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The best in golf, beaches and beach clubs, food, accommodation, history, shopping and nature

Madrid 583km Contents 2-3. Map and history 4. San Pedro Alcántara 5. Gastronomy 6. Nightlife and shopping 7-8. Sports, well-being and golf 9-10. Beaches and natural beauty 11. Accommodation 12. Marbella: the facts

The ABTA Magazine Guide to Marbella is produced by Waterfront Publishing in association with the Tourism Department of the Marbella City Council. See for more.

Huelva 281 km

Sevilla 187 km

Cádiz 178 km

Atlantic Ocean 2

May 2020

Córdoba 212 km

Jaén 258 km

Málaga 60 km

Granada 179 km

Almer 261 km


Mediterranean Sea

ría m

Marbella: a short history Backdropped by the mountains of the Sierra Blanca, the coastal city of Marbella has it all: sun, sea, sand, historic remains, delicious Andalucian fare, accommodation to suit all budgets and many sporting delights. As this guide, produced in association with the Tourism Department of the Marbella City Council, proves: Marbella is one of Spain’s most beloved cities, with good reason.


Thousands of years before Christ’s birth, human settlements existed in Marbella’s Sierra Blanca mountains, proven by the Palaeolithic and Neolithic remains found on its slopes. Recent discoveries show that since the 7th century BC, Eastern cities (Phoenician and Carthaginian) were established around the Río Real river. The passage of ancient Rome through our district is seen in various remains, such as the Roman Villa of Río Verde, the Roman Baths of Guadalmina and various discoveries in the Old Quarter. The first reference to Marbella is found in the writings of Muslim geographers and travellers from the Middle Ages. During the Islamic era, Marbella became a walled city. The Muslims built a castle and surrounded the city with a strong wall containing three access points or portals: del Mar, de Ronda and de Malaga. The remains of the castle still exist today. After the Reconquest, and during the 16th century, Marbella’s town structure underwent significant change. The centre of the Muslim medina (the present day old quarter) was demolished to open up a town square (Plaza Mayor or Plaza Real now known as Los Naranjos) and a new street (Nueva) to link the plaza with the Puerta del Mar. In the 19th century, with the foundation of the first blastfurnaces in Spain at el Angel and La Concepción, in order to make use of the iron from the Sierra

Blanca mines, Marbella joined the industrialisation of Malaga, which became the second largest industrial region in Spain. Today, Marbella has become a benchmark for world tourism without having lost any of its typically Andalucian flavour and its historical essence.


In 1970, the Puerto Banús, below – one of the most iconic harbours on the Spanish coastline – was built, its opening attended by the rich and famous. Hosting 915 berths, which house some of the most luxurious vessels in the world, Puerto Banús is joined by the Virgen del Carmen Marina (377 berths), Marina La Bajadilla (268 beths) and Cabopino Marina (169 berths), making Marbella one of the world’s top yachting and boating destinations.

Archaeological sites

Archaeological remains in the city today include the Roman villa in Río Verde, and is known for its remarkable mosaics, including one of Medusa. There is also La Basilica de Vega del Mar, a Paleo-Christian church that was excavated in 1930. Visitors will also have the chance to discover the Roman Baths and the Torre de las Bóvedas (watchtower) among others. The remains of an Arabic castle also deserves a special mention.

Old Town

Roman, Arabic and Christian remains come together in the old quarter of the town. Its narrow streets are living proof

of the survival of centuries of magnificently preserved history, surprising the visitor who explores its nooks and crannies so full of tradition and charm. The Arabic wall, museums, squares, chapels and the popular Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación Church, are testament to a rich and attractive cultural array, complemented with restaurants, typical shops and an unmistakably Andalucian atmosphere. In the heart of the old quarter is La Plaza de los Naranjos (Orange Tree Square), which constitutes one of the first Christian designs after the Reconquest. The square was built in the tradition of Castilian towns, although in this case without colonnades. Here, visitors will find the Chief Magistrate’s House, the Town Hall and the Santiago Hermitage.

Culture and tradition

As well as archaeological sites, Marbella is home to several museums, the Spanish Contemporary Engravings Museum, the Ralli Museum, the Olive Oil Museum and the Archaeological Exhibition (Cortijo Miraflores Cultural Centre). It also offers a packed cultural calendar with the Feria San Bernabé, a fair that includes traditional Andalusian food, drink and entertainment, Virgen del Carmen festivities; San Pedro Alcántara Fair; and Semana Santa, the Spanish name for Holy Week or Easter, which includes a procession of 100-year-old floats or thrones depicting biblical scenes.


