Ever since the original jet set discovered this part of Spain’s southern coast, Marbella has been a glamorous resort town popular for its golf courses, marinas, nightlife and luxurious hotels. Over the years it has, however, also developed into a small but vibrant cosmopolitan city with a relaxed, outdoor and also sociable way of life that is generally regarded as its greatest asset.
The distinct areas that make up Marbella add to its charm whilst offering a great choice of locations and lifestyle preferences.
Known above all for its beachside promenade and broad leafy avenues lined with restaurants, boutiques and lively tapas bars, Marbella’s downtown area also includes a charming historic quarter characterised by a maze of pedestrian streets and intimate little squares.
Strolling around its pretty Andalusian houses and old churches this small but compact quarter exudes a very different atmosphere. Were it not for the elegant galleries, eateries and pretty fashion and craft shops, you might actually forget about the beaches and marinas less than a kilometre away.
Interspersed between parks and squares lay the apartments that form the body of Marbella’s town centre. Here contemporary architecture alternates with the early modernism of the 1960s to create enchanting spots for a stroll along the beach or a bit of café society in a shaded square.
The Golden Mile
The western beachside area of town is marked by luxurious modern apartment buildings of medium height that are sometimes called the ‘hanging gardens’ due to the rich profusion of greenery and the opulence of their tropical gardens. Follow the main Avenida Ricardo Soriano past the conference centre and the iconic copper Pirulí tower, and you’ve entered the famous Golden Mile of Marbella.
This road, which connects Marbella and the marina of Puerto Banús, cuts like a palm-lined artery through what is perhaps the best address in Marbella – and one of the best along the Mediterranean. It is here that you will find the famous Marbella Club Hotel and the Puente Romano, with its renowned tennis centre, but also fine dining restaurants and exclusive villa zones extending along the shore and inland amid intense greenery.
Leaving these privileged enclaves of grand villas and mansions behind you come to Puerto Banús, the famous playground of Marbella. Centred around a charming marina where mega yachts look out over bistros, trendy cafés and designer stores, Puerto Banús offers an array ofnightlife, beaches and shopping with the emphasis on opulent hedonism.
Besides a great many luxury shops you will find small malls and a grand El Corte Inglés department store with just about every product and service you could imagine. For those who have tired themselves out shopping there are beach clubs, spas and also a very cosmopolitan choice of restaurants to choose from.
San Pedro Alcántara
If Puerto Banús is where Marbella comes to play then the lively little town of San Pedro is where people come for a gentle stroll or to absorb the Andalusian atmosphere. The shops, restaurants and cafés may be less exclusive, but together they produce a very authentically Spanish street scene that reflects the varied nature of the greater Marbella area.
Extending outwards from Marbella and San Pedro are the green, low-density residential zones where many residents from Northern Europe have settled in private villas, charming townhouses and luxurious apartment complexes. While urbanisations of the latter are typically small, low-rise and set within beautiful gardens with their own swimming pools, many of the villas look out over the golf courses that are such a feature of life on the Costa del Sol.
Country club living
Among the most famous of these residential areas are Guadalmina and Nueva Andalucía, which follow the flow of green fairways across the coastal plain. An alternative lifestyle is offered by the private country clubs set a little further inland, where the foothills of the Serranía de Ronda Mountains begin to make their presence felt.
Here, in urbanisations such as Los Arqueros, La Quinta, El Madroñal and the highly exclusive La Zagaleta, homes still follow the contours of golf courses but now against the rising gradient of hills and valleys. The result is a setting amid pine groves and fantastic views that take in Marbella, golf courses, the coastline and the Mediterranean all the way to Gibraltar and North Africa.
The estates grow larger, the atmosphere a little more rustic and protected tracts of nature provide an ideal setting for hikers, equestrians and those looking out for deer or the birds of prey that circle above.
The final part of the wonderfully diverse elements that make up Marbella is its eastern region, which extends from Rio Real and Los Monteros near the town’s edge all along the coast, passing the leafy suburban areas of El Rosario, Elviria, Las Chapas, Cabopino and Calahonda en route.
From the luxurious urbanisations of Rio Real, centred upon one of the prettiest golf courses in the area, to the opulent beachside mansions of Los Monteros and the medium-sized villas of El Rosario, this eastern area is marked by open undulating land that once again follows the seaward flow of golf courses to what are the best beaches in this part of the Costa del Sol.
Chiringuito beach bars and luxurious resort hotels enjoy wonderful views from amid sandy dunes back across the bay to Marbella. A little further along the coast is the pretty little marina of Cabopino – a rather intimate and picturesque version of Puerto Banús where the atmosphere is above all summery and languid.
Well-serviced with shops, restaurants, international schools and also beach clubs and racket clubs, these eastern suburbs of Marbella are still little more than five minutes removed from Marbella’s town centre – and at the heart of a region that offers as many different lifestyles and settings as you could wish for.