Marbella: the California of Europe
Marbella, a former fishing village on the Costa del Sol, has so much going for it: think charming, sugar-cube white old town, palm fringed beaches and the glamorous ‘Golden Mile’ not to mention a largely unexplored hinterland, where, in just 30 minutes’ drive from the centre, you can be pootling about delightful little villages like Istán and Ojen discovering the Spain that time forgot. Did we mention that it has 320 sunshine days per year and temperatures that rarely fall below 12º?
For centuries, nobody paid much attention to Marbella, until one Prince Alfonso bought the Finca Santa Margarita in 1947 thinking it would make the perfect winter getaway for his friends and family, and so, inspired by hotels he’d visited in America he opened it as the Marbella Club in 1954. It would fast become the haunt of the great and the good of European high society and by the 1960s counted Don Juan de Bourbon, Gunther Sachs and Brigitte Bardot among its regular visitors. But as the Costa del Sol boomed, bringing in a more bucket and spade kind of tourist, so the city fell from grace amongst the great and the good who’d once flocked to it.
Here’s our quick guide on where to stay, eat and shop in this bustling cosmopolitan enclave of Spain:
Where to Stay
To be at the heart of the action check into the Scandinavian-inspired Town House (www.townhousemarbella.com, doubles from €125) where a lazy breakfast on the terrace is the perfect fuel up for a morning of mooching around the shops of the Casco Antiguo with its orange tree filled squares and balconies tumbling with flowers.
Racheting things up a notch the old lady that is the Marbella Club (www.marbellaclub.com, doubles from €299) was given a facelift just in time for her 60th birthday in 2014 and looks more fabulous than ever. Situated at the heart of the Golden Mile there is nowhere like it for soaking up the spirit of Marbella’s glamorous past. If you’re travelling en famille check into the five-bedroom, beachfront Villa del Mar (€2,000 per night), which comes with its own pool.
Where to Eat
Yes, this is the city of ladies who lunch and frankly who can blame them when you have so many hot spots for choose from. It’s a mystery to us why Marbella has not gained more column inches in the food press, but that makes it all the more of a find. Self-named Dani García (www.grupodanigarcia.com) is not only of the city’s best chef, but one of the best chefs in Spain, serving elegant, whimsical and dazzlingly creative dishes in one of the prettiest dining rooms in town. His ‘Once Upon A Time’ menu is sheer brilliance (tasting menu €168).
Next door, his sister-restaurant Bibo offers a funkier, more laid-back alternative with equally fabulous food and a show-stopping cocktail list. Skina (www.restauranteskina.com) got its Michelin star in 2009 and has been celebrating Andalucian product ever since in dishes like local red mullet with saffron and venison from the nearby hills with Jerusalem artichokes (tasting menu €105).
For pristine sushi and sashimi in an authentically Japanese setting head for TaKumi (www.restaurantetakumi.com) for pristine sushi and sashimi and opt for locally caught fish like the ventresca de atun (belly from the red tuna caught near Barbate) and sweetly succulent butterfish. Raw fish, Peruvian style doesn’t come better than at El Rincon de Cynthia (C/Virgen del Pilar 10, +34 952 823 009) where you can pair a killer pisco sour with world-class ceviche. For laid-back lunches Chiringuito Pepe’s Bar (www.chiringuitopepesbar.com) is right on the beach and justly famous for its sardine espetos – skewered onto bamboo and grilled over a wood flame – and seafood paellas, likewise cooked over wood. Or bag a table at La Lonja (www.lalonja.es), a family run joint serving superlative fish with tables right on the quayside.
If you fancy a day by the pool El Ancla (www.elanclarestaurante.com) in nearby San Pedro de Alcántara is a sleek take on the classic beach bar and something of an institution for the best fried fish on the Costa del Sol. Finally, there is the shiny new Ambrosía Mercado Gourmet (www.ambrosiamercadogourmet.es) in Puerto Banús, a sexy re-imagination of traditional produce market meets gourmet food hall in the vein of Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel, or Barcelona’s El Nacional. Spread over 2 floors and 14 stands, punters can enjoy everything freshly fried croquettes and craft beers to champagne and oysters. The biggest challenge you’ll have is in deciding where to feast first.
Where to shop
Puerto Banús is Marbella’s answer to Rodeo Drive except in this case it wraps around an eminently walkable, luxury marina rather than four lanes of traffic, the porches and Ferraris are replaced by designer speed boats and super yachts, and it boasts the best sunset it town for a sundowner after hitting the shops. It’s a dressed up affair so don your finest with a supersized pair of shades and prepare to max out on brands like Missoni, Dolce and Gabbana and Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo and Tom Ford. Oh my!