People have often asked me what is it about Marbella that has made the place so much like home – knowing I have been to various other ‘luxury high-end’ coastal places over the world? So I decided to write a response and where better place to share my impressions than with you than right here...!?
In no particular order, here are the destinations I have had first-hand experience of, that perhaps some people could compare the ‘luxury lifestyle’ to, also associated with life in Marbella.
Miami - With its Cuban influx it is hard to ignore the Spanish, or in this case Latin influence that surrounds everything. From the cuisine to the beer this is somewhat removed from other US cities further North and West. A buzz everywhere you go with Miami and South Beach providing the perfect backdrop for people of all walks of life to display their talents.
The main thing here is the sheer size of things, the office blocks, the apartment buildings, the Hotels, the ‘Football’ stadiums, the nightclubs, the cars and of course the cocktails…!
America just doesn’t seem to do boutique, and struggles with refined at times for that matter, but the constant hive of activity means it all fits together perfectly.
I have always maintained the Latin blood runs at a higher temperature and octane than their more traditional Spanish counterparts and that is reflected in this town…. The pace, the enthusiasm and volume that everything is performed at here is infectious and it becomes a case of ‘if you can’t beat them…’
There is so much of this City I know I didn’t see but if the shopping malls and Piña Coladas are anything to go by, I have to get back there very soon.
St. Tropez – A picturesque fishing port destination with luxury boutique shopping and old town alley ways that one can’t help but admire on first sight. The boating marina is a beautiful chic location but there is something with St. Tropez I found hard to stay in love with.
No one minds a trek when we are looking forward to arriving at a new place or one of intrigue but on the return journey the delight and sense of achievement can quickly dissipate when the queues to leave this oasis at the end of a bottle neck turns into 4 or 5 hours of your life you will never get back. I felt like I had made personal friends with everyone heading in the opposite direction on the break away.
There is also a sense of ‘once seen not fussed about going back to’, a place you feel you have done and seen it on the first visit and so for that reason can fade from the top of the list all too fast.
The best way I can sum it up would be it is more romantic than practical. Perhaps in part because it has the French accent over the top of everything on offer, but maybe that says more about me as a person rather than anything about the place itself.
Monaco – well the obvious attraction here is it is geared for the rich and famous, it helps them facilitate the lifestyle it is synonymous for, a tax haven principality that encourages residents of wealth. But is it a little pretentious because of it?
The marina with its bursting berths of oversized ‘yachts’, the Monte Carlo sector full of fine dining cuisine and cordon bleu platters is there in preparation to tee up a finish to the evening at the famous Monte Carlo Casino, a masterpiece of structural beauty only outweighed perhaps by the Prince’s palace, helped in part by its superior elevation.
It baffled me how much of all the finer things life can offer was crammed into a tight alcove of coastline set inside a mountainous terrain accessed (if my memory serves) via a short tunnel, like something out of a film set on approach almost…
It’s as though it was designed like this with purpose, to protect the assets within, in what must be some of the most expensive real estate per m2 on the planet!!
The fact that there is such little room here that their Grand Prix has to be held on the same streets the population normally uses for the 3 day duration while going the wrong way through the tunnel and swerving round the entrance to the casino just adds to its’ credit.
The beaches are typical of the Cote D Azur, with the sand quite dark in colour but the venues that line the streets all have their purpose and offer a touch of class. There’s no Pound shops here M’lady…
Monaco seems to know its limitations, embrace them and use them to its advantage, adding appeal and increasing the attraction by the sheer exclusiveness of everything they do.
Benalmadena – So why not somewhere closer to home? Well, located only 45km east of Marbella along the same stretch of the coastline there is a boating marina in Benalmadena.
This is the closest offering to Marbella geographically but for me is a very underrated place to spend time and has many similarities to other areas, especially to the Puerto Banus end of Marbella.
The main attraction is the port and is perhaps the best layout to a marina I have seen out of all the places mentioned on this list and on that alone might even be my favourite. It doesn’t have the name associated with luxury but anywhere with a 50ft boat sitting in the water has to have money somewhere in the vicinity.
I like the way the walkways flow and the two levels of restaurants and bars overlook the boats and islands of apartments, almost 'Miami like' in design. It doesn’t have the same clientele as Marbella that is for certain and this does tend to be a very transient location with what seems to be all tourists milling around - apart from the odd local working there, but for those that have been here I expect you wouldn’t argue.
Certainly, and in part most importantly the real estate around and outside of this immediate field does not carry anything like the prestigious name that ‘Marbella the brand’ does.
Dubai – It has to be said it took me a little amount of time to get my head around the workings of this modern emirate state but once I realised what was on offer and that drinking in public and heavy petting on the beach were offenses that would end me up in more trouble than usual I found it very appealing...