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Western wonder San Pedro Alcántara, a historic, pretty place with futuristic architectural flair, is only 10km from Marbella and should be on your clients’ itineraries Just 10km west of Marbella centre, in the same municipality, San Pedro Alcántara is a firstclass tourist resort, home to luxury housing complexes, golf courses and beaches, and pretty, well-kept streets.

Humble beginnings

San Pedro Alcántara, which has a population of about 40,000, was founded around the middle of the 19th century by General Manuel Gutiérrez de la Concha, a military man and First Marquis of Duero. Under the Repopulation Laws established in the middle of the 19th century, he created the farming colony where the town now stands. A short drive from the Sierra de Ronda mountain range, the town began welcoming tourists


in the 1960s, quickly transforming the area with the hotels, golf courses and restaurants that promptly appeared.

Historic centre

The beautiful Plaza de la Iglesia is the town’s focal point and home to the San Pedro de Alcántara Church, a 19th-century Catholic church. From the square run narrow streets packed with independent shops, al fresco cafés and lively bars. On Thursdays, you will find a street market, where bargains are guaranteed.

San Pedro Boulevard

Named by its architect Juan Antonio Fernández as Un Mar de Sensaciones (A Sea of Sensations), San Pedro Boulevard (pictured

above) is a park over the town’s main coastal highway. The park opened to the public in December 2014. Featuring a 300m-long wave-like footbridge, which passes over the central roundabout and connects each side of the town, the park is popular with walkers, skaters and cyclists. With an amphitheatre, restaurants and bars, it has become one of the town’s best-loved attractions.


Over the bridge and down the Avenue del Mediterráneo you will find the town’s coastal front. The area is lined with restaurants and bars that face the Mediterranean Sea and – on a clear day you can see the North Coast of Africa from the seafront.

Foodie finds Heidi Fuller-Love takes a gastronomic tour of this food-loving Andalusian city that can cater to any craving – and delivers views and vibes to boot With three Michelin-starred restaurants serving world-class cuisine, plus hundreds of smaller eateries dishing up everything from Mediterranean and Thai to paella and succulent local tapas, luscious food is a major part of Marbella’s allure. And with more than 300 guaranteed days of sunshine per year, al fresco dining by the beach or beneath the stars is practically guaranteed. You should start the day with local treats: order crispy pastry strip churros dipped into hot chocolate, or tostada con tomate y aceite – toasted bread topped with olive-oil-drizzled tomato pulp – in one of the city’s small cafés. Alternatively, pop into a panaderia (bakery) and try some of the local sugar-dusted almond cookies, called polvorones – typical Christmas products. Or buy a bag of sausage-shaped alfajores pastries stuffed with a honeyed blend of nuts and spices, tortas de aceite (oil tarts), roscos de vino (wine bagels), borrachuelos (sweet cakes) or torrijas (fried bread with honey).

At lunchtime, make a beeline for this Spanish seaside city’s chic marina. Puerto Banús, where celebrities love to party, is also home to a cluster of high-end restaurants where you can sup on creative fusion food and sip handcrafted cocktails as you admire the shiny super yachts bobbing in the harbour. From Puerto Banús, follow the city’s 7km-long promenade, flanked by brilliant sea and framed by swaying palm trees, to find a string of traditional seafood restaurants, marisquerias, serving succulent seafood specialities: be sure to try puntillitas – crispy squid in batter – or order a racion (portion) of spicy seafood paella. This bustling promenade is also dotted with beach shack chiringuitos where – after a day spent lazing in the sun – you can sit at a seaview table and order espetos de sardinas: brine-fresh sardines sprinkled with sea salt, then grilled on wooden stakes. If you’re seeking a budget option, this Costa del Sol food Mecca boasts half a dozen restaurants that have

Michelin’s prestigious Bib Gourmand designation; in plain English this means that they serve top-notch food at very affordable prices. There are also plenty of restaurants and traditional tascas serving competitively priced fare. Head into the labyrinth of cobbled alleys that fan out from main square Plaza de los Naranjos, situated in Marbella’s Casco Antiguo (Old Town), to find them. Pull up a chair on this shaded square, which was named for its sweet-scented orange trees, and sip a glass of red wine and sweet soda water (tinto de verano), as you listen to the murmuring splash of fountains and the flow of Spanish conversation. Now, order gambas al pil pil – flash-fried prawns – creamy, garlic-laden ajo blanco soup or lomo embuchado – sausage skin stuffed with cured pork. Wash it all down with chilled tumblers of sweet Málaga Virgen wine straight from the owners’ barrel and relax as you soak up the atmosphere of this foodloving Andalusian city.


