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Marbella is a city with a population of about 200,000 that is 60 kilometers west of Malaga. The official census shows that the population is 140,000, but this is an undercount because many of the foreigners who live in Marbella never register their residency in the official registry, the empadronamiento. The amount of garbage collected shows that the undercount is about 40%, so one comes up with a total figure of about 200,000. It could be much more, and no one knows. Its area is 114 square kilometers, and the city has 24 kilometers of beach. Its climate is one of the best in Europe, with cooler summers and warmer winters than the rest of the province of Malaga. Marbella has a huge mountain in the background called La Concha that protects it from cold winds from the north in winter and warm winds from the north in summer. The mountain creates the best microclimate in the Costa del Sol. The average annual temperature is 18C, and there are only 35 rainy days in the year.
Only 24% of the residents of Marbella were born in the city. The majority came out of their own choice. Most of the Spanish who are in the service sector speak English, so a foreigner in Marbella really never really has to learn Spanish.
The priciest real estate in Spain is found in Madrid’s Calle Serrano, the shopping street, where Madrid’s richest people live. The second priciest real estate is found in Marbella, because it has lured many rich people from all over the world to settle here. Many have come to visit and have been seduced by its climate and beauty. Marbella has many luxury housing developments where the rich have bought houses and apartments. Just west of downtown Marbella starts the “Golden Mile”, which runs all the way to Puerto Banus. This area has the priciest real estate in the city, especially the area adjacent to the beach.
It is said that after London, there are more Rolls Royce cars registered in Marbella than any other city in the world. This is an indication of the affluent society that lives in Marbella.
Who are the rich people who live in Marbella? There is a large international community composed of businessmen and Europeans who have titles. There are many Arab princes who have mansions. At the beginning of the First Gulf War, many rich Arabs were vacationing in Marbella and were saved from the invasion by Iraq. There is also a large contingent of Spanish people who are prominent in the arts and there are the old rich from Spain and other European countries, many who have titles. Most of these people nowadays are very discreet and do not display their wealth ostentatiously, for reasons of security.
Marbella is a year round resort and many of the rich live in Marbella all year. There are other glitzy resorts in Spain that make news during summer with celebrity visitors, but these resorts really shut down during the off season. Celebrities used to visit Marbella in the past, but Marbella is more sedate now and the current residents prefer it that way. Parties are held in private residences instead of in restaurants. There are free magazines that are given away in Marbella for free and they are called “Absolute Marbella” and “Oh La La“. The magazines are bilingual in English and Spanish and real estate companies advertise heavily in the magazines. At the back of the magazine are pictures of parties and one can get an idea of the people who reside permanently in the city. One also gets an idea of the houses that the rich occupy.
The very famous actor from Malaga Antonio Banderas owns a house beside the beach in the Los Monteros development. He and his wife Melanie Griffith come whenever they have time. Sean Connery used to live in Marbella until he had a disagreement with the local press. He then moved to the Bahamas, but is reported to live in New York City now.
Obviously not all the people who live in Marbella are rich. The majority are middle class Spanish who work in the service industries. These Spanish account for 72% of the population, and the foreigners account for 23% of the population. There could be more foreigners, but they never register.
The visitor will notice that there are no vagabonds, street beggars, street musicians, street performers, or itinerant salespeople who spread their wares on the sidewalk. These people are not allowed in Marbella. In other Spanish cities many of these people are pests who love to bother tourists. There is a strong police presence downtown to keep these people out of the city and to provide security to visitors and residents, which is appreciated by everyone.
Climate and Beaches
Why do the rich like to live in Marbella? One reason is the wonderful climate that residents enjoy all year, as well as the beautiful beaches. The city is beautiful and clean, without any graffiti. There are parks and much greenery, and the semi tropical gardens are to be enjoyed by everyone. The rich have beautiful mansions discreetly hidden from the street by high walls. The majority of the residents are educated and one can notice that the people at the beach do not shout. Marbella does not cater to cheap tourism, like other Spanish resorts. Only the more affluent people go to Marbella and they are not the type to get rowdy or drunk on the streets or at the beach. The city also shows a police presence in important sections of the city that are frequented by tourists. This presence prevents thefts and bad behavior.
