By Ksenia Mezentseva
I am usually one who takes the time to research my travel destinations before the trip, with particular attention paid to my main interests of dining and unique
My latest trip, a spontaneous getaway to Marbella, was unplanned and therefore it was up to my well-informed friends, who have spent many sunny days in Marbella, to provide me with recommendations.
It is probably important to mention that when one says «Marbella», what he or she really means is that you are flying to Malaga and then staying in Puerto Banus. At least this is what I would strongly advise you to do. Malaga airport is a major hub for Spain’s southern destinations. It is one of the bigger and more efficient airports, with many direct daily flights from various destinations. Marbella is located about 60km south of Malaga which makes it a very convenient commute from the airport. The town itself is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Andalucia – bustling with busy cafes, gift shops and crowds of people. I can immediately recommend a day trip to the Salvador Dali permanent sculpture exhibition, set just by the port, as well as the fish market and a gentle stroll through the quiet streets of the old town.
The place to find your hotel would have to be in the Puerto Banus area – located just 10km south of Marbella and a 40-minute drive from the Malaga airport. A luxury marina and a shopping paradise which was designed by Noldi Schreck, the architect who participated in the design and construction of Beverly Hills as well as a local developer, Jose Banus, from the late 1960s. The lavish opening of the construction was held in May of 1970 and was attended, among others, by Prince Rainier, Princess Grace of Monaco, Aga Khan, Hugh Hefner and Roman Polanski. The party itself, which included 1700 of the world’s fabulously elite, was the most extravagant event, including a private concert by the young Julio Iglesias. It was even reported that guests had consumed over 22 kilos of caviar. Today, Puerto Banus is one of the hottest European destinations for international jetsetters, celebrities and
Surprisingly, there is only one luxury 5-star hotel in Puerto Banus itself, The Gran Hotel Guadalpin Banus, which is located on the waterfront just outside the main marina area. The two other hotels which I would highly recommend are situated between Marbella and Puerto Banus, and are the Marbella Club and the Puente Romano Hotel and Luxury Apartment complex. Once belonging to the same owner, they are the most luxurious spots along the coast.
The scarcity of the luxury lodging in the area is explained by the high density of premium apartment buildings and beautiful villas set along the coast, which are available for rent.
Shopping is a must do in the Puerto Banus area. Split between the large El Corte Ingles – where one can find a range of options from makeup, toys, top designer clothing to sports gear, and on the other side – the luxury, well curated boutiques, set in the Banus Marina. The latter option will indulge any fashionista with Dolce and Gabbana, Jimmy Choo, Tods, Valentino, Gucci and many more designer boutiques set along the promenade for you
Beach Clubs are a popular daytime destination in Puerto Banus. Often, but not always, located on an actual beach. Most clubs come with their own swimming pools and offer sunbeds, cocktails and light snacks along with a glamorous crowd and uplifting party vibes.
Ocean Club – is one of Europe’s largest beachside venues and is located right outside Puerto Banus. One could definitely define this spot as a ‘party place,’ particularly the Opening party which is not to be missed.
Nikki Beach – if you are a fan of this chain, the Marbella location will not disappoint, with glamorous people, the finest food and exceptional service all guaranteed.
La Sala by the Sea – a place to see and to be seen. Just like its original restaurant, La Sala is a vibrant place with delicious cocktails, a trendy crowd and great food.
El Ancla Restaurant and Beach Club – is located in San Pedro, minutes outside Puerto Banus. The restaurant’s terrace is set right on the waterfront creating this magical illusion of dining out at sea. The menu includes a variety of fresh seafood and the beach has one of the most awesome atmospheres on the coast.
Another favourite excursion is the much anticipated day trip destinations, with Marbella providing a host of exciting sites. If you want a change of pace and do not mind a bit of a drive, there are many things to see. Benahavis is a miniature “white” village situated in the beautiful Spanish mountains, 7km from the coast. It is a 15 to 20 minute drive from Puerto Banus and is the perfect spot for a leisurely afternoon. Meander along the tiny streets and have lunch at Los Abanicos – a traditional feel with the most delicious food guaranteed. Make sure to pre-book as this is a popular spot.
