Time has transformed this small maritime village of humble homes into a splendid tourist city that every year opens its doors to hundreds of thousands of visitors attracted by the wonderful climate (the average temperature is 19º Celsius), the warmth of the people, and the renowned parties and nightlife.
Historical District and Downtown
Marbella was called Salduba in the time of the Romans and re-named Marbil-la under the Muslim rule, and walking through the Historical District is like taking a small trip through the past, where the Arab roots and traces of Christianity come together. For example, the
The streets wind through cobblestones, immaculate façades, and balconies decorated with flower-boxes full of geraniums and carnations. There are priceless tiny, typically-Andalusian squares and nooks and crannies, such as the
The hub-bub of daily life—work, business, shopping, and the coming and goings of people—begins in the
José Banús was the promoter of all of New Andalusia and of course of the
Shopping, having a coffee on one of the terraces, walking along the piers, and, of course, enjoying the nighttime atmosphere by dancing until dawn or drinking a cocktail while gazing at the star-covered bay are just some of the activities you have to choose from. And every year more visitors come, making it a must-see in the summer months for celebrities and people from the tabloid world, including photographers who snap their celebrity shots.
San Pedro de Alcántara
Originally it was named Cilniana or Silniana, and above the ruins of the ancient Roman settlement you'll find one of the most beautiful areas of the Costa del Sol that, at the turn of the century, had a population of 95 and today is home to more than 35,000. From its past, the area has conserved the most important archeological monuments in Marbella: the
According to legend the remains of San Pedro Alcántara were brought by sea to the shore of the beach here; hence the name. But the current city is a product — and a work of art — of the dream of the Marquis del Duero, who during the mid-19th century pledged his fortune — and his life — to building the most modern private agricultural colony in the country. The colony officially disappeared in 1944, but the original plan and configuration of its streets remains unchanged today, granting the urban landscape a touch of traditional flavor.
This area has wonderful beaches, like the
There isn't a village around that is more proud of its roots that Estepona, where despite the tourist boom of the last few years, inhabitants still maintain their simple grace and warm welcome for visitors perfectly intact.
The activities and life of the villagers are centered in the Historic District, where the official organizations, the Town Hall, the City Market, banks, etc, are located. There is a beautiful and well-cared-for waterfront promenade, as well as wonderful beaches with fine white sand. In the marinas and the fishing ports, full of terrace-restaurants and snack bars, you'll find the best fried fish in the bay.
The warmth of the climate, the beautiful vegetation, and the strategic location make this area the perfect place for the most prestigious golf courses, the
According to historians, the town of Marbella was founded around 1600 BC by colonists of Roman origin who set off from the ancient Mediterranean port of Tyre in the Near East. They called it Saldub, which means Salt City. Archeological remains from that period have been found nearby, including the Villa Romana de Río Verdeand the Bóvedas, in the area around San Pedro de Alcántara, along with the more recent early Christian basílica, dating from the 3rd century A.D.
Moors and Christians
Muslims arrived in this part of southern Spain in the first decade of the 6th century and they called the town Marbil-la. They built a fortress here in the style of the Damascus califate and a defensive wall to protect their settlement from attack by Christian forces. The Muslim town finally fell into the hands of the Catholic Monarchs—who were carrying out the Christian reconquest of Spain—in 1485, when King Fernando received the keys directly from the defeated calif, Mohamed Abuenza. From then onwards the town has been called Marbella. The original Muslim design of the old town is still evident today.
The slow course of history
In the 16th century, following the Christian reconquest, Marbella started to grow again—but slowly—by developing the surrounding farmland for agricultural production. New houses and residential districts started to be built around the nucleus of the ruined Muslim town. But, even as late as the end of the 18th century there were only 820 buildings in total, and many of them were empty or falling down.
In 1725 the San Luis fort was constructed to protect the inhabitants of Marbella from Mediterranean pirate raids. The fort was later destroyed by the French during their retreat at the end of the Peninsular War (1808-14). All that remains of it is a tower, now to be found in the gardens belonging to the hotel El Fuerte.
