The British love affair with the Costa del Sol continues, but away from the big developments and noisy bars the pretty town of Marbella is the region’s shining star. With its sophisticated clubs, luxurious hotels and world class golf courses its celebrity vibe dates back to the 1950s when European royalty and Hollywood stars started holidaying here. It still draws an upmarket clientele but with new Michelin starred restaurants, quirky boutique hotels and chic nightclubs Marbella is attracting a new generation of sun and party lovers.
Just two and a half hours flight from London it’s closer than Miami and more edgy than St Tropez, but with the same vibe for a long weekend or short break.
The Qatar national football team were staying at the Westin when I checked in as well as a group of British golfers eager to get to the green. But I made off to the beach for some people watching and promenading.
There are 24 beaches in Marbella but a stroll along the palm fringed Avenida del Mar is the best way to experience beach life here. I passed some expertly tanned and coiffured couples dining al fresco at the white tablecloth establishments on the promenade, but on the opposite side of the avenue there are dozens of lively beach bars, or chiringuitos.
Cappuccino is among the best beach bars with a club like atmosphere, great views and good food including its Super Brunch, featuring some delicious tortillas.
I discovered Marbella’s best churros at San Gines,a chocolate shop in Plaza Africa. Don’t miss the Dali sculptures at the Plaza de La Alameda.
It is about a 40 minute walk from here to the bling of Puerto Banus with its exclusive marina and designer shops or you can reach it by a short ferry ride across the bay
Old Marbella Town is said to be one of the most authentic Spanish towns with its unspoilt whitewashed Moorish architecture, cobbled streets packed with colourful shops and pretty churches. I walked around picking up lovely ikat fabric bags and cushions then window shopping for silver jewellery and gorgeous glassware. Drinks in the shade of pretty Plaza de Los Naranjos or the Orange Square, made a refreshing stop. Lunch at The Farm was fun with its brightly painted furniture,bohemian atmosphere and organic tapas and cocktails.
Serious Shoppers can also rummage at the flea market in Puerto Banus or browse the designer stores at The Marbella Club.
The gastronomic scene in Marbella continues to make news. Michelin chef and Marbella boy Dani Garcia has opened Babette, a French influenced restaurant where there is currently a waiting list for a table. I was lucky enough to get a seat at his other flagship diner, Lena, described as one of the most beautiful restaurants in the world. The glitzy toilets alone are worth the visit.. This steakhouse is surprising - expect to be presented with a choice of knives from an impressive collection and have your steak minced in front of your eyes before being kneaded into a burger.
Nobu Restaurant Marbella is found close by, serving it’s much loved signature dishes. It was opened by Robert de Niro in 2018
Both restaurants are found in the lovely Puente Romano complex which has an energetic scene all day and later revellers spill out into The Plaza for late night drinks and music.
El Ancla at San Pedro is the place for sunsets and seafood and has its own tempting seawater swimming pool. I sampled the speciality baked clams to the sound of the waves crashing below.
In Marbella all generations seem to congregate at Momento, said to be the hottest club in town with both indoor and outdoor space. Or they head to La Suite with a chic vibe said to have been inspired by Manhattan’s Studio 54. Puerto Banus has noisier clubs with bars such as Linekar’s and Dreamers. Expect to rub shoulders with footballers, models and other celebrities.
Nikki Beach Marbella is the popular outdoor evening spot to see the sunset and maybe some famous faces while lying on Balinese beds and sipping cocktails to music.
On my last day I stopped off for lunch at The Marbella Cub- something of an Andalusian institution with a reputation compared to Club 55 in St Tropez. Patronised by ex-pats and playboys alike, it is glamorous and eclectic with unusual furnishings and artwork inside and heavenly terraces outside.
The area has long been known as the Costa del Golf, and the sport is still king here. There are over 35 courses between Marbella and Gibraltar and Barak Obama was seen recently teeing off. Marbella Golf Club and La Quinta Golf and Country Club are among the most prestigious clubs.
But Marbella is now equally famed for tennis tourism, with several clubs catering for all ages and abilities such as the Royal Tennis Club Marbella. On the water, you can charter a luxury motor cruiser or yacht from one of the three ports or try jet-skiing, windsurfing or diving.
Marbella is overlooked by the beautiful La Concha Mountain and nature lovers head to the hills for an exhilarating climb and some great photo opportunities.
Marbella has some impressive hotels such as The Westin La Quinta surrounded by hills and gardens and the grand beachfront Amare, The Nobu Hotel and The Marbella Club. But a number of quaint boutique properties can now be found such as the new El Castillo La Ciuddela Marbella in the Old Town which opened in April and Hotel Maison Ardoie La Ciudadela close to Venus Beach.
BRITISH AIRWAYS and IBERIA fly regularly to Malaga from London Gatwick from where it is a 45 minute transfer to Marbella by taxi or bus.