THE WEEKEND: 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 vibe dates back to the 1950s, when European royalty and Hollywood stars like Brigitte Bardot, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly holidayed here. With new Michelin starred restaurants, quirky boutique hotels and chic nightclubs the town is now attracting a new generation.
BEACH CULTURE: There are 24 beaches in Marbella but a stroll along the palm-fringed Avenida del Mar is the best way to experience these shores, with access to numerous beaches, bars and restaurants. I passed some expertly tanned and coiffured couples dining at white tablecloth establishments on the promenade, but on the opposite side of the avenue there are lively beach bars, which, adopting the local lingo, are known as chiringuitos. Cappuccino is among the best for more uptempo drinking and dancing, but I discovered Marbella’s best churros at San Gines at Plaza Africa just a short walk along the Avenida. A little further down the avenue you find the fascinating Dali sculptures at the Plaza de La Alameda. It is about a 40 minute walk from here to the bling of Puerto Banus, the exclusive marina south-west of Marbella with its smart bars and designer shops, or you can reach it by a 30 minute catamaran ride from the central Puerto Deportivo in Marbella.
THE OLD TOWN: Despite Marbella’s touristic reputation, Old Marbella Town feels a million miles from the modern glamour of the beachfront. It’s all unspoilt whitewashed Moorish architecture, and Judith Baker discovers modern glamour and rustic charm in Marbella cobbled streets, packed with colourful shops and pretty churches. I picked up lovely ikat fabric bags and cushions then went window shopping for silver jewellery and glassware. Drinks in the shade of the pretty Plaza de Los Naranjos or Orange square makes a refreshing stop before lunch at The Farm restaurant with its laid back bohemian atmosphere and organic tapas and cocktails.
THE FOOD: The gastronomic scene in Marbella continues to make news. Michelinstarred chef and Marbella boy Dani Garcia has opened Babette, a French influenced restaurant where there is currently a weeks’ long waiting list. 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 by Restaurant & Bar Design Awards. Nobu Restaurant Marbella is a short walk away. Further down the coast El Ancla at San Pedro is the place for sunsets and seafood.
DON’T FORGET THE GOLF: The area’s other title is the Costa del Golf. There are over 35 courses between Marbella and Gibraltar and Barack Obama was seen recently teeing off here. Marbella Golf Club and La Quinta Golf and Country Club are among the most prestigious clubs.
AND AFTER THAT? Marbella has some impressive hotels such as The Westin La Quinta where I stayed, surrounded by hills and gardens. There is also Nobu Hotel and the grand beachfront Amare. But a number of boutique properties can now be found such as the new El Castillo La Ciuddela Marbella in the Old Town
NEED TO KNOW: British Airways and Iberia fly regularly to Malaga from London.