In the 19th century Marbella started to grow more rapidly, expanding beyond the historic old town to areas along side what is now the Parque Arroyo de la Represa. Public building works of the time included new bridges and roads. In this spirit of progress, modern machinery and new industries arrived. Private capital financed the creation of an iron foundry that employed over one thousand men who came from all over Andalucía to work here. People are often surprised to hear that the first blast furnaces in Spain were installed in this factory.
However, agriculture continued to be the mainstay of Marbella's economy throughout the 19th century. The Marqués de Duero's famous, experimental model farm dates from this period. It was the most important privately financed agricultural colony in Spain and was situated where Sampedrena is today.
In the middle of the 19th century Marbella received artificial light for the first time by means of a primitive reverberation system, but it had to wait until the end of the century for the arrival of electricity and light bulbs. From the early part of the 19th century a number of plans were made to build a modern fishing port, but they all came to nothing until the 1950's when the port we see today was finally completed.
The town eventually started to take its present shape after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). But, it was not until the mid 1940's that tourists started to come here in large numbers, after entrepreneurs like Prince Alfonso de Hohenlohe initiated the construction of hotels and apartment complexes. Then the rich and famous flocked to the resort and praised Marbella by word of mouth all over the world. So, in the space of just 50 years, what was once a little fishing and farming village has been transformed into an international tourist hot-spot, thanks mainly to its magnificent climate and golf courses.
When looking for somewhere to stay in Marbella, you're spoilt for choice. There are probably more hotel rooms here than anywhere else in Spain. There really is something for everyone, from the simplest accommodation of all to the most luxurious suite. You can spend as little as EUR11 per night to pitch your tent in Camping Cabopino, or splash out more than EUR450.75 per night for a fabulous suite in the delightful Kempinski in Estepona.
When only the best will do
To make the very most of your well-deserved vacation, chose a luxury hotel by the sea shore that offers all the extras you can imagine and where you'll be treated like royalty. Somewhere on the famous Milla de Oro (the golden mile), for example, like the world famous Marbella Club, owned by Prince Alfonso de Hohenlohe and one of the most beautiful hotels on the Costa del Sol. Or, opt for the Puente Romano, which offers the most expansive range of facilities on the coast including: beach clubs, restaurants, beauty salons, outdoor pools, indoor pools and wonderful gardens.
In nearby Estepona, the impressive, four-star Atalaya Park is located right on the shores of the Mediterranean, and in Puerto de la Duquesa there's a gem of a hotel called Las Dunas. For those seeking tranquility and the opportunity to play some golf, the Gualdamina, in San Pedro de Alcántara, has been designed especially for you. Not far away is the enormous, Don Carlos, famous for its pristine beach and excellent restaurant, Los Naranjos.
Hotels in town
Fans of the Sol Meliá group will head straight for the Gran Meliá Don Pepe. It's named after the founder of the company and it's the hotel he likes the most. The Don Pepe offers the best of all worlds: luxury standards, services and facilities, right on the beach, at Playa de la Fontanilla, only minutes away from the centre of Marbella. El Fuerte, in the centre of town, is a typical Andalusian hotel that also prides itself on the number and quality of services it offers, including a fully-equipped sports centre.
Located away from all the hustle and bustle, the Hotel Don Miguel can accommodate more guests than any other hotel in town and it's set to become the most important conference centre in Marbella. It has 502 bedrooms, and its conference facilities can cater for 1,500 people. The hotel was recently awarded four-star status after being totally renovated.
The business traveler looking for a short stay would be wise to consider the Hotel San Cristóbal, which provides four-star service for three-star prices. The compact two-star Lima, 60 metres from the beach and only 30 metres from the town centre, has similar standards and even lower prices.
