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Marbella and Puerto Banús

 
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Marbella's motto is "A Way of Life" and, certainly, this luxurious resort town seems to have it all and is, once again, rising to the fore as a favourite location with the rich and famous, as well as more ordinary folk who are willing to pay just a little bit extra for southern Spain's answer to St Tropez.
 
 
 
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Not too long ago, Marbella sharpened its image still more thanks to a considerable investment initiated by the town's colourful and controversial late mayor, Jesus Gil which resulted in a massive landscaping drive.
Marbella, 100 kilometres square and 24 kilometres of beach, is known all over the world as one of the classiest and most beautiful holiday destinations in Southern Europe. It has everything: beaches, mountains, old world charm, cosmopolitan atmosphere and services, countryside and city and a wonderful climate that keeps the temperatures cooler in summer and warmer in winter than the rest of Málaga province. From Cabopino to Guadalmina, passing through the pleasure ports of Marbella and Puerto Banús, the coastline is fine sand all the way and the land that goes back from the beaches is a paradise of luxury housing developments, golf courses and beautiful mountain scenery. It is little wonder that Marbella has attracted the rich and famous for many decades, and that many people who come here on holidays decide to stay.
The history of the town goes back to Palaeolithic times, as we can see from archaeological remains found in the area. Then the Romans came and settled, leaving clear evidence of their presence in the area, especially in the Las Bóvedas area and the Villa of Río Verde, with its exceptional mosaics.
In Marbella too is one of the most interesting Visigoth remains in the country, the basilica of Vega del Mar, which the Moors called the "well lived in," and there built a fortress that has survived the passage of time. The urban centre they built on the spot is now Marbella's Old Town, with aristocratic buildings like the Hospital Bazán and convents that hold a permanent place in the history books of this nation: from one of them the ransom of Christian prisoners, among them Cervantes, was negotiated. In modern times, Marbella has been a mining town and an agricultural centre before becoming what it is today. It was the capital of the iron industry in this country in the 19th century, with three plants in La Finca de La Concepción and three in the El Ángel area, belonging to the Heredia and Ejiró families. A full 75 percent of all the iron produced in Spain came from the El Peñoncillo works at that time, but it closed down in 1931. Competition from Northern Spain sank the industry in the south when coke replaced vegetable fuel in the production process. But Marbella was also a pioneer in agriculture in Andalucía, with the Marqués del Duero farm and, on a lesser scale, the El Ángel farm making an industry of what had previously been a subsistence activity. At the end of the 19th century, the aristocrat Manuel Gutiérrez de la Concha designed what is now San Pedro Alcántara, the biggest farming entity built in this country, covering 10,000 hectares of land.
But Marbella has a down to earth side as well, an air of individuality which can be best appreciated by exploring back streets in the old part of town. One of the prettiest places is the fabled 'Orange Square' which is located just off the main street in the older district and is also home to the 16th century town hall and tourist office where you can pick up a detailed map and visitor information.
Back to Orange Square, or "La Plaza de los Naranjos", as it is called in Spanish, expect to meet with stately buildings, small shops, art galleries, bars and bistros and is a hub of activity day and night. And, depending on the time of year, the colours here can be vibrant, with the trees and exotic tropical plants set against a backdrop of dazzling white buildings and a deep blue sky.
Be sure to explore the honeycomb of surrounding narrow streets where homes and shops intermingle to create the atmosphere of a small village, rather than a cosmopolitan town. There are numerous excellent restaurants to choose from, ranging from those specialising in the predictably pricey exclusive cordon bleu to the gritty individuality of a backstreet Spanish bar where the Serrano ham is gently cured by tobacco smoke and the tapas are both tasty and filling.
Back towards the coast is the La Alameda park where you can book your personal horse and carriage to travel in style or, if you prefer, stroll on towards the sea along the Avenida del Mar. This is arguably one of the most delightful promenades on the costa, flanked by classy restaurants and bars and mercifully free of concrete skyscrapers, glass bottom boat trips, imported shells and I love .... T-Shirts that are fast bringing a sameness to coastal resorts, whether they be in Pathos, Cyprus or Portimao, Portugal.
From Guadalalmina to Cabopino, the Marbella coastline stretches along some 26 kilometres of sunny beaches bathed by the Mediterranean and where you can enjoy traditional fish and seafood favourites like sardines on a spit, fried fish and the incomparable paella. There are also two large parks in Marbella which provide some welcome shade to spend some time with a book. The amphitheatre at Constitution Park (once the garden of a private residence) is frequently used for concerts and plays in the summer. Casinos, clubs and just about every sporting activity under the sun, few places can match Marbella for world class tennis, sailing and golf. There are also three pleasure craft harbours here.
Puerto Banús
However for the ultimate in coastal charisma it would be hard to beat Puerto Banús, just west of the town. This is the place to be pampered yachtside and watch the world go by or window shop at one of several of the world renowned fashion houses and boutiques. The port has grown considerably over the years and now includes a casino, commercial shopping centre, El Corte Ingles department store, marine observatory and a multi cinema with films shown in their original soundtrack. The nightlife is buzzing here with alfresco bars, piano clubs and discos which are open dusk until dawn.

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