Heading for Bena-where?
Apparently there are more great restaurants per capita in Benahavís than anywhere else on the Costa del Sol. On last count that figure stood at around 60, which is not to be sniffed at in a town with a population of around 20,000. It also has 9 of the region’s 60-odd golf courses, and the exclusive gated community of lavish villas and country club that is La Zagaleta, the Beverley Hills of the Costa del Sol and home to some of the region’s – if not the country’s – wealthiest residents.
Although it’s by no means undiscovered – it rivals nearby Mijas in terms of day-trippers visiting from the Costa – the vast majority of newcomers to the region have never heard of it. They might have heard of the legendary Amanhavis hotel and restaurant, or the famed La Quinta golf course, which comes with its own five-star hotel, luxury serviced apartments and no less than five restaurants, and is often, incorrectly, written about as being in Marbella, but Benahavis?
It’s unlikely to stay off-radar for long now that the Spanish property market is gaining momentum. Just 15-minutes drive from Marbella, the village itself nestles like a pile of sugar cubes among the frothy, pine-clad hills of the Serrania de Ronda. It was an important settlement during the Arab reign of the region, both for its strategic position perched high above the Med and thus ensuring plenty of advance warning before pirates and buccaneers made land, and the Montemayor Castle, which has a network of tunnels connecting it to the coast and Marbella town centre. Unsurprisingly, it became the seat of its various rulers until the town was reclaimed by the Catholic Monarchs – Isabel and Ferdinand – in 1495.
If you’re looking for a lifestyle change that gives you a solid backbone of history plus a hilly rural environment with sensational views, that also just happens to be near some of the regions best schools, beaches and sports facilities, as well as Marbella’s glitzy ports and designer shopping, or the more authentic charms of Malaga – now a hot spot on the radar of art lovers thanks to the opening of the Pompidou centre last year – you may just have found it.
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The Moorish inspired Amanhavis was the first boutique hotel to open in the town (www.amanhavis.com, doubles from €99) and offers visitors a rambling pile of a place built around a central swimming pool. As well as having an excellent bar and restaurant, spacious themed rooms such as the Horse Thief’s Hide Out and the Astronomer’s Observatory complete with sky light mean a different experience every time. At the hacienda style Gran Hotel (www.granhotelbenahavisspa.com, doubles from €58) accommodation is little more chintzy and dated, but they do have a lovely big pool overlooking the forested hills that surround the gleaming whitewashed town of Benahavís itself.
The Amanhavis (www.amanhavis.com) also claims the spot of best restaurant in town where you can dine poolside among tropical climbing gardens in the summer, and snuggle up in a cozy dining room in the winter. Chef Nick pays homage to the village’s roots mixing Moroccan and Andaluz culinary influences with great aplomb in dishes like caramelized quail with orange-chive dressing, pan-fried goose liver on thyme brioche, and dry-aged beef from Seville.
For old-school Andalucian hospitality and a delightfully rustic atmosphere visit the family who run Los Abanicos (C/Málaga 17, +34 952 85 50 22) where you can feast on classics like suckling pig slowly roasted in a wood fire and stewed partridge. El Chico (C/Málaga 9, +34 610 719 533, evenings only) is the number one spot for platters of Iberian ham, chorizo and Manchego with a glass of wine, or one of their famed goldfish bowls of gin and tonic, while Mesón El Coto (www.mesonelcoto.com.es) offers an idyllic outdoor setting for al fresco dining. In season the specialty here is wild game – hare, boar, venison and birds – and nowhere beats it on a sunny January day for lunch beneath a huge oak tree framing crisp views of the mountains beyond.