Too often, Marbella, the glitzy enclave of the Costa del Sol, is looked upon as a jet-setter’s paradise, confused for the superficial attractions of yacht-filled, boutique-lined Puerto Banus.Yet Puerto Banus, constructed from scratch by José Banús in the 1970s, is but one new addition to the ever sprawling suburbs of this renowned town in Southern Spain. Attracting party-goers from around the world, and even inspiring a “Marbella Sessions” soundtrack from the famous Ministry of Sound, Marbella is quickly gaining a reputation akin to the party paradise of Ibiza and Magaluf. Yet that reputation belies the true heart and soul of a town which, at its centre, boasts one of the most spectacular and quaint historic quarters in all of Andalucía.
Marbella’s “Casco Antiguo” (old quarter) is the epitome of the most iconic Andalucian picture-postcard. With its winding white-washed streets covered with pink and purple bourganvilla, cobbled paving, little boutique shops, restaurant terraces and beautiful imposing old churches, the old town is a treat to all of the senses. At its centre, the historic Plaza de los Naranjos (Orange Tree Square) is a cosy, beautiful square, where diners eat out under the perfumed branches of a quadrangle of fragrant orange trees and brugmansias, and locals meet to gossip over a coffee and some of the most delicious churros in all of Spain, all in the shadow of the old Town Hall which stands proudly on the Northern side of the square. From this central core, the little white-washed streets of the old town twist and turn in all directions, like the most complex of mazes, each road taking visitors on a new aesthetic journey through the traditional charms of this Andalucian paradise.
Asides from the little quaint streets and plazas, other highlights of Marbella’s old town include the superb Museo del Grabado Español Contemporaneo, whose permanent and changing collections of prints and engravings include works by Miro, Picasso and Dali as well as lesser known but no less impressive Spanish contemporary printmakers; also the Tablao Ana Maria Los Chatos, where the most spirited flamenco shows can be seen in the traditional surroundings of an tiny old flamenco bar, its low ceilings and walls filled with flamenco paraphernalia which jangles to the rhythm of the wonderful music which is created there. And as if the old town weren’t enough, a short stroll through its streets towards the sea will bring you to the Alameda park – a leafy botanic bounty of tropical plants set within an elegant marble-paved space perfect for strolling and contemplating the world – and down to the bustling seafront via the Avenida del Mar, whose elegant broad passage is lined with bronzes by Salvador Dali.
So when you next hear mention of Marbella, do not let yourself be put off by the millionaire’s playground of Puerto Banus. For with its picture-perfect old town, its shops, parks, paseo maritimo and its own additional ports, Marbella’s old centre has so much more to offer, and is the perfect holiday destination for all lovers of Spain.
by Nicholas de Lacy-Brown