MARBELLA & PUERTO BANÚS
Although it’s the kind of place that we usually steer clear of, we felt that any visit to The Costa del Sol should include a visit to Marbella. In the mid 1960’s, my parents were amongst the thousands of Brits who took the newly introduced, cheap package tours to this stretch of the Spanish coast. In the 50 years since their visits here, Marbella has been transformed from a small fishing village into a place known as a hang out for the rich & famous...and so we went - to satisfy our curiosity!
On this stretch of Andalusia’s coast, Marbella is an international tourist destination - with a mild climate, 26 km of beautiful beaches, countless golf-courses, 3 marinas, plus world class hotels, shops and eateries....and its all surrounded by breathtaking mountains. The ancient Moorish town and fishing village is now a large commercial and tourist centre.
After the #79 bus dropped us off in the centre of town, it was a quick walk down to the beach. The seafront promenade here is similar to others in the area - except there’s a lot more bars and eateries.... it would be imppossible to cram any more in! Not only are they all along the Paseo, but just a few steps below - on the beach - there’s also a row of Chiringuitos that almost touch each other.
The beaches themselves consist of lovely sheltered coves, with breakwaters on either side to ensure calm waters. One cove still has a natural spring that continually trickles out onto the beach and into the ocean....but.....according to the information board at the site of this Fontanella, we learned a horrifying fact :- during this last century all of the sand dunes in the area were bulldozed to create the surrounding beaches. Fortunately environmental awareness is now beginning to protect the dunes, as they begin to return.
We left the beach via Avenida Del Mar - where an interesting row of Salvador Dali sculptures are casually on display. A short walk though a park and then across a main road took us to the labyrinth of streets that make up the old town.
Typical of this area, the streets wind around a central Plaza - in Marbella it’s the Plaza de los Naranjos - named for the orange trees that line it’s perimeter. Dating back to 1485 it’s surrounded by whitewashed houses and boasts 3 historical buildings - the Town Hall, the old Governor’s House and the Chapel of Santiago. With a bust of King Juan Carlos 1 in the centre, this square is also full of flowers, making it a popular place for cafés and restaurants.
A fountain, built in 1504, and erected by the first Christian mayor of Marbella, stands at the corner of the square and Nuevo Sreet. The Governor’s House, dating back to 1552, still retains the original stone facade decorated with shields and a balcony with 3 arches. Outside The Town Hall, built In 1568, is a sun dial with inscriptions that are still legible today - one of which, June 11, 1485, commemorates the date when the Town was re-conquered from the Moors. The Church of St. Mary dominates the square, with a Baroque style entrance, adorned with red stone. In the church square, there’s a tower which was part of the city wall that used to surround the Moorish town.
With small individually owned shops and boutiques, this old town of Marbella is a great place to wander and while away the time. Up a winding, cobbled street we stumbled upon the Hermita del Santo Cristo, set in a tiny plaza of the same name. The fountain in its centre bubbled quietly, the church was closed and with all the shutters down in the windows of the surrounding white houses (siesta time) - we were alone in this lovely peaceful place.....with only a couple of whimsically coloured scooters to keep us company!
We browsed a wine and gourmet food boutique that caught our eye - a beautiful store whose merchandise had the loveliest of packaging. We passed some of the remaining walls of the old castle, the most important remains of the Arabic city - its construction began in the 10th century. We entered and admired the lovely church and square dedicated to the patron saint of Marbella - San Barnabé....and once again we found ourselves wandering into the centre of it all - the Plaza de los Naranjos.
Any visit to Marbella should surely include a walk along the promenade - despite the wall to wall eateries and what must be madness in high season - the small Mediterranean coves are stunning...and it’s fun to sit with a cold drink at an outside a café and “people watch” (we did!)....but the old town is a must.....it’s only a short distance - but a world away - from the scene down at the beach!
Puerto Banús, goes even further in terms of glitz and glamour than we’d anticipated.
Only 6 Km from Marbella, this “suburb” is what is commonly referred to as “over the top!” .....but agin from curiosity, we had to see it!
Our first stop that day was El Corte Inglés - Spain’s leading department store. The branch in Puerto Banús is one the largest in the country. Although we spent little time there - it has 5 floors of shopping - it was interesting if only for the fact that the majority of signs were in English....and all announcements we heard were in a very “posh” British accent! Our attention was mostly taken up with the “Food Experience” on the 2nd floor. A glittering centre-piece of expensive wines and gourmet food is surrounded by a handful of small, high-end eateries. We looked, admired, drooled a bit...and left empty handed!
All of the streets in the small town area are lined with shops and restaurants and It’s hard to think that not all of them lead down to the marina, but I think they probably do.....it’s the focus of this town! We could not resist - and like lemmings, went to where the international jet set are said to play.
The views of the mountains, groomed beaches and the ocean is stunning, especially when seen from the sea wall behind the marina - also a great place to walk and watch the boats heading out into the open waters of the Mediterranean.
The marina complex - designed and built in 1970 by a local property developer, José Banús and Noldi Schreck, who also participated in the design of Beverly Hills, is not only the most expensive marina in Europe but the perfect place to go shopping. Reflecting the expensive life-style of the rich and famous, the designer shops offer the latest fashions from Dior, Gucci, Versace, D & G, Bvlgari, Tom Ford and many more. The restaurants serve Spanish and international cuisine......and there is, of course, the boats! This huge and expensive marina is full of what has to be some of the largest ones in the world.
With around 5 million people visiting each year it’s a great people-watching place - which I have to confess, we did. Although a relief not to be there during the crowded high-season, there was a trade off....we saw no TV, film or pop-stars - but we did see plenty of Bentleys and Ferraris, luxury yachts and a lot of well-dressed people!
We left Puerto Banús and walked 2km westwards along the seafront promenade to the previously visited San Pedro de Alcántara - not the place of glitz and glamour that makes headlines....but to us - that’s the real Marbella!