Hotels and Golf CoursesMarbella also has the infrastructure that wealthy people like. There are 13 five star hotels, and 15 golf courses in the city, at last count, with more in adjacent communities. Within a radius of 30 kilometers, there are 45 golf courses. How many other resorts have that many five star hotels or golf courses? The oldest five star hotel is the Marbella Club Hotel, that Prince Alfonso von Hohenloe founded in 1954. This is the grand dame of the five star hotels. It has low rise buildings surrounded by beautiful and spacious gardens. By the beach is the big swimming pool where one can still meet many of the rich people. The other five star hotels are also beautiful, each with a different character. Their salons and dining rooms are all very elegant and one can see very well dressed people there. The five star hotels have expensive boutiques in their precincts. For those who have the time, it would be of interest to visit the five star hotels and enjoy their architecture and interior design, as well as their beautiful tropical gardens.
There is a five star hotel in the neighboring city of Estepona called Las Dunas Beach Hotel and Spa. The Leading Hotels of the World has voted it as the No.1 Hotel in Spain. This is a boutique hotel that has 88 suites. It is a small hotel, but incredibly beautiful. In the gardens in the back there is a patio with a fountain that flows to the beautiful swimming pool beside the beach, probably one of the most beautiful patios in Spain. This hotel also is the site of concerts by internationally known artists.
If one wants to see beautiful gardens, there is the Kempinski Hotel Bahia Estepona, also in the adjoining city of Estepona. The huge tropical gardens cover 45,000 square meters and have many palm trees and waterfalls.
There are about 19 four star hotels in Marbella and neighboring communities. Of special mention is the El Fuerte Hotel in downtown Marbella which has been recently renovated. It is the oldest hotel downtown and has beautiful gardens and is adjacent to the Paseo Maritimo and beach.
What do rich people like to do in their spare time? They like to shop. A recent report showed that many luxury good companies like to open boutiques in Paris, London and New York City. What is the fourth place? It is Marbella, because this is where their customers are. Downtown Marbella and Puerto Banus are the places where the exclusive stores are located. There are more jewelry stores in Marbella than in many bigger cities in Spain.
The late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia used to come to Marbella and stay at his white house (copied from the real White House, but made bigger). His family built an adjoining mosque. His retinue of thousands would occupy all the five star hotel rooms available. But it was the jewelers who would make most of their profits when the Arabs were in town. The Saudi royal family usually goes to Marbella in August and one can tell when they are in town by the presence of their yachts in Puerto Banus. The local newspapers also herald their arrival. A recent interview with the owner of one of the biggest jewelry stores in Puerto Banus stated that the Saudis do not squander their money on just any jewelry. They have very good taste and know what the prices are in other international cities, so they are very well informed.
Puerto Banus has some of the most expensive boutiques in Spain. There are stores that sell beautiful clothes made by designers and other stores that sell very expensive leather handbags. Other stores sell furs, even during summer, because their clientele is international and one has to remember that it is winter in the southern hemisphere.
Adjacent to the N340 motorway that passes through Marbella is La Cañada, the biggest shopping mall in the province of Malaga. It has 150 shops and free parking. It also has several movie theaters and many restaurants.
The affluent people of Marbella need to buy furniture for their mansions. In most parts of Spain, the traditional furniture involves dark woods and very traditional styles. This is not to the taste of the international community that lives in Marbella. They have more sophisticated tastes because they have lived all over the world, such as New York City, Beverly Hills, London, and Paris. They prefer furniture made with light colored wood, glass tables and sophisticated cabinets and sofas. As an example, on the eastern entrance of Marbella is a big furniture store called Casasola. They have four other stores on the Costa del Sol which carry the traditional Spanish furniture. Their store in Marbella has the international style and has some very beautiful furniture. The store will also make special order furniture to the customer’s desires. This personal service distinguishes the home furnishing stores in Marbella.
There are about 5 big stores in Marbella that sell rugs and carpets made in the Middle East, Tibet, Nepal, and China. The selection is incredible and one can see the most beautiful carpets in the world in these stores.
On the Golden Mile there is one store that carries the most beautiful chandeliers, made by Murano in Italy. This store also designs and builds the most beautiful bathrooms in Spain, according to the client’s taste. There are many international companies that design kitchens also.
There are several stores that sell beautiful garden sculpture. The rich like to decorate their tropical gardens with garden sculpture, so these stores cater to them. Many sculptures are made of marble and sculpted in Italy.
To find and see these stores, one has to just wander along the Golden Mile. One will meet the most educated store owners, one even an Austrian princess. Some of the rich also like to work to keep themselves busy.
There are several spas catering to the rich. Some of the five star hotels have their own spas. The city has at least 5 spas. One of the most famous spas is called Incosol, which is also a five star hotel. In this spa, the rich and famous can go on weight reduction programs discreetly, while enjoying their vacations as well. The spa has all sorts of medical doctors and psychiatrists to help their clients with any problems they may have.
