Destination – Marbella

Marbella was Spain’s Costa del Sol pioneer town and has since become one of the most famous resorts on the Andalusian coast, a holiday home to the international jet set. Legend has it that Marbella got its name from Queen Isabella’s exclamation when she saw the sea, Que mar tan bella! (What wonderful sea!) A large white 'Marbella' arch, spanning across the main road, marks the entrance to the town and greets its visitors.

However varied one’s tastes may be, Marbella offers something for everyone. It comprises two halves of different appearance: the old and the new. The old part – with its charming, winding, very narrow cobble stone streets and tranquil squares is flanked by white washed houses with wrought iron balconies adorned with a profusion of bougainvilleas and geraniums. This offers a striking contrast with the structure of the modern city, the latter being characterised by its large buildings and the lively atmosphere of the streets where shops, restaurants and discotheques are always crowded with people of diverse nationalities.

Marbella’s old quarter, known as the Casco Antiguo, dates back to Moorish times and the 9th century walls, which once surrounded the town, are still in evidence in parts. Architecture from different eras graces the quiet little lanes. This quarter is reached via one of the cobbled narrow streets just off the main road. There are many niches, or hornacinas, scattered throughout the old town. These niches are built into walls and contain religious statues depicting the Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ, adorned with candles and flowers. A particular picturesque hornacina is the Rincón de la Virgen placed high in the wall with bright bougainvillea covering much of the narrow street below. A photo of this niche in one’s travel album is a must.

The labyrinth of streets of the Casco Antiguo lead to the Plaza de Los Naranjos, the ‘Orange Tree Square’. This square, which dates back to 1485, is surrounded by white-washed houses and three major historical buildings: the Town hall, or Ayuntamiento, the Governor’s house, or Casa del Corregidor, and the Chapel of Santiago. The gardens in the Plaza are full of brightly coloured flowers and orange trees and in the centre stands a bust of Spain’s Head of State, King Juan Carlos I. On the façade of the Ayuntamiento, built around the middle of the 16th century, sports a sun-dial and some perfectly preserved stone inscriptions most of which go back to 1485. The Old Governor’s house dates back to 1552 and still retains the original stone façade adorned with a multi-arched balcony. An elegant marble fountain, dating back to 1504, adjoins the square.

The Orange Tree Square is an ideal stop for lunch, and offers several good restaurants giving you the possibility of combining great fare, an enchanting ambience and the characteristic orange-blossom all-encompassing scent. A refreshing gazpacho and paella with mixed fish makes for a perfect meal, possibly doused by ice-cold sangria, all in good measure. If eating is your thing then you will be very happy in Marbella, offering as it does a wide selection of eating places in every corner of the town.

No visit to a Spanish town is complete without a visit to its main church; that of Marbella is the Iglesia de la Encarnacion. Built in the 17th century, it features a fine tower and its main façade is adorned with a beautiful red stone entrance worked in Baroque style.

Equally a must when visiting Marbella, is a detour to Puerto Banús, Marbella’s luxury marina, situated some six kilometres west of the main town. Created by José Banús some 30 years ago, it is known to be the playground of the rich and famous. Here one can ogle fabulous luxury yachts and exotic cars while sipping a drink at one of the many open-air restaurants and bars. The setting is close to ideal, with its impressive La Concha mountain backdrop and ocean views. Between the restaurants and bars is a vast selection of shops selling all sorts, from shoes and other leather accessories to souvenir gifts. Designer shops, including Armani, Chanel and Versace, are here in abundance. At the entrance of the marina is a large commercial shopping centre and Spain’s leading department store, El Corte Inglés. It is easy to understand why every year around five million tourists visit Puerto Banús.

The Costa del Sol is famous for its never-ending beaches – Marbella is no exception. The beaches here stretch as far as the eye can see with warm sand, and crystal clear sea. Most beaches in Marbella have showers and public services, watch towers, lifeguards and first aid services. The usual windsurfing, paddle boating, jet skiing, etc, are all on offer. Nevertheless, one can also simply relax on a sun lounge on the golden sand. Pure bliss!!

Coastal towns are usually thought to fall asleep in summer but Marbella is different, since luckily there seems to be some celebration or other nearly every other day. Amongst key dates on Marbella's calendar of celebrations are the traditional fair, or feria, around the second week of June, in honour of the town's patron saint, San Bernabé. This colourful event is a combination of flamenco music, typical Andalusian dances and parades of horsemen and horsewomen.

The feast of Nuestra Señora del Carmen takes place on 16th July and is the festival of fishermen and their wives and families. Visitors and locals join in the famous procession, part on land, part at sea, with their traditional dances. On a completely different note, during the St Joseph weekend (19th March) Marbella plays host to an international motorcyclists’ gathering, a must for any serious motorcycle enthusiast.

Marbella is truly a concentrate of what bubbly Andalusia is all about, and an excellent introduction to the pleasures and delights of Spain’s Costa del Sol.

Some images are courtesy of Wikipedia and Travelpod. When I visited Marbella digital cameras were not the norm.