Spain – Marbella and Puerto Bañus
Picture this. You arrive at Marbella’s harbour on your super yacht. You are whisked away by the on-board helicopter to your hilltop sprawling estate (it covers the entire top of the hill). Your chauffeur is polishing your Bentley at the end of the driveway and your personal assistant is putting together the list of social invitations for the week for you to choose from. Yes, this is life. Not my life, but somebody’s.
Marbella and the neighbouring naughty Puerto Bañus are a playground for the rich and famous, rich and infamous and the not-so-famous but rich. You get the picture. The hilltop estates are staggering in their extravagance and I hear that many of them are occupied only a couple of weeks a year if at all. Super yachts sail here in the summer and even now out of season the harbour is full of beautiful luxurious yachts. One notable super yacht docked here at the moment is SHAF, belonging to the Saudi royal family. I am told that in the summer they come here with an impressive entourage and can be seen lounging on the decks of the beautiful yacht (not all at once, it’s not that large:).
Protected by the Sierra Blanca mountain range to the immediate north, Marbella enjoys a micro climate that offers more than 300 days of sunshine a year and temperatures that range between 18℃ and 30℃. The local population of about 400,000 expands in season with more than 4 million tourists flocking here from all over the world. Locals say that summers are so busy with tourists that you cannot get an inch of space on the long beach and good luck getting a seat at a restaurant on the marina. Activities here vary but the most popular two are boating and golf. There are more golf courses per person here than anywhere else in the world.
Marbella and Puerto Bañus sit about 8 km from each other, Puerto Banus to the west and Marbella to the east, forming a continuous residential area between them. A beautiful paved promenade connects the two communities along the beach with palm trees, restaurants, bars and cafes open all year round. The stretch between Marbella and Puerto Banus is known as The Golden Mile. It earned its name from real estate prices in this area that are the highest in Europe, even more expensive than London real estate. Puerto Banus is known as the “wild child” of the two communities. This is partyland where you’d find the night life, flashy cars, expensive boutiques and the see and be seen culture. The Shaf super yacht I mentioned is docked here and you see ferraris and Lamborghinis circulating the narrow road running in front of the marina making quite a bit of a racket revving up their engines in case you didn’t notice them. Funny. One more flashy place to mention is Nikki Beach just east of Marbella in Elvira. This beach club, open in the summer only, is where €1000 champagne bottles get splashed around like water and where the beach parties happen. Not my scene but I thought you should know:).
Marbella has an interesting social history. It used to be another sleepy Spanish fishing village in the past until a European Prince Alfonso Hohenlohe got stuck in the village because of problems with his Rolls Royce (ah, the tough life of the aristocracy). The prince fell in love with the area and begun buying land and developing it into a resort for European aristocracy and Hollywood stars (his friends). In 1954 he famously transformed his residence into the Marbella Club Hotel that immediately attracted his European and Hollywood “crew” and thus was born Marbella, the destination for those who could afford it. The beautiful hotel is still a landmark in Marbella. We didn’t stay there but made it our “headquarter” for stopping by for drinks, lunches and spa. Prices there defy gravity but I have a weakness for historic hotels and the food and service were superb.
This charming place caught the attention of the Saudi royalty in the 70’s and the then King Fahd had a palace fit for a king built on the famous golden mile, an exact replica of the white house. For years he came to Puerto Bañus with a fleet of jumbo jets and a large entourage (some say 3000) and injected a huge amount of money into the local economy. He entertained European royalty here and the high political echelon with foods flown in weekly from Saudi Arabia. When he died in 2005 the city declared a three day mourning period and declared him an “adopted son of the municipality”.
Marbella had other famous residents in the past including the ultimate James Bond Sean Connery and the musician Rod Stewart. It is still home to Lord sugar of the British Apprentice and James Hewitt, known for his liaison with Princess Di. The not-so-hard-on–the–eye Zoro a.k.a Antonio Banderas also has a home here (he was born in a neighbouring town) and can be seen with his wife Melanie Griffith strolling the Marina promenade when in residence (so I have been told). I hear that George Clooney also has a home here (told ya he’s following me) but I don’t know if it’s true. I’ll tell you once I get an invite. Simon Cowell also has a residence here and I read that Vladimir Putin bought an estate here worth millions of dollars. At the moment word is that Naomi Campbell is vacationing here on one of the super yachts. This is it for my version of the Enquirer or the London tabloids.
It’s relatively quite here now, being off season, but the weather is wonderful and warm and the many restaurants set their tables on the promenade and the more casual ones on the sand on the long stretch of beach. On nice evenings the promenade is full of people nicely dressed and out for an early evening stroll before a late night supper.
Sunday is a special day here and people are out by the thousands if the weather is good. It is a local tradition to spend the day walking the promenade between the two communities, stopping for coffee here, a tapas there, perhaps a sangria and eventually a lunch or dinner. We participated in this fun outing last Sunday and spent the day walking the entire distance, stopping like the locals at various restaurants and cafes along the way. We picked a couple of beach restaurants serving guests right on the sand at cloth covered tables and it was a memorable experience. We saw restaurants grill fish on open fire, standing the cleaned fish vertically on sticks a few inches away from the flame. We walked the entire distance, slowly with several stops but still, it was a good exercise in the warm sun. We took a taxi back to our car.
The glitz is not all that Marbella has to offer. Marbella has a gorgeous old town going up the hill from the center of town. My heart just melts when I walk the beautiful streets and stop for coffee at one of the gorgeous old plazas up there. The narrow streets are paved with tile and stone in a beautiful pattern that makes you feel like you are inside a gorgeous structure, not outdoors. The stone developed a certain sheen with time. There seem to be a tradition of lining the very narrow streets with huge terra cotta or ceramic pots on both sides with beautiful plants planted in them. It is such a dreamy picturesque scene that my heart pounds when I walk there. I don’t think the images in this post truly reflect the charm of this old town. A good portion of the old city wall is still intact at the top of the hill, juxtaposing the glitzy Marbella with its ancient history. Locals live in the old town in these home that connect past and present. It must make an impact on who they are as people. This immediate connection to history is really unique. What a beautiful place.
The food in Andalucia is an interesting mixture of Spanish, Arabic and Jewish cuisines. We have had a few great lunches and dinners of freshly caught fish simply grilled and served with vegetables. Tapas have also been special, from roasted peppers marinated in local olive oil to fried fish, potato salads, lentils and grilled vegetables. The most popular food here is seafood and a lot of fried fish but every menu also features their famous cold soups gazpacho and salmorejo (recipes to come). Another interesting dish is eggplant fritters with honey, contribution from the Jewish heritage of the area. The bakeries sell anise seed fried pastries called borrachuelos and French toast like sweet they call torrijas. In Sevilla and Malaga I saw the churros that locals stop for daily it seems and eat them dipped in a thick chocolate drink. We have done that and I will report about it in a separate post.
There is a wonderful permanent market here, the Marbella Mercado Central where vendors set up gorgeous displays of vegetables, fish, spices, olive oils, olives, rice and of course their meat products that I tend to skip. Can you believe that this is available all year round? I know we have our supermarkets but this is different, more authentic, seasonal and fresh. Aye.
I have a lot more to tell but will end for now. Will keep you posted.