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Marbella: The Costa del Sol’s Jet-Set Playground

For decades, Marbella on the south coast of Spain has possessed a seductive magnetism—no wonder then, that many choose this upscale Andalusian city for their second home

Marking the western point of the Sierra Blanca mountain range, the imposing peak of La Concha presides high in dramatic contrast to Marbella’s sophisticated marinas below. La Concha means “shell” in Spanish, and it’s the mountain’s shell-like embrace that shields Marbella from northern winds and lets it enjoy year-round sunshine and a temperate climate.

The mountain that presides over Marbella on Spain's Costa del Sol is known as La Concha, meaning "shell" in Spanish. Image and banner image: Getty Images

Marbella’s well-heeled investors are seduced by world-class dining, exceptional golf courses, private estates, high-end boutiques, elegant hotels, and a 17-mile (27 km) stretch of coastline awash with honeyed beaches. Little wonder then that Marbella is often described as the Spanish Saint-Tropez.

Mediterranean Muse

“The climate in Marbella is influenced by the Mediterranean Sea; it is never cold in winter and never extremely hot in summer,” says Hans Veenhuijsen of Costa Del Sol 365, the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate in the region.

This verdant paradise offers countless possibilities. There are more than 20 white-sand beaches that stretch around Marbella’s coast—from the jet-set playground of Playa Nagüeles on the Golden Mile to the quieter Playa Real de Zaragoza, eight miles (13 km) from the center. For the ultimate sun worshipper’s indulgence, check in to the nearby Nikki Beach Club. Here, the bronzed and beautiful recline on teak lounge beds, sip on signature Mojitos, and dance to the sound of world-famous DJs. Further west, enjoy the party atmosphere of the Ocean Club in Puerto Banús. Or the caviar menu and waiter service at the relaxed Club del Mar.

Marbella’s exclusive Nikki Beach Club is the place to go to check out the coastline’s famous nightlife. As well as parties with the world’s best DJs, this open-air spot hosts champagne tastings and exclusive dinners on the beach. Image: Pedro Jean.

The Costa del Sol is a golfers’ nirvana. So much so, it won the 2019 IAGTO Award for Best Golf Destination in Europe. Among Marbella’s most prestigious clubs are the private gated ones at La Zagaleta, which has two 18 hole courses, and Finca Cortesin. Another prestigious club is Aloha Golf Club, just a few minutes’ drive from Puerto Banús and designed by Javier Arana, one of Spain’s foremost golf architects.

Sojourn in Splendor

Since German Prince Alfonso de Hohenlohe-Langenburg opened his legendary Marbella Club Hotel on the Golden Mile in 1954, it has been the darling of royalty, tycoons, and Hollywood. Such is its timeless debonair that previous residents Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn wouldn’t look out of place sipping Krug in its Jazz Age Champagne Room today. The bar was set high, and Marbella’s hotels have been reaching the same stellar heights ever since.

The prestigious Marbella Club Hotel has held court on Marbella’s Golden Mile since 1954.

Recently launched, Nobu Hotel’s whitewashed exterior and subtropical gardens give way to an elemental tatami style inside. Hotel guests can enjoy priority access to Nobu restaurant, a private pool, 10 tennis courts, and spa therapy before the party gets started after sundown. For a little more R&R, the Six Senses Spa at the neighboring Puente Romano beach resort offers hammam treatments, heat and ice showers, and yogic healing. Over at The Westin La Quinta Golf Resort & Spa, Benahavís, five-star luxury and top-notch golf combine exquisitely, with a 27-hole course, palatial accommodation, grandiose gardens, and a deluxe spa.

Nobu Hotel Marbella's pool offers a beautiful and secluded alternative to the beach.

The Arabs first arrived in Marbella in the sixth century and ruled for nine centuries, changing the city’s Roman name of Salduba (Salt City) to Marbil-la

Epicurean Eden

Craving Andalusian tapas in a beachside chiringuito? Or seeking gourmet haute cuisine? You’ll find both here. Marbella and the Michelin Guide naturally enjoy a good relationship. At Michelin-starred Skina, in the Old Town, chef Mario Cachinero marries Andalusian cuisine with the avant-garde to create delicious Mediterranean palate-pleasers such as risotto with black trumpet mushroom and Alba white truffle. And the world’s most recognized Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant has chosen Marbella for its first site in Spain, opening at La Plaza, an atmospheric square shared by the A-list Puente Romano beach resort and the new Nobu Hotel. Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa’s signature miso-marinated black cod is a must.

