Mobsters, guns, and pie and peas were once so at home in southern Spain that the Costa del Sol (Coast of Sun) region was instead known to Brits as the Costa del Crime.

Just a few years ago, as you strolled down the sea front it wasn’t unusual to see the local Guardia Civil, lights flashing, chase down another wanted criminal or drug warlord. And Fuengirola in particular has know its fair share.

Whether it’s the feuding Hutch and Kinahan families — Irish drugs and arms traffickers who preferred a life in the sun to Dublin’s drizzle before Hutch’s murder in 2015. Or the hideaway for the Mad mobster of Mijas, London brute Frankie Fraser who liked to attack his rivals with razors and pliers whilst working for the Kray’s in the 60s. The Andalusian region is now fighting hard to shake off its crime connotations, with boutique shops and 5* restaurants making it their new home.

But what of those cheeky chaps that blight your evening with elephant statues and rip-off designer bags I hear you ask? Well there’s been a crack down on those too. Battle lines have been drawn against which properties they can enter, especially those that belong to the restaurants mentioned above. Lookie-lookie men can still be found, but they will be constantly moving from the watchful eye of the Guardia.

In the last few years the Spanish authorities have announced a crack down on these men who hawk everything from sunglasses to designer handbags up and down the beach. So much so that in 2015 counterfeit goods with a street value of €100million were seized.

Why act now you might think? Well with terrorism further east, Spain is capitalising on EU cash injections and a need to appear ‘safe’ to tourists. With illegal street-sellers mostly men who are often in the country without a visa and arriving from Morocco on a summer cycle, they also pay no taxes.

Raids have now become more frequent whereas legitimate rent is on the increase, hawkers are either choosing to return home or get a visa and find a job.

But here, fraud can materialise by other means. Now, Unions are claiming that the part-time job culture of holiday resorts to only offer temporary contacts actually hides an industry of full-time workers who are not represented correctly. Because of this, fines on tourism operators such as hotels and restaurants raised almost €12m in 2015. An increase of 9% on the previous year.

Meanwhile, the Fuengirola City council is doing everything in its power to win more funding from central Government, as increasingly they rely on tourists and their cash. Over the last few years changes have included extended opening hours for shops on Sunday’s to environmental legislation that gives their beaches environmental protection. Diggers are currently on the beach extending the shoreline and breakers in time for the summer season as this article is being written.

But in order to qualify for such funding, crime has to go down. And it’s something that the Mayor Ana Mula is committed to as various statistics show Fuengirola occupying a prominent position when it comes to economy and tourism.

As a frequent visitor to Fuengirola I have great memories of the place, even if it was full of British chip shops and half-empty streets filled with Irish pubs. But now, Fish and Chip alley is no more, instead, plaza’s boasting Michelin stars have replaced pie and pea suppers. In the La Plaza de los Chinorros, a sun-trap adjacent to the main church square, you can grab a quick bite such as the shrimp at Bubba’s (€8 for a tower of pink prawns in the fluffiest tempura batter) or a 3 course meal at the outstanding 5* Casa Colón next door.

Bubba’s tempura prawn tower (photo credit: Gina Clarke)

A short stroll away from the Plaza is home to the Bodega Charolais, one of only a few restaurants in Fuengirola to be included in the Michelin guide. With a bar, terrace and restaurant to choose from, not to mention a wine cellar stocking 100 wines, your wallet will be pleased that a unique tapa such as quail’s thigh with soy sauce was only €2.50 a portion.

And although both Brits and Spanish feel at home in Fuengirola, they haven’t quite perfected the art of queuing just yet. Get ready to be gazumped for a precious table in the sun, as diners frequently ignore queue’s and waiters affect nonchalance with a shrug of the shoulders. But with the Guardia Civil frequently walking around nobody is too worried about a brawl.

The town chiefs know that the Costa del Sol might not be perfect, but with Brits looking for safe spaces to spend their Euro’s, Fuengirola is marketing itself as the place for your next holiday. With sun, sand and safety at the forefront of its message.

Originally published at