Ronda is a charming mountain town and has become one of the main Andalucian places to visit. Enjoy a scenic drive for about 40 minutes to see the dramatic escarpments, the Arabic walls and city gates, and enjoy a walk along the 18th century Puente Nuevo – a “new” bridge that took over 40 years to build. A visit to Plaza de Toros – one of the oldest bullrings in Spain, is quite a sight, take in the immensity of the space which was known to hold up to 5000 spectators. While in Ronda have lunch at the famous Pedro Romero restaurant, located just across the bullring, a place to dine for over 45 years.
If you drive for another 20 km you can visit the old Roman settlement of Acinipo – a large theatre dating from the 1st century AD and enjoy the rare sites of several old homes. This was one of the few cities the in Roman Empire to produce wine and export it to Rome. A further 40 minutes down the coast and you will arrive to Gibraltar, where you will see the dramatic Rock of Gibraltar, a 426m-high limestone ridge, and enjoy some cheeky duty free shopping.
Seville is the capital of the Andalucia region and is only 200km away from Puerto Banus, which makes it a great one or two-day trip. In recent years, Seville’s old historical town has received an influx of contemporary art, food and fashion. Today, it is not only the incredible ancient sights that attracts people from all over the world, but the street fashion, East-West tapas and enjoyable nightlife. The city is famous for flamenco dancing, so make sure to visit one of the many clubs in the Triana neighborhood. The main things to look out for include the 18th century bullring – Plaza de Torros de la Maestranza, the ornamental Alcazar castle and the Gothic Seville cathedral, where Christopher Columbus is buried. If you decide to spend a night or two in Seville, stay at the classic Hotel Alfonso XII – rightfully one of Spain’s grandest hotels. Before I forget, if you are in Seville for the evening, make sure to have the delicious tapas at Yebra or at El Rinconcillo, which been around for over 350 years and are clearly doing something right. As the night goes on, I would recommend dinner at No-Lugar or at the city’s latest trendy gastrobar, La Perona.
Upon my arrival to Puerto Banus, I was told that all the best restaurants were actually located outside Puerto Banus port and it was recommended that I get a car. This certainly proved to be somewhat true, but there are, nonetheless, great places to eat in the port itself. If you are spending the day shopping, checking-out the boats or simply enjoying the beach, a good lunch spot in the port is A1 Aretusa – a stunning Italian restaurant with traditional dishes, some with a modern twist, in a contemporary setting overlooking the mega yachts docked just 10 meters away.
My other favorite places in the area are:
Los Bandidos – located in the port and is the place where one can spot celebrities who come to wine and dine. The walls are covered with photos of every famous person that has ever visited, and trust me, there are a few, the food is great and the service is impeccable.
La Sala – a 10-minute walk from the port will get you to this restaurant come bar come lounge. Every night one can expect a live concert with a bubbling, busy vibe. The food is not bad either with a great variety, serving international classics from all over the world.
Sinatra café – is a famous bar located in the port. If you are looking for a good drink or some people watching, this is your place.
Magna Café – is a short drive from Puerto Banus up the hills to one of the many golf-course areas of Marbella. Magna is located in the hills and along with delicious food, offers a beautiful view of the area and the Rock of Gibraltar.
D-Wine – is a relatively new addition to the local scene and is the mecca for wine lovers. Originally a wine boutique and now a large sophisticated restaurant, it has an extensive menu, an endless wine list of the finest wines and live music every night.
Paella y mas – is your home-style Spanish restaurant, attracting local and international celebrities to this traditional, cosy restaurant. According to a recent interview, Lady Gaga favors Paella y mas the most when she is visiting the area.
Takumi – probably one of the best Japanese restaurants on the coast serves the freshest ingredients with a menu presenting both traditional and innovative dishes.
Puente Romano restaurants
I am putting these spots in a separate category as it is very unusual for a hotel to have more than one amazing dining option.
Dani Garcia – is a two-Michelin starred restaurant named after chef Dani. Come for a special occasion and prepare to be swept away by the elegant setting and the most creative and delicious meal.
Bibo – is another restaurant on the property, also by Dani Garcia, and is your bustling and happening restaurant where prior reservations are a must. Enjoy the originality of the food presentation which is truly spectacular.
Celicioso bakery – for something to ease the guilt of all the indulging is a great spot at the Puerto Romano complex. It is a lively gluten free café with an extensive juice bar, lots of healthy salads, burgers and of course divine gluten free pastries.