Marbella’s tiny Casco Antiguo, or Old Town, is one of the prettiest and least-known neighbourhoods in Andalusia. Extending to the north-east of Plaza Puente Málaga, its pedestrian-only streets are lined with plants and flowers that make you feel as if you’re walking around some kind of magical grotto—an effect enhanced by the lights and window displays of classy boutiques. The quarter’s central square is the Plaza de los Naranjos, which is filled with dainty orange trees and surrounded by bars and restaurants that make it a great place to stop for refreshment. As with all such neighbourhoods, the best way to explore is by pocketing your smartphone and wandering aimlessly.
The upper section of Marbella’s Old Town is known simply as the Barrio Alto (High Neighbourhood). Though technically still a part of the Casco Antiguo, this patch of whitewashed houses and cobbled streets is always fairly quiet because most of Marbella’s visitors stay around the Plaza de los Naranjos. A must-see is the Plaza Santo Cristo where two of Marbella’s most attractive buildings are found—one painted in an elegant maroon, the other in a happy, loud yellow. The latter houses the Ana Maria flamenco bar, which, although not cheap, puts on great shows.
Flamenco Ana Maria, Plaza Santo Cristo, 4, Marbella, Málaga, Spain, +34 667 38 49 46
If you keep walking north from Barrio Alto, the centuries-old buildings and pedestrian streets will soon give way to the apartment blocks and busy roads of Miraflores. Here, you can see a real slice of local city life: suited office workers stand smoking in groups on the pavement while old ladies catch up outside the colourful grocery stalls, their husbands crowding into tapas bars for churros, coffee and brandy. Well worth a visit is the Cortijo de Miraflores Cultural Centre, which houses small archaeological and olive oil museums. On the back wall of the centre’s reception there are fascinating photos of 1950s Miraflores when the area was entirely undeveloped.
To the east of Represa Park is another working residential neighbourhood called Divina Pastora. This barrio‘s charm is not owed to its architecture of high-rise apartment blocks, but to its vibrant street life of fruit and vegetable stalls and no-frills tapas bars where locals congregate every morning. Particularly lively is the diamond-shaped plaza where you’ll find the Municipal Market and the parish church. For a delightful surprise, take a peek inside the church: its otherwise unremarkable interior is brought to life by a series of beautiful paintings depicting the eight provinces of Andalusia.
Stroll east along Marbella’s Paseo Marítimo with the Mediterranean Sea on your right and you’ll soon arrive in the Barrio de Pescadores, a neighbourhood of fishermen’s houses and rustic seafood restaurants. The lovely Playa de la Bajadilla is always less crowded than the beaches in Marbella’s centre and overlooks the port’s wooden fishing boats, their once-bright paintwork peeling from decades of sun and sea. Walk past the row of fishermen’s huts on Calle Fuengirola and you’ll find yourself at the Puerto Playa, an excellent seafood restaurant with tables on the sand.
Restaurante Puerto Playa, Playa la Bajadilla, Marbella, Málaga, Spain, +34 952 86 00 11
The Modern Centre
The modern parts of Marbella that lie immediately north and south of the main N-340 road are collectively referred to by locals as ‘the centre’. At first sight, this is a busy and not particularly interesting area of high street shops, banks and offices, but exploring quickly reveals hidden delights. On the streets and squares surrounding Avenida Miguel Cano, you’ll find posh delicatessens and gift shops, a popular Peruvian eatery, Alameda Park and the lively meeting point that is Bar Guerola, which does a superb Menu del Día for less than 15 euros.
Bar Guerola, Calle Padre Enrique Cantos, 4, Marbella, Málaga, Spain, +34 952 77 00 07