Place of Wonder: My Marbella
I’ve been coming to Marbella for as long as I can remember. Puerto Banus to be exact, that’s the main party town now, but to me it was just home to Tramps, the beach restaurant where I could get una hamburgesa para niños for 1000 pesetas (£5) and where I fell in love with our neighbour, Tito.
I was eight when I first came out to the Costa del Sol, invited out here by one of my oldest friends, Grace and her mum, after my mum’s mum died.
We would run around the complex with a freedom we’d never had before, sneak into bars aged 14 for Smirnoff Ice’s, ride around on highly dodgy scooters and refine our flirting techniques. 4-6 weeks over the summer, where friends from all over the world would meet to swim, sunbathe and play fusbol.
The now infamous Ocean Club used to be a very unrefined pool area called La Siesta, where you were guaranteed great chicken nuggets, a lollipop and an ear infection. Now, places like La Siesta are few and far between and Ocean Club and it’s doppelgängers have become the ‘Marbella Vibe.’
Above: Flashback Marbella with my aunt, Pam and cousin, Soph in Marbella in 2010
My mum sold our flat after 18 years earlier this year after we had taken all we could of the drunken Brits infesting our much beloved holiday home from April-September, including a drunken hit and run outside Ocean Club (also outside our flat), we were one minute too late to become victim to.
This year also happened to be the year one of my oldest Spain friends, Hannah celebrated her wedding out here, and so my husband and I found ourselves finding alternative accommodation in Marbella for the first time.
What ensued has been a re-discovery of a place that will always feel like home and something I want to share to ensure that the beautiful town of Marbella does not become forever lost to tourists of the twat variety.
I write this sat on top of a house boat near Gibraltar (our final stop before heading home to the UK) and with a belly full of calamari and Barradillo white wine with a renewed love for the spanish way of life.
I hope this article will help you see Marbella and all its good points, but it’s only fair to kick off with all the abominable places to give a wide berth in Marbs. Just to be safe mi amors.
Places to Avoid:
The PYR Hotel (very close to my old casa) - avoid unless you want an STI and an accidental orgy.
Ocean Club and La Sala. Unless you want to feel like a pig in transit to slaughter, swapping sweat with 60 other women wearing Boohoo.com
SkyBar (Puerto Banus) if you want to avoid everyone on Pervy Alley seeing up your skirt. In fact avoid all bars on Pervy Alley - apart from maybe Linekars and Flick’s (if you’re under 20). Astral (pirate ship cocktail bar) is also decent. News Cafe, Pangea and Sinatra’s are also doable, but please keep your hopes of the calibre of the males here very very low. If you would rather avoid being groped entirely, please do stay off Pervy Alley.
The Clown selling roses. And much more, v suspect.
Places to flock to:
Our trip this time has been mainly within Marbella Old Town, which is where the majority of my recommendations are, but if you would like to stay in Puerto Banus, have a look at accommodation in Andalusia del Mar and Medina Garden (residential, not hotels). Eat at Gold (ask for Dino), Picassos and the Pasta Cafe (probably the only places in the Port that are not totally overpriced and full of women avec multiple butt cheeks on show) and for beach eats Pedro’s is good (you will have to circumnavigate the La Sala hen dos) as is Los Epigoñes for sangria and paella (call and order in advance).
Marbella Old Town:
Calle Santa Domingo. We stayed in this Air Bnb in Old Town, which I would highly recommend. Affordable, central and very nice hosts. Approx £100 per night, excluding Air Bnb fees.
Hotel Claude. We didn't have the pleasure of staying here but lusted over it many a time whilst walking past. Apparently it is the first boutique hotel in Marbella. Approx £250 per night.
Hostel Paco. Not fancy but very central and a perfect stay if you don’t want to splurge. Approx 80 Euros per night.
(All prices accurate at the time of writing - June 2019)
Images L-R Top row - Calle Santa Domingo, L-R Bottom row, Hotel Claude, Hotel Claude, Hostal Paco
Flamenco Ana Maria is an institution in Old Town. Flamenco is like nothing you can experience online. It is wild, fervently passionate, powerful and completely defies our perceptions of beauty and any notions of ‘pretty’. It is power in strength, not in posing. A must-attend.
