THE morning had started early – at 5am – with dozens of Spanish police joining over 100 American special agents, sent to Marbella to guard the President’s wife.
No-one was taking chances and every manhole cover in the old town had been lifted to carefully check for bombs in advance of the arrival of Michelle Obama in August 2010.
Bristling with nerves, the area’s narrow cobbled streets were combed by a phalanx of plain-clothed policemen, while shopkeepers and waiters waited for Marbella’s most famous visitor for years.
Considering the number of sites in Spain that President Obama’s wife could have visited, it was a genuine honour that she chose the centre of Marbs.
But, it was entirely justified – along with further visits to Ronda and Sevilla – and it was to become the start of a total rejuvenation of easily the Costa del Sol’s prettiest historic centres.
Surrounded by the bright lights and modern buildings of most of Marbella, the old town comes as a real shock to the system.
In fact, driving into Marbella it is actually quite easy to miss the old town entirely.
But miss it at your peril, for its winding white-washed streets and pots bursting with colourful geraniums make it feel like the most traditional of Andalucian pueblos.
And like most Spanish historic centres, wandering aimlessly is the most rewarding way to explore.
Ultimately, all roads lead to the Plaza de los Naranjos – or Orange Square – the beating heart of Marbella’s old town.
Dating from 1485, the square is named after the orange trees that act as parasols (alongside many actual orange parasols) offering shade for the many cafes and restaurants.
It is a lovely spot to while away an hour with its renaissance fountain – built in 1604 – still running and the orange blossom delightful when in bloom.
Built after the Christian conquest of the city from the Moors, the square was designed to be the urban hub of the city.
Besides the typical Andalucian houses, three historic buildings have their home on the square: the Casa Consistorial, the Casa del Corregidor and the Ermita de Santiago (Hermitage of St James).
The Casa Consistorial, constructed in 1568, currently houses the town hall.
Its wrought iron balconies look out over the square, while inside are Mudejar-style torches and embellishments, and painted frescos.
The Renaissance-style palace Casa del Corregidor dates from 1552, while the Ermita de Santiago – built at the end of the 15th century – actually predates the plaza.
Branching away from the square are several idyllic Andalucian streets. The Calle Remedios, the Calle San Cristobal and the Calle de los Dolores are all worth exploring.
You could spend hours wandering the little backstreets – and the superb range of sweet independent shops have great browsing appeal.
Some of the best are the charming Toy Shop, run by Joe Cayetano, in Calle Nueva, which is in fact three shops selling exclusive and brilliant made toys.
It is an Aladdin’s cave of charming old toys and musical boxes, as well, and will enchant children and adults alike.
Make sure not to miss Déjà Vu, a vintage clothing shop on Calle Pedraza, which was established in 1997.
It is a beautiful shop with a great choice of high-end designer vintage stock on offer, including Hermes, Gucci, Dior and Chanel. Déjà vu will also sell your luxury or vintage items.
Another top boutique is Jacaranda which opened last year in Calle Remedios.
It is a lovely shop selling great fashion at reasonable prices. You can buy Cavalli scarves, leather bags, beautiful dresses and brands such as Naf Naf and Morgan.
Finally make sure to pop into the newest delicatessen and champagne bar La Santa on Calle Plaza Puente Ronda.
Recently opened by three local Spaniards, it has a great position and sells a superb range of products, from fine wines to top hams and cheeses.