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Sun up to sunset Browse designer stores by day before enjoying Marbella’s glittering party scene by night, with options for every impulse, writes Heidi Fuller-Love Where to shop

With its glamorous designer boutiques, iconic department stores and state-of-the-art malls, savvy shoppers will want to bring an extra suitcase when they visit this celebrity-loved Costa del Sol city. Packed with high-end designer shops, glitzy Puerto Banús should be the first stop on any Marbella shopping itinerary. After browsing world-renowned stores ranging from Dior to Jimmy Choo, head for the cobbled streets of the city’s Old Town, where quirky vintage boutiques rub shoulders with tiny tiendas selling everything from toys to gourmet food. Renowned establishments occupy the main avenues of Marbella and San Pedro Alcántara.


End your retail therapy on a high note, surrounded by international and Spanish brand-name stores in one of Marbella’s world-class shopping malls.

Where to party

From hip rooftop bars and laid-back beach venues to stylish nightclubs and much-celebrated music festivals, Marbella’s glittering nightlife scene attracts partygoers of all kinds. Whether it’s pool parties and slinky swimwear, a romantic beachside cocktail by candlelight or a Champagne spray party in an elegant setting, nightlife in marvellous “Marbs” – as it’s fondly known to certain reality TV stars – has something for every taste. For the best sunset sipping

make a beeline for the bars along palm-tree-lined Paseo Maritimo, Marbella’s promenade, which have breathtaking sea views. When the sun sinks behind the horizon, join locals in one of the cosy lounge venues around the Virgen del Carmen Marina or stroll over to the Old Town to sup on succulent tapas, sip a beer or listen to live music in a cluster of bars, bodegas and pubs near the orangetree-shaded Plaza de los Naranjos. Alternatively, end your evening in Puerto Banús, where jetsetters – and even the occasional royal – come to hang out in one of the port’s stylish bars, or dance the night away to the sounds of international DJs in Marbella’s most exclusive nightclubs.

Above par Countless physical pursuits and world-class wellness options place Marbella top of the league for sports and health, says Peter Ellegard Marbella’s warm microclimate and year-round sunshine make it an outdoor sports paradise. From tennis, horse riding, paddle tennis and football to water sports such as sailing and scuba diving, visitors who like to keep active while on holiday or want to take a sporting break are spoilt for choice. There are also numerous indoor sports facilities to help burn off the calories and keep fit as well. The destination is a magnet for visiting golfers as it boasts the highest density of golf courses in Spain. Within the municipality there are 14 golf courses, comprising eight golf clubs with

18 holes, one with 27 holes, two with an 18-hole course plus a nine-hole layout and three venues offering nine holes. Around half of Marbella’s golf courses are located in its famed Golf Valley, 7km south-west of the city centre and close to Puerto Banús marina. Other facilities are east of town, with Golf Rio Real the closest 18-hole course to its centre at just 4km away. Wherever golfers choose to play they will enjoy top-class golf courses, many of them with panoramic views of mountains and the Mediterranean, in addition to being able to savour

post-round drinks or a meal in well-appointed clubhouses. Golf first arrived in this area more than 60 years ago when the Guadalmina South course opened in 1959, making it the second oldest course on the Costa del Sol. Completely refurbished since then with the addition of a par-3, nine-hole course, it forms part of a 45-hole complex together with Guadalmina North, which was added in 1972. Three of Marbella’s courses were designed by legendary architect Robert Trent Jones: Real Club de Golf de Las Brisas, which has hosted the World Cup


of Golf on two occasions and the Spanish Open three times, as well as staging the Mediterranean Open since opening in 1968; the nearby Los Naranjos Golf Club course that opened in 1977; and Marbella Golf and Country Club, which first welcomed golfers in 1994. Another course to have seen championship golf is Aloha Golf Club; it hosted the Andalucian Open, part of the European Tour, in 2007, 2008 and 2012. Some courses are part of resorts, so guests can stay in on-site hotels and play literally on their doorstep. Among them are: La Quinta Golf & Country Club, designed by Antonio Garcia Garrido and former World Cup champion and Ryder Cup player Manuel Pinero, and part of La Quinta Golf Resort; Hotel Guadalmina Spa & Golf Resort, with its two 18-hole courses; and the Río Real Golf & Hotel. Its golf course was designed by the famous Spanish gof architect Javier Arana