Marbella has some of the best doctors in Spain. The rich demand good medical care and that is why some of the best doctors in Spain practice in the city, especially since it is very lucrative to practice here. There are many good clinics and hospitals to provide the best care that money can buy.
Among the doctors who practice in Marbella are some of the best plastic surgeons in Spain. The rich women and men who live in Marbella want to look good in their middle ages, so they demand the best plastic surgeons in the world.
There are also heart specialists to take care of the residents of the city. In fact, every medical specialty can be found in the city. Few other resorts in Spain have these medical specialists available. And all of these doctors are very, very discreet. That is why many prominent politicians and dictators and their families from all over the world go to Marbella, to get this discreet treatment. If they got the treatment in their own countries, they could have many problems with their electorate or public. These people let it be known in their countries that they are only going on vacation to Marbella.
Puerto Banus is a yacht harbor that was inaugurated in the 1970 by Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, built by the prominent businessman Jose Banus from Madrid. Today it has more than 915 berths. Beside the harbor they have also built apartments and condominiums. Puerto Banus soon got an international reputation for being the playground of the rich and famous. It started growing and now it has hotels, a huge shopping center that includes the El Corte Ingles department store and supermarket, and all the famous luxury boutiques. The biggest jewelry stores in Marbella are also located here.
A recent look at the web shows that a berth for a 12 meter boat costs 255,000 euros, while a berth for a 50 meter yacht costs 6,000,000 euros. The yacht harbor is the biggest in Spain and there is a two year waiting list to moor one’s boat there. There are three other yacht harbors in the city, giving a total of 1729 berths.
At one end of Puerto Banus, across the Benabola Hotel, one can find one of the most beautiful buildings in Spain. The apartment building was built by an Arab prince and the building is faced with seven different colors of marble. There are cupolas that are covered with a metal that shine like gold. Every apartment has balconies that are full of greenery and flowers. The apartments in this building are some of the most expensive in Puerto Banus and look like a dream.
The rich like to have fun! So Puerto Banus and the city has some of the most famous international discotheques. These include La Notte, Club Olivia Valere, Oh! Marbella Discotheque and Dreamer’s. These places are expensive and one has to have a big bankroll to patronize them. There are many more nightclubs that are not as expensive. A new and exciting nightclub called “Seven” has just opened in Puerto Banus.
In August, 2007, the Spanish singer Julio Iglesias gave a concert at the gardens of the Hotel Los Monteros. The price of the dinner and concert was 1500 euros. It is reported that 216 people showed up for the concert. At that price one has to be affluent to afford the entrance ticket. Julio Iglesias has a mansion in the neighboring community of Ojen, with a very large garden. It is reported that he has bought two adjoining properties.
The rich also have to eat. They prefer very elegant restaurants surrounded by beautiful gardens, with an international cuisine. These are very abundant in the city. Among the famous restaurants are La Meridiana, Villa Tiberio, Toni Dalli, and La Hacienda. The five star hotels also have very good restaurants.
There is also the nearby small town of Benahavis, which is proclaiming itself as the gourmet capital of the Costa del Sol. There are about 20 good restaurants in this small town, with all types of cuisine. During weekends the town gets packed with people, so one needs reservations.
On the road to Ronda is the Hotel Taberna del Alabardero Resort. This is a four star hotel and it has a branch of the famous Taberna del Alabardero Restaurant chain. The design of this hotel and its gardens is simply beautiful. This would be a perfect place to have a wedding reception.
Near downtown one can find the Paseo Maritimo. This has more than 50 restaurants in all price ranges. Between the Paseo Maritimo and the town center is the Avenida del Mar, a beautiful small park with fountains, a marble floor and ten of Salvador Dali’s bronze sculptures. The park has an excellent view of the sea. There is a roundabout at the entrance to Puerto Banus which has a huge sculpture of a rhino, also by Dali. It is called Rinoceronte Vestido con Puntillas and it weighs 3 tons.
There are two famous beach clubs in Marbella, where one can laze the day away and see the beautiful people. These are Nikki Beach (at the Don Carlos Resort in Elviria) and the Ocean Club at Puerto Banus. The Ocean Club has a large swimming pool that has 1000 square meters. The beach clubs are beside the sea and one can rent cabaña chairs and sunbeds. They also have restaurants, cocktails, music, and party scenes at night. Other beach clubs are Puro Beach, Victor’s Beach, Suite del Mar, Mistral Beach, Las Palmeras, and Club de Playa Cabane. Beach clubs are the sophisticated and chic versions of the old beach bars.