Plaza de los Naranjos at the heart of Casco Antiguo, the Old Town, is home to picturesque white stucco townhouses, bougainvillea, and restaurants spilling out on the cobblestones. Image: Alamy

For retro favorites, try world-renowned chef Paco Jiménez’s take on ’70s classics such as duck confit and chicken supreme in the cool, vaulted Moorish salon of his Old Town restaurant on the Plaza de los Naranjos. A few streets from there is hidden gem Bar El Estrecho, Marbella’s most acclaimed tapas bar. It’s been famous for heavenly bites like sardines in lemon batter, marinated whitebait, and octopus salad since 1954.

At Nobu, Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s signature dishes include rockfish tempura and black cod miso, a well as special creations inspired by Andalusian cooking.

Ancient and Modern

Stay awhile and breathe in the fragrant orange blossom on the Plaza de los Naranjos—the enchanting heart of Casco Antiguo, the Old Town, where white stucco townhouses spill their bougainvillea onto the cobbles. Browse its chic boutiques and pick up a piece of artisanal jewelry at the Sunday market. Walk north and discover quirky designer shops, brooding Gothic Renaissance churches, art galleries, and open-air restaurants. The layout of these labyrinthine streets has survived since Arab rule. The Arabs first arrived here in the sixth century and ruled for nine centuries, changing the city’s Roman name of Salduba (Salt City) to Marbil-la.

Head further and you’ll find the apartment blocks and busy roads of the main residential area of Marbella—the neighborhoods of Divina Pastora, Las Albarizas, Miraflores, and El Mirador. Together, they make up Marbella Town. Between here and the upscale Puerto Banús marina to the southwest, you can meander the Milla de Oro (the Golden Mile), a tree-lined boulevard with luxe hotels and sought-after residential enclaves. Tucked among the superyachts and swanky clubs, all the prestigious labels are in Puerto Banús: Gucci, Escada, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Versace, Dior, and fabulous Spanish department store El Corte Inglés. It’s a shopper’s Shangri-la. And behind this lies Nueva Andalucía, also known as “Golf Valley,” with its top golf clubs and gated estates.

The marina at Puerto Banús offers exclusive port services and 915 berths. Surrounding the port are designer fashion stores and upscale restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Image: Alamy.

“If it’s luxury property you’re looking for, then Marbella is the perfect place to invest,” says Veenhuijsen. “Among the huge variety of prime real estate, we have everything from magnificent houses, modern apartments with a sea view, and mansions in the hills, to villas in one of the many golf resorts, such as La Zagaleta and Finca Cortesin.”

From Penthouse to Palatial

The Golden Mile to Puerto Banús is like a Millionaire’s Row of prime property, from beachfront penthouses with panoramic views to villas with unobstructed views of the shore. You’ll find that Marbella has styles to suit all tastes—Moorish townhouses, Modernist cubic villas, red-tiled Andalusian haciendas, and more. And every effort is made by developers to merge the old with the new sympathetically, says Veenhuijsen. “There are several architects who try to respect and maintain the origins of Andalusian style,” he says. “They want to achieve a point of union between what was then and what is now.”

Among the most in-demand properties are the imposing beach estates of Los Monteros to the east of Marbella; the mansions of Golf Valley; and the sprawling piles of the gated golf community of Guadalmina in the hills. Slightly west, the mountain village of Benahavís is famous for its excellent restaurants and is a hot spot for golfers. And further to the west is Estepona, renowned for its beaches. With its ambitions to become a second Marbella, the property market here is booming.

On the Market

As well as a stunning primary home, this nine-bedroom, nine-bath hilltop estate in La Zagaleta, on the market with Costa del Sol 365, the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate in the region, has three independent bungalows, each with a bedroom, bath, and a south-facing balcony.

Located in La Zagaleta, one of Europe’s most exclusive residential areas, this nine-bedroom, nine-bath villa, on the market with Costa del Sol 365, occupies more than 2,223 acres (900 ha) of Mediterranean forest, and benefits from two golf courses, a sports club, equestrian center, heliport, and private lake.

This seven-bedroom, seven-bath property, on the market with Costa del Sol 365, the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate in the region, has uninterrupted views of the Costa del Sol from Cabopino to Gibraltar and Morocco.

Located in the village of Benahavis, this beautiful Spanish villa, also on the market with Costa del Sol 365, has grounds planted with apple, lemon, plum, and peach trees, and a large outdoor professional kitchen for entertaining.

“The Costa del Sol and Marbella is one of the most dynamic and interesting urbanized territories in Europe,” says Veenhuijsen. “The perfect, year-round climate, beautiful location, and flourishing tourist industry make it ideal for visitors and investors alike.”