Avenida del Mar In stark contrast to the wild nature of flamenco, Avenida del Mar, an open town square is one of my favourite things about the country of Spain in general. The creation of public squares where old and young meet to watch the world go by, are historic centers for mindfulness and contemplation. Walking around much of Old Town you will see old men sitting on chairs and benches chatting and observing. Avenida del Mar is one of my favourites - “There’s no better place to sit”.
Swim and SUP The beauty of Old Town is its proximity to the beach. My solo swim the Mediterranean Sea has been one of my most freeing experiences this year. The joy of this total serenity made my lazy morning habit fly out of the window, as I jumped out of bed to greet the ocean as early as possible (even hungover). If you want to make even more of the sea hire a Stand up Paddle Board from Blow Wave Surf. Alternatively if you’d rather a lesson, check out NalaSur who do SUP lessons for families and at sunset, as well as SUP yoga, kayaking and surf classes.
If you find yourself needing some re-fuelling after all that doing, here’s five foodie spots worth your attention.
Mimo by the Sea. A great breakfast spot, especially if you’re craving some avocado (this is not a Spanish thing). Mimo is right by the beach, the perfect spot for a pre or post swim and does a mean sharing brunch with eggs, toast, avocado, Spanish tomatoes, yogurt, muesli, smoked salmon and the almighty jamón.
Soleo Marbella Beach Club This one’s not not ritzy, but it’s also not massively overpriced and not usually full of English people. If you like a bit of a Soho House vibe, this one is worth a visit.
Marbella Beach Club Now this one is ritzy, but I include it because a) it’s heaven b) its heritage - it goes back decades and the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Bridget Bardot have partied here c) although it is expensive, the service is spot on so if you are celebrating a birthday I do recommend a visit to this iconic Marbella spot.
La Casa del Té Coming back down to earth a visit to the Tea House, back in Old Town - or the Hairy Armpit Café as we call it, is a must. Sit outside and try their mojitos, they’re lethal.
Orange Square No particular recommendations, but a visit to Orange Square in general is a brilliant experience. The smell of orange trees and the hustle and bustle of outdoor diners mixed with cigars and music. If you can try some of the churros there, your orange square experience will be complete!
Images L-R Soleo Beach Club, Soleo Beach Club, Mimo Breakfast, Marbella Beach Club
I was so pleasantly surprised by how many boutique and independent shops are popping up in Marbella Old Town. Here’s just some of my favourites.
Isla Capri, Calle Peral, 13, 29601 Marbella. Beaut sandals and bags. Spanish style in bricks and mortar.
Bily Bily Baby, Casco antiguo, Calle Huerta Chica, n12, 29601 Marbella. This shop right here is why Spanish children look so impeccably dressed. Also online.
4 x 4 Woman. (According to their website they have no shop in Marbella - but they definitely do - it’s opposite Bily Bily Baby) Take a suitcase. Linens in all colours, from jumpsuits to classic linen trousers and comfy lounge tops and beach dresses. You’ll feel in place at the Marbella Club to St Tropez.
Razza, Calle Peral, 11, 29601 Marbella. There are lots of shops selling espadrilles in Marbella Old Town, but this is the best one. Reasonably priced and class bottled. Mine have taken me from disheveled Brit to Penelope Cruz on a yacht in an instant.
L-R Billy Billy Baby, 4 x 4 Woman
As I went to compile my Where to Shop list I found that one of my favourite jewellers in Old Town, Nicholson has shut down her shop and now just has a presence in Fuengirola. There are so many brilliant places I left off this list (check out Benahavis and San Pedro regions), which I hope goes to show that there is life left in Marbella and Andalusia.
As I vacated my house boat, the guys next to us, a group of four German lads asked where we’d been. When I responded Marbella - they said: “We’re not going there', too showy.” And whilst they were right (in some parts), no town is perfect. So I’ll say to you what I said to them, seek out the softer side to Marbella that I know and love, support the Spanish traditions and find a cultural experience that is not entirely made up of Love Island ex-contestants and dos cervezas for favor.
Fly to Malaga (or Gibraltar) airport on Easyjet, Ryanair, Norwegian Air, BA and Jet2. Save the Taxi fare and get the bus from right outside the airport for 6 euros (not 80 euro taxi). Bus timetable here - you’re welcome.