Genteel, smart... meet the old Marbella

THE plane descends over the southern Spanish countryside and the perfect rows of olive trees almost resemble a Roy Lichtenstein cartoon from above, neatly formed into different sections by hill slope and field. The dramatic mountains give way to bold blue waters and there are whisps of white as the waves collide with the land. It seems like minutes since we took off from London and already – with rainy drizzle behind me in the capital – the anticipation of warmth causes me to practically shout out: “Sangria! Sun! Hurrah!” as I squirrel away my magazines and sweets.

Two-and-three-quarter hours is a pretty decent turnaround by anyone’s standards, which is precisely why British Airways’ new year-round “sunshine route” from City Airport to Malaga looks set to be popular with expats and City moguls in search of a hot weekender. The service launched in June with four-times-weekly flights from London City Airport to Malaga on brand spanking new Embraer 170 and 190 aircraft. It’s part of an expanding offer of “leisure flights” being offered from the airport and is already popular.

Malaga is pretty much the ideal quick fix weekend destination. For those without a holiday home in the region, one of the best places you could pick for a couple of days of R&R is the legendary Marbella Club. The award-winning historic hotel, founded by Prince Alfonso Hohenlohe in 1946, has played host to just about every iconic celebrity and royal in its time and this year is experiencing a refreshed tidal wave of affection after the launch of “the Global Party” – an international fundraising event for the world’s wealthiest social elites – was held there.

In April it also re-launched its annual “Spring Games”, originally started in the 1960s by the Prince as a one-day extravaganza of extreme sports. This upped its romance factor among travelling socialites and garnered reams of coverage in the luxury press. Unnecessarily, perhaps, for the Marbella Club already has a loyal following and fan base.

LUSH, OLD SCHOOL GRANDEUR
Step in to the resort grounds and there’s still something uniquely – and charmingly – old school about the Marbella Club. With the dramatic mountain backdrop, its lush grass, palm trees and manicured lawns, it feels almost like a Palm Springs country club. The architecture is low-lying and Spanish, with hand-painted terracotta tiles on the steps. Waiters and staff wear white. There’s a cocktail hour at 7pm complete with live lounge piano and dinner jacket dress code. Dishes in the formal restaurant are revealed by silver dome covers being removed simultaneously. The crowd, too, is a mixture of young and the more mature of “establishment” variety – magically they all seem to know each other and have been coming for years. But despite the formal polish, the place still feels remarkably relaxed. Children run around. Friends pad around in kaftans. It’s all about unwinding.

The Marbella Club boasts full access right down to the beach and hatwo pools, one by main hotel complex, another by the sea front (there are also serviced Marbella Club beach beds). The club has two restaurants. One, the Grill, is a traditional affair with spectacular seafood and up-market European cuisine (the restaurant’s Cointreau soufflé, which needs a 20-minute preparation time, is not to be missed). Fairytale candles are mounted all over the tree branches to wonderful effect. The second restaurant is a groovier option serving Asian fusion food, burgers and Caesar salads.

The rooms are generous. Mine is a classic double, which has a small terrace overlooking the pool, a beautiful, suitably-grand bathroom and all the techno bits you’d expect (TV, internet, CD and DVD player). There are also 38 suites and 14 serviced villas for families. Magically, due to clever landscaping, you are never aware of the size of the place. It feels like a peaceful village.

By the beach, the resort’s Thalasso spa offers a range of algae bath and massage treatments along with a seawater pool, which makes for a fabulous afternoon of lazing around. It’s the perfect way to unwind from a week. In fact, between this, the pool, and the pina coladas you could quite happily spend an entire weekend in the resort without feeling guilty.

EXPLORING THE REGION
But it is worth exploring. If you don’t want to hire a car, a twenty-minute taxi ride one way will take you to the historic Marbella old town and shops (bikes can be hired from the hotel if that seems too much.) In the other direction is Puerto Banus, with more great shopping and sites. Sports enthusiasts can take part in professional tennis lessons at the local professional Puento Romano tennis club. This summer for tennis fans the club will play host to the Marbella Masters tournament (25-27 August) with guest stars Bjorn Borg, Pat Cash and Yevgeny Kafelnikov playing.

Further afield, if you can stomach the perilous winding hill roads, the stunning town of Ronda, home of the famous 168th century bullring, is well worth an excursion. Here I check out the incredible Pedro Romero restaurant, which has been there – evident from the crammed walls of memorabilia – for aeons. Pedro Romero is the kind of place that locals eat in on Sundays and we dine like Spanish kings on hearty local fare before waddling around town to take in the jaw-dropping gorge and the bull-fighting ring. Bull fighting is less common in Spain now, partly due to the expense of hosting events, but Ronda does host an annual fight in September for those who want to witness the real deal. In any case, the ring itself is great to look around. Its arches and seating are so atmospheric in the scorching mid-afternoon sun that you can practically feel the crowds cheering from past festivities.

Spain is known for its nightlife and near to the Marbella club is the recently opened Suite Del Mar on the beachfront, just a stone’s throw from The Marbella Club. The beach-hut/club has become quite a hotspot on Saturday evenings thanks to its live Cirque du Soleil-style gymnasts and performing flame-throwers. There’s something Ibiza-like about the club, which is completely decked out in white and offers drinks by the bottle on table service (at suitably blingy prices). As such, it’s a magnet for beautiful young women and – er – slightly older, but nonetheless enthusiastic dancing gentlemen clad in white linen trousers. It’s terrific fun and again, just paces away from your bed, terrace, and peaceful pool, for sleeping off the dancing before a highly civilized flight home.

All I can say is: enjoy. You’re unlikely to find a mecca of southern European pleasure-seeking with more to offer, whether you’re a culture vulture or a hedonist.

Double Classic Rooms start from €375 per night based on two people sharing. For reservations, call: 0034 95 282 2211, email reservas@marbellaclub.com or go to www.marbellaclub.com. British Airways flights to Malaga start at £75 one way. Go to www.ba.com For more on the Marbella Masters, see www.marbellamasters.es.