Marbella is quite a dichotomy. A great friend asked me today “You’re in Marbella? – it’s on my bucket list – what’s it like?”
Hmmm… how to answer? I’ve been visiting Marbella since I was six, so I’ve seen many changes. I’m not quite sure what Marbella is anymore.
I can honestly say it’s probably many things to many people – visitors from Spain and from all over the world come here for a multitude of reasons.
Number 1 – The Weather.
I’m writing this in January and I have a suntanned face. After a day in the mountains and a 2-hour lunch languishing in the sun, my nose is burnt. For the most part, the skies are an unforgettable shade of intense blue – if Dulux or Sherwyn Williams could replicate it and put it into a tin, it would probably be called “Heavenly Spanish Sky” or something equally indistinguishable. But it would be a shade to lavish with great abandon on any grey wall – it makes you happy!
Number 2 – The People.
In sunny places, you tend to find sunny people. Add the Andalucían “mañana/siesta” attitude to already happy people and you get REALLY-LAID-BACK-HAPPY people! This is generally good – not good if you want your meal in an orderly fashion or want your bill in a timely manner so you can leave immediately after eating! But, all joking aside, it makes for people with a sunny disposition who are happy to share their beautiful area with foreigners.
Number 3 – The History.
The Old Town of Marbella is “old”. It has been there since medieval times and is exactly the same as it was, thick-walled, whitewashed houses, with colourful potted geraniums lining narrow cobblestone streets which open up to quaint plazas filled with citrus trees. How gorgeous is that! The city has been around for hundreds of years, but now the ground floor levels are occupied by super-chic boutiques selling everything from designer clothes to handmade bespoke leather shoes, to artisanal olive oils… It is basically lots of fun to visit!
Let yourself get lost. Wander aimlessly looking at the shop fronts, sip a coffee, shop for souvenirs, take selfies in Orange Square, savor a long lunch in a tapas bar and enjoy huge glasses of very good, inexpensive wine. There is no agenda and the pace is slow… take the time to breathe in the history and fragrances.
Number 4 – It is Iconic.
The 70’s and 80’s marked the heyday of Marbella – when it eased itself up there on the pedestal next to Cote d’Azur, Montecarlo and Sardinia. Anybody who was anybody partied down in Puerto Banús and swung by either the Marbella Club or the Puente Romano hotels. Then, and today both are, what I am happy to call, understated. No glitz here, they both support a lovely, laid-back chic elegance that only comes with self-confidence – neither have anything to prove and although both have undergone extensive refurbs they both maintain their iconic charm and still hold a candle for the discreet elite and the glitterati. Lots of Somebodies still grace the hotels today and none have lost their star appeal.
Number 5 – Puerto Banús.
Home to the mega yachts, the millions of Euro yachts and even a few “real people” yachts – it’s LOTS of fun!
Puerto Banús had its heydays of extreme glamour – Saudi princes berthed next to rock stars (I will always remember watching Rod Stewart clambering back on board as I was having breakfast with my parents at a nearby café!) berthed next to oligarchs… It still happens, just the rock stars are more careful with the paparazzi and social media than they were in the past!
The shops and restaurants are, for the most part, high-end mainstream. It’s a commercial marina after all, selling real estate, makeup and high-street brand lingerie is usual all over the world. I, personally am sad to see the loss of the individual boutiques and quirky restauranteurs, but it’s still a great place to see and be seen!
If you’re a car or boating enthusiast, you’ll not go away disappointed – in 90 seconds I saw 2 Bentleys, a Ferrari, a Rolls Royce and a Mercedes G550 roll by!
Number 6 – The Gastronomy.
We may be in Spain but that doesn’t mean Spanish food is on the table or on the menu – quite the reverse, finding a true Andalucían restaurant is a challenge! Luckily, the very capable Danny Garcia comes to the rescue with a hip twist on all things from his region – a Michelin-star chef, he offers a variety of eating establishments which showcase modern local cuisine in world-class forums.
And, if you didn’t come to Spain for Spanish food – fear not! Cuisines range from the heady heights of the Nobu dynasty to the omnipresent local Indian takeaway. People from all over the world make Marbella their home. Naturally, their local cuisines follow. There is a truly cosmopolitan range of eateries from Thai to Tongan*, from Spanish to Swedish, from Halal to Hungarian… look hard enough and you’ll find anything you want.
*Still looking for the Tongan – but I heard about it!
Number 7 – The Beaches.
There are miles of uninterrupted sandy beaches. I cannot lie, the sand is not golden or powdery white, but they go on forever with the gentle Mediterranean waves lapping at the shore. But the deal here is the beach clubs, or chiringuitos, that rent day beds. This is a whole culture unto itself! Local restaurants set up chaises that you can rent for the day with waiter service. Most have umbrellas, restaurants, and other facilities (some have gyms, spas and pools as well) so spending the day on the beach goes from sand-covered sandwiches to gourmet delights. Expect to arrive at noon and stay until after dark – the scene goes on until the wee hours.
The cost is relatively low for the convenience and the social exposure. After a day at the beach, you’ll probably have great new friends.
Number 8 – The Golf.
This area is often jokingly called the Costa del Golf. A convenient golf club rental kiosk at the airport gives you an indication of just how many visitors come for the purpose. Apart from the clubs in Sotogrande, most golf clubs are open to members and non-members alike. Green fees are generally reasonable and tee times plentiful.
Number 9 – The Day Trips.
Let me count them… Let’s start with the white villages – you could spend weeks exploring them, they are so plentiful. Discover the lands that stretch forever inwards, up steep mountains to craggy precipices, Roman ruins, prehistoric caves and hidden valleys. Within half an hour of Marbella, you’ll find yourself in a different land. Not to mention fabulous day trips to the Alhambra, Granada, Plaza de España, Seville, Córdoba, Antequera and Ronda.
Marbella is a special place with its dramatic grey mountain backdrop, its glittering Mediterranean coast, its siren call to glamorous people from afar, its multiple access to worldly and earthly pursuits.
It’s worth the visit and should be on everybody’s bucket list.
Where to Eat