Once upon a time, not too many years ago, if you were looking for an unspoilt Spanish working coastal village, then you may well have travelled to San Luis de Sabinillas. Until the early 2000’s the main road, the N340, passed through Sabinillas. It was a single track road with dust verges.
Sabinillas resembled a Wild West town with a row of shops either side of the road and a main street that went down to the beach. Cottages were built directly on the sand. An area of waste ground at the south end of the town provided space for the huge Sunday market that was the highlight of the week for many residents and visitors alike. There were a few urbanisations, fewer supermarkets and even less bars and restaurants.
The Wild West feel was enhanced, if that is the right word, by the illegal activities of some of its inhabitants who ran drugs from Morocco in cigarette boats and inflatable dinghies and sped through the town on noisy motorcycles and large SUVs, often as not packing a sidearm. The more legitimate locals made money from fishing, wine making and market gardens and some younger Spanish were fully employed in the building trade in neighbouring towns and villages.
Today all that has changed. The A7 dual carriageway arrived almost overnight it seems, demolishing old bodegas as it came. Pavements were installed and an underpass dug beneath the centre of town. Apartment blocks sprang up in serried ranks on the inland side of the road and the paseo was built, doing away with the beachfront cottages and providing locales for beachside businesses.
Sabinillas suddenly came of age and to make it official Mercadona opened its doors closely followed by a large Supersol. The drugs still come ashore on dark nights and young bucks still occasionally race through the streets but those activities are steadily declining due to the effort put in by the local police and Guardia.
Now Sabinillas is a modern town with few traces of its history. The older fishermen still gather at the west end of the paseo first thing in the morning and decide whether or not to take their boats out and the market gardeners still cultivate their plots down the road to Manilva, known locally as the Roman Oasis road. The Sunday market has moved. It is no longer in the town providing passing trade to the bars and cafes, it is on the new feria ground that is off the same Roman Oasis road. The road acquired its name by the way due to a restaurant called the Roman Oasis that was started by Paul Hickling long before Sabinillas was developed. He in turn named the restaurant after the authentic Roman Baths a little further up the sulphurous Rio Manilva. People thought he was mad and Paul had his own moments of doubtful sanity, but he and his restaurant are still there and thriving (2018).
Sabinillas is quickly becoming a seaside resort. Its beach is long and wide with easy access to the sea. Lifeguards in tall wooden towers of a style first seen at Colditz are watchful during the summer season. Beach bars and chiringuitos provide food, drink and shelter and within the town there are some fine restaurants serving every conceivable type of cuisine, Spanish, Indian, French, Italian even British. Despite its inauspicious recent past San Luis de Sabinillas is a friendly town. There are any number of pavement cafes where you will be served with a smile and where you in turn can wish passers by ‘buenos dias’ knowing you will receive a kindly acknowledgment.