“A place to make a fortune, spend a fortune, drink shots, get shot – whatever takes your fancy – that, at its heart, is Marbella,” wrote Piers Morgan in 2010, when the kudos of the celebrity resort city was at an all-time low.
But no matter how much mud ex-British tabloid editors can sling, it doesn’t stick for long in Marbella’s Mediterranean microclimate, where 320 days of sunshine turns mud to dust, in time.
That time is now! You’re about to witness the rebirth of Marbella!
The economy’s recovering, the property market’s rallying, the glamour’s back … maybe it never wholly went away. The aristos who put Marbella on the jet set map still give a damn about its future.
For once, the story dominating recent local news wasn’t about money laundering Mayors, tawdry Marbella Belles and tone-lowering Towie stars. The ‘Great Skyscraper Scandal’ rallied some seriously high society:
People who pack the clout of a wrecking ball and aren’t afraid to take a swing with it!
They did that this January, lending their pijo to a public protest that demolished plans to turn Marbella into a cheap copy of Dubai with a skyline of 50-storey mega-towers. For the first time in a long time, a Marbella Mayor bowed to public pressure – and with greater alacrity than Jesús Gil once issued building licenses to print money!
It’s good to see democracy back in action and people who haven’t trashed their I Love Marbella T-shirts. There’s still lots to love.
That was one of my less fond memories of Marbella in the early 1990s, when I had to catch a bus to work and walk from the stop. I didn’t own wheels and my salary wouldn’t have stretched to hiring any, even at Espacar’s no-hidden-cost rates… I can’t count the number of times I got drenched … in my best clothes, a tomar por culo! A girl had to dress the part, you never knew when you might bump into King Fahd! Thank goodness for the Hotel PYR, around the corner where I recovered my dripping dignity in the rest rooms and soothed my antipathy for Porsche drivers in the coffee shop.
The PYR’s still there, too, another survivor of Le Crisis. As is the Portillo bus station – still in need of an urgent make-over, Madam Mayoress, if you’re reading this – the loos are a smelly stain on Marbella’s otherwise pretty spotless record for pristine public buildings.
A lot more water has flowed beneath life’s underpass since then. King Fahd’s resting in peace, Jesús Gil’s feeling the heat (if there really is a hell), and you can’t build houses on the beach any more, which is why Antonio Banderas is giving half his ocean-front garden back to the Town Hall.
Marbella ain’t the 1940s fishing village where Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe broke down in his Rolls Royce and decided to stay on for a bit. But it’s still got classy connections. “The Marbella of my uncle’s day will never return,” says Pablo, the Prince’s nephew. It’s better now, in many ways … but changed.”
But not that changed. It doesn’t have skyscrapers!
1. The Xcess Factor
The swankiest hotels, the flashiest yachts and motors, the chichi-est shops, the wildest parties… You’re probably too young to remember opening night at Puerto Banús in 1970. The Aga Khan, Hugh Hefner and Princes Grace of Monaco were among 1,700 guests who feasted on 20 kilos of beluga caviar served by 300 waiters bussed in from Seville while a 27-year-old Julio Iglesias earned 125,000 pesetas to serenade them. The equivalent of €30,000 today!
2. The Charity Chic
At the Cudeca shop in Avenida del Mar you can rummage for discount cast-offs that might once have been worn by a countess … and probably only once! And it’s all in a good cause.
3. The Chiringuito Culture
Barefoot fine-dining with the sand between your toes is de rigeur. The original beach shacks have morphed into high-class hang-outs like Puro Beach, The Beach House and Café del Mar where a sarong by George at Asda won’t cut the mostaza! For a less chichi castaway chic, try Mistral Beach with its thatched sunbrellas that shoot cooling jets of water vapour from their tops! Afterwards, work off the calories on a three-hour beach hike. You can do it from Marbella Port-Guadalmina or Cable Beach-Cabopino without treading on tarmac once!
4. The Dawn-to-Dusk Clubbing
I’ve had to give it up for medical reasons but it’s still fun to watch the bright young things boogying at Nikki Beach or Ocean Club and thinking, thank God I’m too old for all that youthful angst and eyelash batting!
5. The Boob-Job Mountain
Landmark La Concha, whose pert peak reminds me of the gravity-defying breasts you can get at the cornucopia of cosmetic surgery centres. But if you want a real ‘lift’, take the La Concha Challenge from the summit. (Or should that be the nipple?) The 11-kilometre hike through forests of lofty pines and dwarf olives takes five hours, there and back, but the views are better than cleavage!
6. The Garden City
Marbella’s a shop-til-you drop city with all the best designer brands but it’s not concrete jungle. You can park your Cartier and Cavalli carriers on a bench under a canopy of trees beside a fountain in the city centre’s cool, green Alameda or Constitution parks and chill. Now that’s what I call retail therapy.
7. The Dynamic Dani García
It was love at first taste of his cherry gazpacho and Marbella’s two-star Michelin chef is the flavour of the millennium. You can sample Dani’s mouth-watering molecular gastronomy at his new Hotel Puente Romano restaurant. Or check out his Málaga Airport Deli Bar next time you fly into town.
See Belinda’s latest articles in this month’s Essential Marbella & Essential Gibraltar magazines.