Marbella’s reputation as being a glitzy, inauthentic city packed full of supermodels and Formula 1 drivers is owed to a simple mistake. All too often, the blingtastic marina of Puerto Banús is described as if it were a part of the city, when in fact it is an entirely distinct development five miles to the west of Marbella. Yes, the Paseo Maritimo is lined with touristy shops and bars, but the rest of Marbella is still very much a working Spanish city, as a stroll around its residential neighbourhoods will demonstrate. The province’s (in)famous Golden Mile is not a part of the city, either.
Marbella is comprised of a number of lively neighbourhoods, each of which feels like a small town in itself. The oldest and most attractive of these is the Casco Antiguo – an area of whitewashed houses and romantic, flower-filled streets, all of which seem to eventually end up in the pretty Plaza de los Naranjos. Yet residential barrios such as Divina Pastora (east of the Represa Park) and Miraflores (to the north of the old town) are also worth visiting for their friendly street life and traditonal tapas bars. Certainly, there is much more to Marbella than the area around its main beaches.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing that Marbella is home to an open-air collection of sculptures by Salvador Dali (1904-1989): after all, the Catalonia-born artist never lived or worked here. Yet ten of the surrealist’s intriguing bronze works are scattered along the Avenida del Mar, a spacious boulevard that connects the modern city centre with the Paseo Maritimo. Not only can these delightfully strange sculptures be viewed for free, but a seaside location provides the perfect setting in which to contemplate them at leisure.
Keen shoppers will want to know that Marbella boasts one of the best shopping scenes in southern Spain. Its old town is packed with smart boutiques specialising in clothes, shoes, handbags and jewellery, all of which are interspersed with a plentiful supply of tapas bars and beautiful old townhouses to admire. Shopping here, then, is as much about exploring Marbella’s prettiest neighbourhood as it is about extending your wardrobe.
Fishing has always been (and still is) an important industry for Marbella. But it might surprise you to learn that historically, the big business here was the mining of iron. The lush hills of the Sierra Blanca – which rise up behind the city’s bus station – provided the perfect site for the construction of Spain’s first blast furnace in 1826. It was built by the Málaga businessman Manuel de Heredia, who required iron to strengthen the barrels in which the region’s wine was transported throughout Europe.
Nowadays, Marbella is associated with the modern developments that have made it such a popular tourist destination. Less well known, though, is the city’s long and rich history, which some historians claim goes as far back as the the 7th century BC. Marbella was certainly a Roman settlement, as is evidenced by the remains of a bridge visible on the grounds of the nearby Hotel Puente Romano and the columns that are now part of the medieval city walls, which were built during the city’s Moorish epoch in the 10th century AD.
It won’t come as news to anyone that this is a city with a warm climate: the Costa del Sol is a region of Spain that enjoys 320 days of sunshine a year. But Marbella also boasts the beautiful Sierra Blanca mountains, which protect it from weather that can make surrounding areas unbearably hot in summer and much cooler in winter. The resulting microclimate makes for temperatures that invite a visit at any time of year: in summer, the average is 29 degrees celsius (84 degrees Fahrenheit), which is hot, but not too hot, whilst in winter that figure only drops to 12 degrees (54 degrees Fahrenheit).