides in Sedona, Arizona, to hiking dormant volcanoes in Hawaii or enjoying beachside concerts in Virginia Beach, Virginia – we’re testing out each adventure first to help you make the most of your next Diamond Resorts vacation. You can follow our adventures live @DiamondResorts on Twitter and Instagram, and join our journey by sharing your own vacation experiences with #DiamondStories.

After traveling for nearly 24 hours, we were beyond tired when we arrived at Sahara Sunset – our first stop in Costa del Sol – and desperately wanted showers, food and beds. As if they expected us to be feeling that way, the front desk team greeted us with smiling faces and a helping hand. They graciously assisted us with our luggage and showed us to our rooms where we had a food pack and coffee waiting. It was such a special treat and so nice knowing we could eat and relax for a bit before a jam-packed week of exploring.

And, oh boy did we explore.

We stayed at the resort that first day, emerging from our rooms only to attend a Diamond Experiences Plus event on how to make traditional Spanish paella. The resort’s activities team walked through the recipe and made an absolutely massive batch of the rice-based seafood dish. They had enough to feed at least 50 people – or probably 49, since I went back for seconds. The experience was free for members or guests who had downloaded the Diamond Resorts App to their cellphone and was a unique treat to break up the day.

We had just started to work up an appetite again in time for our dinner reservations at the resort’s on-site restaurant, The Casbah. We ordered small meals and enjoyed a fun flamenco show before basically crawling to bed. I swear I slept harder that first night than I ever have before. Hello, more than eight hours! (Too bad that was the only night we got that many z’s. Every other night was less than five hours. Worth it.)

The next morning, we grabbed our passports and met a group of Diamond members in the lobby for a daytrip to Tangier, Morocco with VDT Tours. (We booked the excursion through the Diamond App to get a discount.) The tour bus took us to the port city of Tarifa, where we caught a ferry to cross the Strait of Gibraltar into African waters. A local tour guide was waiting for us on the other side of customs, which was quick. We went on a short driving tour of Tangier’s newer parts, before getting to the good stuff: a walking tour of the medina, a labyrinth of ancient streets protected by the walls of a 15th-century fort.

We browsed tiny, artisanal shops – Christopher, our social media manager, bought a handmade rug – and had a traditional Moroccan lunch at a quaint restaurant. Unassuming from the outside, we were impressed with the brightly colored tiles and fabrics that decorated the interior of almost every building lining the narrow streets. We could have spent days exploring. But by the time we finally made it back to Sahara Sunset, nearly 12 hours later, we were ready for bed.

In our last post, I mentioned that visiting Mijas Pueblo was one of our favorite days in Costa del Sol. But I have to admit, I might have been wrong. On our third day in Spain, we went on an excursion billed as “A Real Taste of Andalusia.” The Sahara Sunset team recommend the excursion, and said they wished it would be more popular with members and guests.

I have no idea why it isn’t. The tour was by far the most unique experience I’ve ever had.

The tour delivers on its name – and then some – by providing a first-hand experience of what life is really like for the people who call Andalusia home. We found olive trees estimated to be more than 1,000 years old, had espresso in a community café in Alfarnate and visited an olive oil factory to learn how the native product is made. The best part, though, was lunch within a family’s home in Alfarnatejo, a picture-perfect pueblo blanco perched in the Andalusian countryside. Our tour group split into smaller groups, and then were welcomed into the family’s home for a traditional Spanish lunch that they cooked for us. Christopher and I got split into a group with couples from Germany and Finland. We were the only two people who spoke English and no one spoke Spanish, the only language our host family spoke. We had no way of properly communicating with each other and yet, we all managed to engage with one another, laughing and enjoying our meal. We learned how to say “delicious” in Finnish, German and Spanish, and made friends with strangers who we won’t soon forget.

Our final tour with VDT Tours was a trip to Granada and the Alhambra, a palace and fortress with roots dating back to A.D. 889. The Moorish architecture, elaborate gardens and rich history make it nothing short of exquisite. Our English-speaking tour guide was obviously passionate and knowledgeable about the Alhambra, but moved fairly quickly to ensure we saw everything. If you have the time, there is honestly more than enough to see and experience in a full day. Tip: Be sure to bring your passport. It is not technically required for entry, but there are checkpoints set up around the ground and the guards can ask for identification at any time. If you don’t have it, you will be denied entry.

We had just enough time after the Alhambra to look around the Granada Cathedral, a breathtaking Roman Catholic church built in the 1500s, and grab lunch at a café near the city’s center square. We recommend spending a night or two in Granada, if you have the time. We didn’t, and found ourselves back on the VDT Tours bus around 2 p.m. for the two-hour drive back to Sahara Sunset.

Of course, we couldn’t visit Costa del Sol without experiencing downtown Málaga. On one of our final days in Spain, two Sahara Sunset’s front desk team members took us on a full-day tour of the city. We caught the train (there’s a station just 2 km from Sahara Sunset) to downtown to avoid any parking struggles and made Casa Aranda our first stop for fresh churros, hot chocolate and coffee. We visited the city square, toured the Cathedral of Málaga and quickly walked through the Picasso Museum. We then grabbed lunch at El Pimpi, one of the most famous restaurants in the city. We recommend wandering through the restaurant to see photos of its various celebrity visitors before grabbing a seat on the patio outside. We let our team members order their favorite dishes, but made sure to save room for the best ice cream sundae I’ve ever eaten.

To work off some of our meal, we wandered the streets for a while, taking in the magnificent architecture and historic details. We then toured the Roman theatre ruins and Alcazaba, a medieval Moorish palace with breathtaking sea views.

We could have spent several days downtown, but were lucky to have the Sahara Sunset team with us to show us the best highlights. Definitely ask the front desk team – or any team member at any of Diamond’s three Costa del Sol properties – for help with planning a day trip to Málaga.

If it were up to us, we would’ve stayed in Spain forever. Everything about the country, it’s culture, history, residents, food and attractions, were spectacular. And their hospitality? Beyond compare.

But we had to head home to prepare for our next stop: Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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