Hotels near Marbella
Only 5km from the center of Marbella, in the middle of a wealthy residential area, surrounded by tropical vegetation and alongside the Playa (beach) del Pinillo, is the wonderful four-star >Hotel Los Monteros. The four-star Las Chapas-Palacio del Sol is the perfect place to rest for a few days under swaying palms, play some golf and stroll along the golden sands. For apartment-style accommodation right at the hub of Estepona's marina, with views over the bay, try the Hotel Santa Marta or you can save some money and, at the same time, enjoy the atmosphere of Marbella's old town by choosing the comfortable Aguamarina.
Special places to stay
The Artola is a very special place, housed in an old inn surrounded by green space, only 300 metres from the beach and ideal for family holidays. Imagine how pleasant it would be to stay in a typical Andulasian village full of little whitewashed houses with colourful displays of flowers on their balconies. Well, you can. Such a village has been recreated in the Pueblo Andaluz, only 3km from Puerto Banús and 6km from the centre of Marbella.
The Costa del Sol truly caters for all types of lifestyles and that includes those who prefer to spend their holidays free from the burden of clothing in Costa Natura.
Marbella is not only a great place to relax and have some fun but it's also a gourmet's paradise, boasting a cosmopolitan array of restaurants.
Tour of the Tapas Bars
Once a year, the residents of Marbella celebrate the town's culinary status with a party they call La Ruta Tasquera. Tapas are the savory snacks served with an alcoholic drink in bars throughout Spain. So that you do not miss out on the fun, the following is a list of some of the best tapas bars that you can try any day of the year. You might start with a cold beer in La Bodeguita Marbellí and it will probably be accompanied by homemade ensaladilla rusa (Russian salad). Wash down a variety of cured hams and sausage with your second beer at La Sacristía or the Tasca Don Matute. Share a tortilla de ajos tiernos (spring onion omelette) over the next beer at El Burlaero. In La Cervecería they will offer you a little kebab with your drink. And at La Querencia the tapas are a meal in themselves. En Ca Curro is famous for smooth, sweet Moscatel wine, served with prawns or fresh fried fish.
By now you'll need a break so take a seat in one of Marbella's squares or parks before hitting what is arguably the best tapas bar of them all, La Venecia de los Olivos, which has three branches around town and serves delicious savory ribs. Head upmarket for a while and order a glass of vino fino (fine wine, or dry sherry) with a sophisticated canapé at Gorky. Next is a regional treat: cider and snacks from Asturias in the north of Spain at Sidrería Urogallo. Thought you were finished? Not likely. That was just a warm-up before lunch. And the choice of restaurants for lunch and dinner is as exciting as the tapas bars.
The Amanecer Country Tex Mex serves hot enchiladas with cold Mexican beer. If you can't survive without hamburgers, then make sure you eat the best at Old Texas. Delicate dishes from Thailand are available at Sukhothai, while hearty portions of beef are the order of the day at El Gaucho Argentino. How about sushi at Sakura? Or you can choose from two excellent Chinese restaurants. The Mandarin is considered to be the best on the Costa del Sol. And the Hong Kong is said to prepare the most succulent Peking duck in Marbella.
Italian cooking is well represented here. Two especially fine examples are the Villa Tiberio and the La Fonte delle Streghe. In the Toni Dalli, you can expect to be entertained by a distinguished tenor. The Da Bruno specializes in fresh pasta and the Palacio de la Toscana prepares the best ravioli with spinach that you will ever taste. There are also lots of small pizzerias in Marbella, selling thin and crispy pizzas to take away.
Carnivores are well catered for in Marbella, with three restaurants serving the finest quality meat in typical Castilian style. So you can try a lamb stew or a roast sucking-pig in El Rancho, or El Portalón or Asador Puerta del Príncipe. Those who prefer fish should head for Puerto Banús to try the day's catch with a sea view at La Dorada or La Marina. Vegetarians can also expect the highest quality and service at Azafrán y Menta.
People who take their food seriously have probably already heard about the imaginative dishes at La Hacienda and if you dine at La Meridiana and Taberna del Alabardero, you'll fall in love with the chefs. The Santiago prepares fresh shellfish with reverence and the Víctor has special respect for lobster. All these five-star restaurants can be found in Puerto Banús and San Pedro de Alcántera.