Despite its deserved reputation as major tourist destination, Marbella still has its secrets: from rugged mountains to hidden corners of the old town, there is plenty for the off-piste traveller to explore. Read on for our choice of epic places in Marbella that only the locals know about.
Most visitors to Marbella stick to Playa de la Fontanilla, the city’s largest and most popular beach. But if you head a little further east, you’ll come to Playa de la Bajadilla, a smaller stretch of sand next to the fishing port. It’s still a popular beach, but at least it’s removed from the teeming tourist thoroughfare that is the Paseo Maritimo.
Playa de la Bajadilla backs onto Marbella’s Barrio de Pescadores, or Fishing Neighbourhood, a compact quarter of whitewashed fisherman’s huts and no-frills tapas bars that is well worth exploring. Some of the city’s best seafood is served in the unassuming eateries here, and you’re unlikely to ecounter many tourists as you wander.
For some of the freshest fish in Marbella, head to Puerto Playa Restaurant. Boasting an amazing location on Playa de la Bajadilla – there are tables out on the sand, metres from the water – this is one of the best seafood restaurants in town; yet because it’s a little way out of the centre, it’s not really on the tourist map. Sometimes, the sardines here are cooked on skewers – espetos – that are planted in the sand next to fires on the beach.
Opposite Divina Pastora’s covered market is the neighbourhood’s parish church. Its drab 1970s exterior looks anything but “epic”, and hardly invites you to enter, but when you do a de facto art gallery awaits you. Adorning the walls of the church’s nave are a series of beautiful paintings depicting the eight provinces of Andalusia, from Almería in the east to Huelva in the west.
If you want to hang out with the locals when in Marbella, forget the bars and restaurants along the Paseo Maritimo and head to the area around Avenida Miguel Cano. This area is home to a number of watering holes that are pretty much exclusively packed with locals for lunch and dinner: one of the best is Bar Guerola, which does a great set lunch menu for less than €15.
Bar Guerola, 4 Calle Padre Enrique Cantos, Marbella, Spain, +34 952 77 00 07
Rising up behind Marbella’s northern suburbs, a few kilometres from the city centre, are the rugged and beautiful Sierra Blanca mountains. There is plenty of trekking to be enjoyed up there and, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can summit La Concha mountain (the top of which resembles an open shell); at 1,125 metres, its peak offers stunning views out over the city towards Africa’s northern coast.
Fifty years ago, the neighbourhood of Miraflores didn’t exist: the patch of land it occupies north of the old town was given over to gardens, orchards, and fields. Now, though, it is a busy residential quarter that richly rewards off-plan meandering. An unbeatable barrio for fruit and veg stores, delicatessens, bakeries, and tapas bars in which few tourists are to be found.
In itself, Marbella’s enchanting old town is no secret: indeed, its central square, the Plaza de los Naranjos, is one of the city’s most-visited spots. But take a good few hours to explore this centuries-old barrio, and you will find hidden corners, secret alleyways, and beautiful buildings that are probably only known to the people lucky enough to live here.
If you’re after a little romantic seclusion in the city centre, head to the Parque de los Enamorados (“Lover’s Park”). Most visitors to Marbella stick to the Alameda and Constitution parks by the sea, so this attractive, well-maintained space is mainly for the locals. Surrounded by palm trees, its centrepiece is a series of raised fountains that are particularly attractive at night.