In the heart of Marbella is the Old Town (Casco Antiguo), which is a delightful place to visit. It is really a traditional white town with narrow streets, and all the buildings are whitewashed. In the center of the Old Town is the Plaza de los Naranjos (Orange Square), which contains the city hall, surrounded by many open air restaurants. The surrounding narrow streets have some of the best and most sophisticated stores, catering to the tastes of the international community that shops there. Surprise, not all of the stores are expensive! In fact many have very reasonable prices, even for quality goods. There are shoes stores, handbag stores, leather stores, clothing stores, and jewelry stores. These stores have beautiful merchandise that one will not be able to find in Madrid or Barcelona. It is really a shopper’s paradise in a very charming location.
Two blocks away from the Plaza de los Naranjos are the walls of the old Arab castle that used to defend Marbella. Close by is also the beautiful church called “Iglesia Mayor de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnacion”, or more simply “La Encarnacion”. Beside it is a beautiful small park with flowers and shrubs.
If one goes to the main street, one finds it is called Avenida Ramon y Cajal, which turns into Avenida Ricardo Soriano. This very long street that runs through the city center is lined with stores, many which are very interesting and have quality merchandise. There are also the omnipresent jewelry stores. One store carries only shoes and handbags made in Italy, with some of the most beautiful shoes made in the world. One just has to take the time to see everything.
There is a narrow street that runs parallel to Avenida Ricardo Soriano. It is also a shopping street with many surprising stores and pastry shops and is called Alonso de Bazan. There is a very big art store with beautiful paintings and sculptures. Also of special mention is a small vitamin store called Salud Total (at No. 4 of the street), that is the best vitamin store in the Costa del Sol. It is difficult to find vitamins in the Costa del Sol because the majority of the Spanish do not take vitamins, but foreigners do take vitamins. The store is owned by a middle aged Englishman. His father is 80 and works in the store and is a delight to talk to because he is probably the most cultured gentleman in Marbella. At his age he is still sprightly and knows how to take care of himself. He is also a good resource because he knows the best restaurants downtown. The elderly gentleman knows many languages because he lived in London and Paris. One wishes one could have his faculties when one reaches his age!
When one goes to the sea, there is a very long Paseo Maritimo that is beautifully paved and planted with palm trees. One can have a very good walk and see all the people at the beach. An observer notes that the people are very well behaved at this beach and seem to be very educated. This is one of the joys of the educated tourist, to see that there is no rowdy behavior. And when one wants to eat, there is a huge number of restaurants of all types of food that are beside the walkway. This Paseo Maritimo is one of the best in the Costa del Sol.
The American Club of Marbella
The American Club of the Costa del Sol has five chapters, and one of them is in Marbella. They have a website for those interested. The other chapters are in Malaga, Nerja, Fuengirola, and Estepona. About 50% of the members are Americans, and the rest are Europeans, including English, German, Dutch, Scandinavians, and of course Spanish . Most of the members are retired, but almost all were professionals in their working lives, and most are affluent and educated, and many are very, very witty. The club is a social club that informs members about what is happening in their communities. What sets the Marbella branch apart is that they have their monthly meetings in the most beautiful settings, such as golf clubs and beautiful restaurants. The meetings are very lively and informative because they always have a guest speaker who talks about current events in the Costa del Sol. The members are representative of the people who have decided to retire in the Costa del Sol. It is a pleasure to deal with these people. The Marbella branch recently donated to a Marbella hospital a machine to treat cancer patients, so it is not only socializing that is important to this club. They always enjoy having guests, so one just has to go their website to call the local president to go to the next luncheon meeting.
The Concordia Association
The Concordia Association is an organization that raises funds to fight AIDS in the Costa del Sol. The president of the group is the beautiful Princess Maria Luisa of Prussia. They have a gala dinner in July to collect funds, and the dinner costs 250 euros. This event was held in 2007 at the Marbella Club Hotel, and they were able to raise 185,600 euros. This is the premium event of Marbella for the year. If one wants to see the beautiful people and to donate to a good cause, this is the event to see. They do have a website.
Marbella is the premier all year resort of Spain. It is characterized by the international character of its residents. It is the most international city in Spain. More than a haven for the rich, it is a city where the majority of the population is educated and has good manners. The city has everything that a visitor desires. It is beautiful and clean, and visitors to the city will get a secret longing to live in Marbella in the future.