and opened in 1965. Guests staying at the upscale Marbella Club Hotel and Resort have exclusive use of its Dave Thomas-designed golf course, set in the hills 20 minutes outside of Marbella. Visitors really are spoilt for choice with the likes of Cabopino Golf, Greenlife Golf, Magna Marbella Golf, Santa Clara Golf, Banús Executive Golf and Santa María Golf counted among Marbella’s many fantastic courses. Besides golf, Marbella offers visitors six horse-riding centres, 20 nautical centres, 13 tennis and paddle clubs, four diving centres, nine football pitches, four marinas, ten sports centres and 32 gyms.

Health and well-being

With most four-star and five-star hotels having their own spas, in addition to numerous day spas, beauty salons, specialist clinics, weight-loss centres and preventative-medicine facilities,

Marbella ranks as one of the top health destinations in Europe. Its favourable sunny climate, calm atmosphere, relaxing beaches and fresh sea air also aid rehabilitation and recovery. Whether visitors want a mindfulness break, a detox, yoga and Pilates sessions on the beach, an indulgent escape, a pampering treat or just the chance to recharge their batteries, few destinations match the variety, quantity or quality of Marbella’s offerings. Choose from Thai, Ayurvedic, Reiki, Mediterranean, thermal, homeopathic, hydrotherapy, reflexology, aromatherapy or thalassotherapy treatments and more, besides Turkish hammams, Japanese baths, Finnish saunas, herbal steam rooms, massages, facials, manicures and pedicures. Some of the world’s most famous spa and wellness brands are represented in Marbella, too.

Get back to nature Marbella is bursting with beauty. Heidi Fuller-Love spills the secrets of its parks, gardens, coastline, mountains and hiking trails With dozens of parks and gardens – and the spectacularly beautiful Paseo Maritimo walkway, which runs for more than four miles along Marbella’s beach-studded coastline – this jetsetter-loved Costa del Sol city is also a haven for nature lovers. A favourite with locals – who come here to chat to one another as they sit on one of the stylish ceramic-studded benches – Alameda Park at the city’s core is an exotic wonderland of broadleaved banana palms, rare ficus trees and other tropical plants,

surrounding its Virgen del Rocío fountain. This is the oldest park and could be called the “historic green zone” of the town, a space in which throughout centuries past generations from Marbella sought recreation and rest. Closer to Marbella’s café-lined old port, the peaceful Parque de la Constitución has a children’s playground with swings and slides and a small astronomical observatory, making it ideal for families. Kids will also love feeding the ducks and turtles in Arroyo

de la Represa, a peaceful park with two large ponds flanked by the crumbled ruins of the city’s Moorish castle. Nature-lovers have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the Sierra Blanca mountain range, refuge and reserve of the agile Spanish Ibex and plant paradise, where one can admire magnificent specimens of Spanish fir. This mountain range, as well as favouring the climactic conditions of the town, is undoubtedly the most outstanding element of the Marbella


landscape, with the towering peaks of La Concha (1,215m) and Juanar (1,184 m) – the latter in the land of the neighbouring town of Ojén. Walkers can trek from Marbella to Juanar or, for more experienced hikers, from Marbella to La Concha, passing through Puerto Rico, or take an excursion to the area known as Los Monjes. Other nature reserves within easy reach of the city include the vast forests of Vigil de Quiñones Park, the Pinar de Nagüeles reserve at the foot of the Sierra Blanca mountain range and the Los Tres Jardines Park and botanical gardens near San Pedro de Alcántara. Water lovers will also want to visit Xarblanca, a recreational area complete with duck-filled ponds in the Sierra Blanca foothills, or the Lago de Los Tortugas – a pretty lake named for the turtles that can be spotted bobbing on its mirror green surface. The lake is just five


minutes’ drive from Puerto Banús. For coastal views mixed with history, drive 15 minutes east of the city centre and discover Torre Ladrones (Thieves Tower, pictured below), part of Andalusia’s coastal fortification line. Visit the Natural Monument of the Artola Dunes, testament to what this area of coast used to be like. Back in town you’ll want to spend some time browsing the shops along the Avenida del Mar while admiring the unique collection of replica sculptures designed by world-renowned surrealist artist Salvador Dali. This beautiful avenue surrounded by fountains and landscaped gardens leads to Marbella’s Paseo Maritimo – the jewel in the city’s natural crown. An endless seaside promenade linking Puerto Banús’ glittering yacht-lined harbour with sturdy fishing boats bobbing in

