Overlooked by the iconic peak of la Concha and bathed by the Mediterranean Sea, Marbella is regarded as the “jewel in the crown” of the Costa del Sol. Marbella is both a town and a municipality, with its coastline stretching from Cabopino in the east to Guadalmina, San Pedro Alcantara in the west.
What can be said about Marbella that has not been said before? It is often touted as a playground for the rich and is renowned for racy nightlife, expensive sports cars, and world class golf. The mere mention of its name conjures up images of chic celebrities throwing parties in lavish beach clubs. The exclusive properties along the Golden Mile, the impressive selection of upmarket shops and restaurants, plus the yacht-filled marina of Puerto Banus all attest to its reputation as a luxury holiday destination. However, this legendary hotspot goes far beyond glitz and glam. In fact, with an amazing infrastructure of sports and entertainment for all ages, it is an ideal family holiday destination.
In their relentless quest for authenticity, experiential travellers often criticise Marbella for not being the “real Spain” as they imagine it, preferring the sleepy charm of the pueblo blancos of the hinterland. In a country with 17 autonomous regions and 5 different languages, there is no one size fit all and the “real Spain” is everywhere. While it’s true that Marbella is a far cry from the rural landscape and fishing villages of the past, with its luxury villas and smart beachside apartments, it surprisingly still retains its Andalusian rural charm. Driving along many back roads of San Pedro or Nueva Andalucia, you can be treated to the sight of orchards hanging heavy with oranges, pomegranates and avocados. Quite often you see horses and goats grazing about in private estates.
Andalucia usually evokes wrought iron balconied houses, dazzling whitewashed walls with hanging pots of geranium, narrow streets, the scent of orange blossoms and an exuberant street life. This scene can be found in the Old Town of Marbella, which has both the unhurried feel of a typical Andalusian village and the ambience of an upmarket destination. Get lost in the jumble of narrow streets festooned with potted plants and exploding bougainvillea bushes. There are many trendy boutiques and eclectic shops where you can find that little gift for the person who has everything. At the epicentre of the Old Town is the atmospheric Plaza de Los Naranjos, shaded by orange trees and surrounded by numerous cafes - a great option for an aperitif and resting tired feet.
Adoration of the Virgin is a conspicuous feature of Andalusian culture and Marbella is no exception. Scattered throughout the Old Town you will find many niches built into walls with statues of the Virgin or Christ. One of the most photographed streets is the calle Virgen de los Dolores, dominated by the blue niche of the Virgen de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrow). Like many coastal towns in Andalucia, Marbella still has a strong attachment to the Virgen del Carmen, the patron Saint of fishermen and the sea. Every 16 July festivities take place in her honour including a boat procession between the Puerto Deportivo de Marbella and Puerto Banus.
To talk about the cosmopolitan nature of Marbella is not just marketing hype. The Marbella “Way of Life” has attracted not only people from other parts of Spain, but from all over the globe. According to the last census, Marbella is home to 137 nationalities. This collision of cultures has given rise to a fascinating combination of cosmopolitan and traditional, blending local Andalusian charm in a international setting.
Famous for its sunshine and balmy winter temperatures, Marbella is a year round holiday destination. Whether you crave hedonism or tranquillity there is something to keep everyone happy: a host of activities for the kids, horse riding, hiking and a plethora of championship golf courses that trumpet this as the Costa del Golf. It is a fantastic base from which to explore the hidden delights of the hinterland, Gibraltar and Morocco. Gorgeous Ronda is just an hour’s drive away. The Sierra Blanca mountain range, that dominates Marbella, conceals a rustic environment rich in flora and fauna. A mere 20 minute drive away, in a secluded mountainous location, is an area called Juanar, designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve. World heritage listed sites in Cordoba, Seville and Granada are easily accessible by motorway or high speed train.
While Marbella does boast some 26 kilometres of beaches, don’t expect to find the white sandy beaches of Tarifa in Cadiz. Many of the beaches are stony or with coarse beige to grey sand. The better beaches are actually further east along the coast of Cabopino or Elviria, which boast sandy beaches and grassy sand dunes. The famous Nikki Beach is in fact situated there.