Before the summer hordes descend, Lucy Oates heads to the Costa del Sol and sees Marbella in a different light.
It’s fair to say that Marbella has something of a reputation. When I mentioned to a friend that I’d recently spent a weekend there, he asked if it was full of “ten bob millionaires”. This impression of Marbella has been compounded the fact that it’s the summer destination of choice for the crowd of Z-list celebrities who make up the cast of The Only Way is Essex. The phrase “no carbs before Marbs” was first coined by the show’s cast but is now ubiquitous.
As someone who has never holidayed in the Costa del Sol before and only ever watched Towie once, I really had no idea what to expect. When a group of girlfriends invited me on a weekend break to Puerto Banús, a marina just south-west of Marbella, the possibility of some spring sunshine was enough to convince me to book a flight. With a flight time from Leeds Bradford to Malaga of less than three hours, I could immediately see that the short hop to warmer climes is a big part of the Costa del Sol’s appeal. We went in April and enjoyed temperatures in the mid-20s.
As it was so early in the season, our hotel – the Meliá Marbella Banús – was quiet and it was refreshing not to have to queue for drinks at the bar or battle it out for the best sunloungers. A fantastic buffet breakfast was included in the price, but we also had the option of upgrading to The Level, which entitles guests to a package of additional perks, including drinks, snacks and tapas served in a special lounge area from 8am to 10pm. At an additional 80 euros per day, we decided that it was an add-on we could do without. We did, however, appreciate the choice of two outdoor swimming pools and an attractive terrace area off the main bar.
Set in lush, verdant gardens, the Meliá Marbella Banús is just seconds away from the swathe of golden sand that leads to the marina. I’ve heard Puerto Banús described as the “posh bit” of Marbella and, sure enough, the marina is chocka with yachts and the narrow road along the seafront clogged with luxury vehicles.
Bars and cafes lined the route to the marina, but, on the look-out for a marina-side restaurant with a view, we were surprised to find that designer shops occupy all the best locations. The bars and eateries were mostly positioned a street or two back from the marina, presumably having been edged out by the likes of Louis Vuitton and Dolce and Gabbana. But then, Puerto Banús is apparently famous for its shopping opportunities – whether you want a designer frock, an eye-wateringly expensive watch or the latest supercar, you’ll find it all on sale here. Thankfully, we found a couple of tapas restaurants a couple of streets away, where we ate away the excesses of the previous evening with amazing patatas bravas, Spanish omelette, olives and gambas al pil pil.
Ultra-chic Spanish families strolled along the seafront on the Sunday afternoon, but there were tell-tale signs that the Essex contingent were in town too. I can only imagine that their numbers multiply as the season progresses. Street traders from west Africa jostled for shoppers’ attention outside the luxury stores, selling fake designer handbags for a fraction of the price of the real deal inside. With a huge replica pirate ship serving cocktails day and night in the middle of all of this, it was a curious mix.
We’d actually planned to explore Marbella’s nightlife on the Saturday evening but, thanks to a slight mix-up on our part, the Don Quixote restaurant that we booked after reading great reviews on TripAdvisor was a little more off the beaten track than we’d expected. It could have been a disaster, but it proved to be the best discovery of our trip. The food and service was amazing; it’s hardly surprising that Joe Public has rated it the second best restaurant in Marbella out of more than 1,000. The meat eaters in our party raved about the chateaubriand, but my seafood linguine was also spot on.
On our last night, and in spite of my earlier misgivings about it, we climbed aboard the pirate ship. Happily ensconced at one of the wooden tables in the centre of the revolving floor, we discovered that it was a great spot for people watching. A large Irish hen party had a dance-off with a group of Spanish guys, and local families brought their children on board with them. The atmosphere was good-natured and the waiters ensured that the delicious cocktails and free nibbles kept on coming. The interesting mix of people on board was like a microcosm of Puerto Banús itself. Whether I’d enjoy a visit there during the frenetic summer months, I’m not sure, but it was definitely fun for a lazy, out-of-season weekend away with the girls.
The Meliá Marbella Banús hotel is on Puerto Banús’s famous Golden Mile. For latest rates and offers go to melia.com
Jet 2 offers regular direct flights from Leeds Bradford Airport to Malaga. For prices go to jet2.com
Don Quixote restaurant.restaurantedq.es/en/restaurant-marbella