I suppose the first time I went wasn't helped by it being Ramadan, so obviously things were a little on the quiet side in the day time with no sign of a drop to drink anywhere, but once I had taken the night boat trip along the Dubai Creek (actually a river I think) to the Gold Souk market and visited the Al Burj Hotel having been sipping away on fresh juice at the Jumeirah beach club while staring out to 'The Palm' beyond the golden sandy beaches, I felt I was coping much better with any initial culture shocks.
The big thing I realised was to be cool - well in fact to just stay cool, by all means possible!
The heat was ridiculous and no one seemed to be taking on the sun directly while most men were fully cladded with an all-white attire that surely came about through experience.
For this reason, the Dubai weather virtually made my stay there an internal affair, as I struggled to see the up side to going outside in daylight which made my whole trip seem somewhat nocturnal; a fun filled time don’t get me wrong with wild entertainment at times but could I see myself there long term and the answer was simply a definite ‘no’.
Despite all the refinery, lavish service and impeccable practices of how to host and take care of your guests while giving the best possible first impression, I just wasn’t fooled. I found it all a bit too clinical and all too much about the impressions. Who could have the biggest this and longest that and I felt that maybe I was just a bit out my league, certainly as a non-national as I so clearly was here!
Barcelona - Uber cool but it is a city, with an important port and airport hub that its southern little brother cannot boast. For that reason Barcelona has clear advantages as it has developed that much better but one thing remains constant and that is the wealth of its people and the diversity they bring.
The local football club has helped the places name go global for sure, with their 'tiki-taka' style of football being so effective but like all these other destinations tourism has also been an important product in modern times to its success. Confirmed of course by the amount of choice of dining venues, drinking establishments and relentless events laid on day and night by local government and commerce alike.
For me the most enticing area has to be the Gothic quarter. I guess I’m naturally drawn to the old and traditional, the core of a place, the epicentre where you can see by just looking at the architecture and layout what it may have been like in yesteryear, brimming in history.
Barcelona certainly has a story to tell. Its rich in monuments and grand erections that will have your head spinning straight off the open top buses. There’s old, older and damn right antique, a place full of education that thankfully all seems to still be intact and open to the public with famous art pieces literally on show and available to view out on the streets in places.
Very well connected, in all forms and modes of transport you can imagine and you never seem to have to hang around to get moving at any time of day in this city. A faster pace of life than most other places I have experienced in Spain which is perhaps again why I would always hold Barcelona dear in my heart.
Marbella – A place I first visited in 1996 while I was based in Venezuela, taking some well-earned vacation time in Europe. My initial impression was Marbella offered the best of both my worlds.
The food, drink, climate, long days, nightlife and a more chilled out general lifestyle as in South America but without the risk, tension or danger element, nor the unlawful manner of daily dealings at a business level or at least it appeared to be on the surface at least. A place much more in line with the UK with it being a European country so the appeal was obvious to me very quickly. Geographically too, being that much closer for family and friends to visit.
My passing thought when I did leave first time around was if my time in Latin America ever came to an end then this would be a good compromise thereafter, and true enough, 4 years later I became a resident of the town.
Having fallen in love with the old town I simply had to be based there and I was fortunate to find a newly refurbished apartment right in the hub with all the charm of the rest of the area with an interior of a 4-star hotel suite.
I got straight into the routine of where to leave my car at the weekends and what times to visit the banks and shops and when not to, but it was the whole feel of the place, the whole atmosphere, how collectively it made me feel. The friendly neighbours, the small bars and crafty tapas joints en-route to the main park thoroughfare that lead to the beach and with the port at the end and the promenade stretching for miles in either direction, never feeling trapped but at the same time, never feeling an urge to leave…
It had everything you needed without compromise and all within walking distance. You could go out every weekend or of an evening for months and never feel you have had the same night twice.
It has its history too and it wasn’t always rich with invited visitors. Most of the now inhabitants came to the town uninvited from the South in Africa, and the North later on… And although it now has a cosmopolitan feel it is still true to its traditions and still feels like you are in Spain even though in the summer the tourists must outweigh the locals in number…
It has now become a brand much like Monte Carlo, like St Tropez but is also seems to function as a town as well as a resort, a venue accessible to all, it flourishes all year round, and if you speak to the locals they certainly feel that they would do ‘quite nicely thank you’ even if the tourists decided never to return.
I guess the difference about Marbella unlike any other place I’ve visited is I feel I understood it from the first instance, like I could relate to what it stood for, it always brings a smile to my face and a warm feeling of belonging when I am there and nowhere else has consistently achieved that…
Let me know if I should add any destination you would compare with the ones I have drawn together…
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