Marina La Bajadilla. Marbella’s Paseo Maritimo is a paradise for pedestrians, who can stroll the marble-lined pavements teeming with seaside restaurants marisquerias, tapas bars, beach clubs and exclusive designer boutiques, without worrying about cars. It takes around two hours to saunter the length of this glorious palm-tree-shaded pathway. In Marbella East you will find the paceful beach El Cable, a glorious strip of golden sand backed by sand dunes and named for a cable car that once operated here; and beaches of fine sand such as the Pinillo beach, Los Monteros beach, El Alicate Beach, Real de Zaragoza Beach and Las Chapas beach. In the so-called Golden Mile, you’ll find some of the city’s most luxurious villas, this pretty paseo is also fronted by some of the city’s most exclusive strips of sand.

Checking in From five-star hotels and fully staffed pool villas to tourist apartments, hostels and campsites, Heidi Fuller-Love checks out what’s on offer for every budget Magical Marbella might be one of the world’s glitziest destinations, but when it comes to accommodation this celebrityloved city has something to suit every style, taste and budget. Blessed with some of the Costa del Sol’s best beaches, the city’s palm-tree-shaded seafront fringed by the glittering Mediterranean Sea boasts some of the most luxurious hotels on the Costa del Sol. For the most exclusive beachside accommodation head to the Paseo Maritimo. Stretching from Marbella to Puerto Banús, this 7km-long shop- and cafélined promenade is home to a wide selection of accommodation, ranging from elegant spa hotels and exclusive boutique havens to blissfully private, fully staffed pool villas with lush gardens and stunning sea views. But although this sophisticated city attracts a hip crowd, families

will enjoy a warm welcome here, too. Many of Marbella’s hotels and resorts have kids’ clubs, toddler pools and direct access to the soft sands and shallow waters of one of the region’s 25 beautiful beaches. With 14 golf courses, magical Marbella is also a magnet for golf enthusiasts. Professionals and novices alike will love practising their strokes in one of the region’s designated golf resorts, where beautifully landscaped courses have been designed by iconic architect Robert Trent Jones Senior, legend Seve Ballesteros and other greats of the golf world. A few blocks back from the beach, the bustling main avenue Avenida Ricardo Soriano and surrounding streets are packed with comfortable three- and four-star hotels. Ideal if you’re seeking more competitively priced accommodation, these hotels are still within easy reach of the

city’s best shops and restaurants, bars and clubs. Despite its reputation as a millionaire’s playground, marvellous Marbella can be surprisingly affordable, too: families and couples on a budget should book a tourist apartment with self-catering facilities, or rent a bungalow in one of the region’s well-maintained campsites – many of which are just a short stroll away from those glorious beaches. Budget travellers who don’t fancy life under canvas will also find plenty of clean, comfortable guest houses, hotels and hostellike options along the jasminescented alleys of Marbella Old Town. With its heady mix of culture and tradition, this atmospheric area within easy reach of Puerto Banús is the best place to soak up a big dose of authentic Andalusian vibes.


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km of coastline with



Old Town Home to Orange Square; remains of an Arabic castle; and the church of Ntra Sra de la Encarnación

Unrivalled access to golf, with 70 golf courses in the province of Málaga and 14 of them located in Marbella

Puerto Banús One of the most famous harbours on the Spanish coastline Built in 1970 – 915 berths

The nearest airports are Malaga to the east, 50km / 35 minutes’ drive, and Gibraltar to the west, 78km / one hour’s drive to Marbella

Home to many archaeological sites and curiosities, including: “ Vega del Mar” Paleochristian Basilica, 4th cenutry AD

Medusa mosaic in the Roman Villa at Rio Verde, 1st-2nd century AD

12 November 2019

Las Bóvedas Roman Baths (2nd century AD) and Torre de las Bóvedas (Tower of the Vaults), a 16th-century defensive watchtower

Profile for Waterfront Publishing

The ABTA Magazine Guide to Marbella  

The ABTA Magazine Guide to Marbella  


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