You'll find that all along the Costa del Sol there are little “urbanisations” with their own area of shops, bars and restaurants.
Sitio de Calahonda is no exception, and they have El Zoco. Which is actually one of the bigger and better known.
El Zoco is literally translated as The Souk, and its exterior design suggests they were trying for something along those lines.
Its arched windows and domed roof I suppose was their interpretation of how it should look, although once inside, it bears no resemblance whatsoever.
It is spread over 3 floors, reached by wide staircases and the recently installed lift. Great for pushchairs, but even better, it actually enables wheelchair users to reach the top floor!
The lower floor is where the shops are concentrated. Supersol is the large supermarket here, it is no different to any other along the coast, but you can have a nice coffee in their refurbished cafeteria in the lobby. The food is acceptable, but I wouldn't book dinner reservations.
Along the lower floor exterior you will find; The Post Office, a couple of newsagents, a “ferreteria” - which is a mix of DIY, electrical goods and an ironmongers. The inevitable 1€ shop, Charity shop and souvenir shop...maybe they are official requirements; I just know that they are everywhere.
Next to the Post Office, you will find Camerinos, it is actually a very good hairdressers. Owned by Jose Antonio and with a great mix of staff, they run a very good business. It is always busy, and you'll need to book an appointment.
In the main foyer of El Zoco, there is a florist, a money exchange; they always seem to have the daily rates correct, and a small office dealing with car rental, insurance and property management.
Above: Barboru at El Zoco
Go up the stairs to the first floor and here it starts to get lively. To your right there is a small cobbled square, with a tiled fountain set in the middle.
Around the edges of the square are bars and restaurants, the most of which use the cobbled area as a communal terrace. During the summer evenings a cool breeze blows through and is very pleasing.
The Boathouse, the local fish and chip shop, is here. They have a great local reputation. Their food is freshly cooked to order; you'll always have to wait.
The lovely Almond Tree is only open during the day, they serve very nice breakfast, and in the afternoon it is a great stop for tea and homemade cakes.
El Salón is on one side; this is a bar that has an adult only recreation zone with slot machines. You can also use the computers here for a small fee.
On the corner is Pals Bar, very English orientated, very lively, and very busy. It has a mix of locals and holidaymakers, with a youngish crowd.
Restaurants enclose the long central section on this level, their tables being set out on the open-air central patio. Each territory carefully marked by the way, they wouldn't want you eating with the rivals. You'll find on offer all types of cuisine: Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Classical and Modern.
El Mesón has a very good reputation, as does La Mandragora, El Chancho and El Olivo. Having eaten in 3 of these restaurants myself, I had well-prepared, fresh food and went away quite happy.
I feel the Chinese – China City II and the Italian – El Paradiso, are always the same no matter where you go, it's fried rice or pizzas and pasta...some people love it, but it leaves me feeling indifferent.
At the very end of this level you will find Bar Trafalgar. With its large outside seating area, and pool tables, it is a definite pull for the younger crowd. It opens in the evenings and shuts late, about 4-5am. Be warned, it does get a little noisy, there are sometimes a couple of undesirables and the drinks are pricey.
Just next door is Our Bar. Ian and Violet, run a great sports bar, with 10 flat screen TV's so you won't have to strain your neck to watch the football! They have two main inside bar areas, and a large covered terrace. Plenty of staff too, so no waiting about to get served. Great prices, some bottled beers are 1,50€
They have a food service that is mainly snack based; pies, pasties and chips etc., but also offer a roast on Sunday. On Christmas Eve, they have a free buffet for the customers.
There is music too; Pete is their resident DJ, with a mix of soul, Tamla Motown and older music. Thursday evenings they have a quiz night.
Up on the 3rd floor, nestling amongst the bars and restaurants is Mario's the barber and Pepas the hairdresser.
You'll find Fools bar tucked away in the corner, great for you karaoke lovers, not so good for the rest of us. It seems it's very popular with the older crowd.
There are some local businesses up here too including a couple of Solicitors and a Property management company.
The main attraction is BarBoru - the bar with a view. Open daily, all year round, from 10am until 10pm, even later during the hot summer months. They have a spacious indoor dining room and the biggest terrace for miles.
They have the most wonderful breakfast menu, such a vast selection of dishes to choose from, sometimes makes you wish they had less. Apart from the usual full English, also available are American style pancakes with Maple syrup, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, and as today everyone seems to be extremely health conscious: Fresh fruit platters, Greek yoghurt and skimmed milk lattes!
Lunchtime sees a daily special, which consists of your main meal and a drink for 6,95€, that’s such great value. During the low season they always have meal deals, 3 courses for 19,95€ was the last one available…and that included the sirloin steak.
For the evening I would recommend making a reservation, they get full, especially at the weekends, when they have live music.
Their resident Friday entertainer is Steve Cripps whose easy style gets everyone up dancing. A recent addition is the division of the terrace into two separate spaces; dining and dancing, including especially designated smoking areas.
For me there is something special about Barboru; maybe it’s the smiling, friendly staff and great service, maybe it’s sitting on the terrace in the sun or tapping my foot along with the music in the evening, who knows, maybe it’s just I feel at home here.
So, that is my take on El Zoco, but don’t just accept my word. Go and explore for yourself, have a look around, and enjoy your new surroundings.