SMOKING sardines, bikini-clad roller skaters and children with ice cream-covered faces… this is Marbella in full seasonal swing.
Forget the odd TOWIE nonsense and celebrity wannabes, this is still a Spanish town at heart and is packed to the rafters with cultural and gastronomical offerings.
A historical old town based around Orange Square oozes charm while its surrounding shops – from small and quirky boutiques to the more recognisable brands – will keep you busy for hours.
This ancient walled town retains nearly all of its original 16th-century layout, even though chichi art galleries, fab tapas bars and artisan fashion and ice cream shops populate its cobbled streets today.
Whether you are thirsting for history or only a drink, Plaza de los Naranjos, named for its abundance of orange trees, will oblige in either case.
Enclosed by an 11th century Arab wall, the showpiece of the square is the 16th century Old Governor’s House.
A tourist hotspot, the square’s bars and restaurants charge a little more but it’s worth it for the ambience.
When the heat gets too much, respite can be found within the cool stone walls of Our Lady of the Incarnation church, a 17th century former mosque that was taken over by the Christians during the Reconquest.
Inside, along with beautiful paintings and locals praying, you’ll enjoy the highly-efficient air conditioning!
Tributes paid, you can find Marbella monuments even older than this, dating from 1AD. The first Roman bridge beside the Puente Romano hotel remains a rite of passage and the baths still stand in Guadalmina.
When you tire of burning shoe leather, bag a park bench in the green shade of one of the exquisite public gardens. La Constitucion park and the Alameda Gardens are particularly lovely, the latter always brimming with locals and surrounded by great cafes and bars.
Or if you’re looking to strictly chill, there’s a whole lot of beach waiting for you.
Boasting 27 kilometres of coastline, San Pedro and Puerto Banus both proudly fly the prestigious Blue Flag, an award given to the best beaches by the Foundation for Environmental Education. In a cull of blue flags in Spain last month – which saw many resorts lose dozens across the country – Marbella held onto all of its awards bar one.
If you then stroll into nearby Puerto Banus, just to the west of Marbella, you’ll witness a scene like no other, depending on the hour.
This could include hen-doers trying their best to pull off ill-fitting fancy dress costumes after celebrating their last night of freedom, or members of the ‘1% club’ disembarking from mega-yachts or Ferraris to shop ‘till they drop’ at the likes of Gucci and Prada.
Banus has become an unashamed melting pot for the rich, famous and wannabe glamourpusses.
The glitz and glamour flows in a thick slick out of the port and along Marbella’s Golden Mile, home to exclusive nightclubs Le Suite and the extravagant Roberto Cavalli where a round of drinks could probably blow your weekly budget if you haven’t already splurged it on a swanky designer outfit – an essential if you want to mingle with the Who’s Who of Marbs.
Along this same elitist strip the likes of Lord Alan Sugar, Simon Cowell, Sean Connery and the Saudi Arabian royal family have invested in their own villas.
World leaders too, are magnetically attracted to Marbs.
The Olive Press revealed in 2014 that Russian President Vladimir Putin had bought an estate here. And we were the only newspaper to speak to Michelle Obama on her famous visit to the town’s ‘casco historico’ in 2010 (ED: Well, we asked her two questions, if that counts).
A couple of Britain’s ex-PMs have taken a break from politics here; David and Sam Cameron celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary in the hills of Benahavís in 2017, staying at the exclusive €270-a-night Alcuzcuz resort; and Tony and Cherie Blair have been spotted here twice in the last four years.
Actor Hugh Grant is now said to own a home up in the Zagaleta hills, as does Mark Thatcher (Maggie’s wayward son). Plenty of Premier League footballers also have homes here.
Indeed Marbella has come a long way from its fishing village days, but did you know it’s all thanks to a German Prince and a rogue British car engine?
Maximilian de Hohenlohe-Langenburg and his son Alfonso had to stop in Marbs when they were having trouble with their Rolls Royce in 1946.
Alfonso liked the area so much he decided to buy some land and build himself a house, before selling plots to his Rothschild and Thyssen friends.
He soon turned his home into the Costa del Sol’s first luxury hotel in 1954 – The Marbella Club – which to this day remains a mainstay on the Golden Mile, welcoming guests like Lady Gaga and Lenny Kravitz.
Before long, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Laurence Olivier were all hanging out there, raising the Costa del Sol’s international profile and attracting a wave of jetsetters and investment.
From a pure accident of fate the resort has gone from strength to strength, despite the economic and political woes that plagued Spain since the financial crash of 2008.
And the same can be said for its culinary scene.
Marbella now has the most Michelin stars per capita in the COUNTRY and positively glitters with the highest concentration of Michelin Star restaurants in Andalucia, making it the undisputed gastronomy capital of the Costa del Sol.
Current mayor Angeles Muñoz has vowed to put Marbella up for Spanish Capital of Gastronomy 2020 – if she is re-elected this week.
And the town has more than a fat chance, with an exciting food scene constantly offering new restaurants and eateries – think Savor in San Pedro or Nobu on the Golden Mile.
The cultural scene is also thriving, with the Marbella International Arts Festival now a regular fixture on the calendar and the Marbella International film festival growing at an unprecedented pace. And, of course, the annual Starlite Festival which brings some of the biggest global stars to a quirky quarry on the edge of town, along with hundreds of jobs and thousands of tourists.
Add the annual feria in June and this Marbellous city is never boring.
The resort has continued to grow, despite the 2008 crash that brought Spain to its knees.
With incredible nightlife, a blossoming arts scene and the best food in the region, the party is only getting better in Marbella.