BEST FOR: A WELL-BALANCED BEACH BREAK
NOT FOR: A SERIOUS MEDI-CLINIC REGIME
Audrey Hepburn, Sean Connery, the Onassis clan… some serious jet-set names have stayed (and partied) at this legendary hotel, once owned by Prince Alfonso and set on Marbella’s ‘Golden Mile’. These days there are fewer raucous gatherings and over-indulging is balanced out with a wellness programme and thalasso spa, which guests can dip in and out of as they wish.
The hotel itself is a series of pretty, low-level, white Andalusian-style buildings with traditional Spanish roof tiles, which stretch down to the beach. There are two outdoor pools: the quietest is further back on the property, surrounded by lush greenery and winding stone paths and has a lovely table-filled terrace for drinks and snacks; the second, by the Beach Club restaurant, is much more of a lively scene. Steps here lead down to another row of loungers in the sand. First-class tennis courts are a five minute cycle away (borrow a bicycle from by the lobby and tootle along the pedestrian-only path that runs parallel with the sea towards Puerto Banus), and the 18-hole golf course and equestrian centre is an easy 20-minute shuttle bus ride.
Over the last few years the 115 rooms and suites (plus 13 villas) have been given a lick and polish so they feel light and fresh: think modern four posters, pops of aqua in the Ikat print cushions on the sofa in the living room and mustard frames surrounding pictures of Moorish tiles in the hallway. The two-bedroom bungalows and larger villas are hugely popular with families or anyone wanting that extra bit of space (some come with their own pool, others have an outdoor dining area). For anyone who wants to really splash out, Villa del Mar is a jaw-dropping, six-bedroom palatial pad with its own gated entrance, infinity pool and direct access to the beach.
It’s not only the rooms that have been updated recently: the wellness offering has been streamlined too. Where once the emphasis was on medical diagnosis, now the ethos encompasses overall wellbeing through activities such as yoga, meditation with Tibetan bowls, stretching classes to help with muscle elasticity and hiking in the mountains. In every restaurant, there is a healthy section of the menu with calorie-counted meals recommended by nutritionist Amanda Hamilton (those who are really serious about overhauling their eating habits can sign up for the new seven and 14-day nutrition programme which involves a dietary evaluation and a bespoke exercise regime).
The stand-out feature of the spa is the thalasso seawater pool where guests can be pummelled by high pressure underwater jets (to stimulate blood flow) and try out jacuzzi beds (for massaging the legs and back). The extensive complementary marine treatment menu includes individual multi-jet seawater baths with algae and magnesium (to strengthen your immune system), a vichy detox involving exfoliation with salts and oils, and a full body algae mask and a seaweed body wrap which drains away accumulated toxins. It’s also worth mentioning the gym: so often a neglected space in hotels, here you’ll find floor to ceiling glass windows that look out onto lush greenery and groovy wicker cage lights. A far more inspiring setting than being stuck in a basement, say.
While you’re being pampered in the spa, pack little ones off to play at the kids club (ages 4-14) – a space so well designed that it could easily feature in the pages of an interiors magazine. A central pergola with oversized bean bags is surrounded by a kitchen for cooking classes; a vegetable garden complete with mini trowels and wheelbarrows; an aroma lab where children pick flowers and learn how to create their own perfumes as presents for parents; a dance studio with Spanish guitars and flamenco costumes; and an arts and crafts room. There’s not a piece of plastic in sight!
All the restaurants here are excellent. Choose between a buffet lunch at the beach club with incredible salads, huge prawns and lobster (save room for the hotel’s signature chocolate mousse – it’s heavenly) or cooked-to-order paella and grilled seabass at MC Beach, the casual blue-and-white chiringuito on the beach. It’s worth a visit for the smoothies and juices alone– such as the anti-oxidant all-rounder, a refreshing perk-me-up combination of kiwi, cucumber, green tea, avocado, watercress and watermelon.
At night, the pizzas and pasta at low-key MC Cafe are particularly popular but to get into the old-school spirit of the place, head to the champagne bar for a glass of Pol Roger followed by dinner at The Grill, a smart dressed-up affair with candelabras, gold-rimmed Louis XVI chairs, white linen table cloths and, at the centre of the restaurant an Argentine grill. Yes, there’s a healthy menu here too but don’t feel too guilty if you order a chateaubriand and dessert. After all, a stay at the Marbella Club isn’t about punishing yourself – and a little of everything in moderation never hurt anyone.
CONTACT: +34 95 282 2211; marbellaclub.com
PRICE: Doubles from £380, including breakfast
NEAREST AIRPORT: Malaga
TRANSFER TIME: 40 minutes
FIRST-HAND VISIT WRITE UP BY: EMMA LOVE