Costa del Classy! How Marbella is shaking off its blingy reputation

Costa del Classy! Marbella’s ‘New Golden Mile’ of chic hotels and charming restaurants is shaking off the city’s blingy reputation

  • The ‘New Golden Mile’ is an 18-mile stretch between Marbella and Estepona  
  • Mark Porter stays at the ‘cool and stylish’ METT Hotel & Beach Resort
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The powder-blue Bentley convertible careens around the roundabout four times before cruising back up the Avenida Julio Iglesias, rap music drowning out the six-litre engine.

At the wheel, a deeply tanned and solitary fellow in aviator wraps pretends not to notice whether anyone might actually be looking at him. A few minutes later he is back again.

It doesn’t take a David Attenborough to spot the mating ritual of the self-pollinator, conducted from the cockpit of an eye-wateringly expensive piece of hand-tooled roadster. It goes on all the time in Cannes, and elsewhere on France’s Côte d’Azur, so why not here in Puerto Banus, the Saint-Tropez of the Costa del Sol.

At least, that’s the idea. I’m in the area for a few days, staying down the road from Marbella and Puerto B in a newly opened five-star hotel. Shiny as a newly minted coin, the METT Hotel & Beach Resort is all marble and granite — as cool and stylish a place as you could wish for on a sultry late summer night.

After an al fresco breakfast of fruit, yoghurt, omelette and a caffeine fix, I do a few lengths of the pool and then go to the gym where, happily, there is no music, nor indeed a single witness.

Mark Porter stays at the METT Hotel & Beach Resort on the ‘New Golden Mile’, an 18-mile stretch of sand that lies between Marbella and Estepona

Having opened only at the beginning of August, this addition to Marbella’s ‘New Golden Mile’ is an oasis of calm.

METT is the latest luxury property on the 18-mile stretch of sand that goes west between Marbella and Estepona, and is roughly midway between the two. It is the sister hotel of a successful 5-star enterprise in the Turkish resort of Bodrum, bearing the same name.

Money is pouring in for luxury developments here, with a Four Seasons — owned by Bill Gates and Prince Al Waleed of Saudi Arabia — setting up shop, not to mention a new W hotel.

Towards lunchtime, I stroll down to the Azure Beach. This is the name the hotel gives the poolside area and the bit beyond, which is also known as the Alboran Sea. They are connected by a pair of wooden gates which look capable of withholding a siege of Saracens.

‘The METT Hotel & Beach Resort is all marble and granite — as cool and stylish a place as you could wish for on a sultry late summer night,’ writes Mark 

An outdoor bar at the METT Hotel & Beach Resort, which Mark describes as ‘an oasis of calm’

I look west and see the Rock of Gibraltar shimmering in the distance and decide to take a dip in the briny, but halfway across the beach my feet catch fire on the baking sand and I start to dance like a baited bear. I swear in French so people will not think me a vulgar Englishman. ‘We made the same mistake,’ says a nice lady with a West Midlands accent.

From the rear, the hotel resembles a whitewashed Moorish fort. There is even a sort of moat, in the form of three long swimming pools partially circumscribing the building. In the heat of the day, I imagine Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence of Arabia cantering across the beach and through the great oak gates, straight to the cocktail bar.

Despite the opulence, comfort and the panorama windows there is something of the French Foreign Legion about the place, though I find no obvious candidates to play Laurel and Hardy among the staff.

After my swim I try to book a table at the hotel’s informal-looking Italian restaurant near the poolside, but I am told to come back and make a booking once I have put some shoes on. Quite right. Shame on me for letting the side down.

Mark explores the bustling fishing port of Estepona (above), stopping for a pint of cold Guinness at Healy Mac’s Irish bar

Then I take a hotel electric bike along the fabulous cycle track that follows the sea westwards to Estepona, about eight miles away. Wild jasmine, bougainvillea and hibiscus trees line the route on one side, with sea and sand the other. Families play in the late summer sun — the temperature has dropped to 32c from an uncomfortable 40c over the past few days.

I cycle down to the dockside of this bustling fishing port, where thousands of yards of fishing nets dry along the quayside. After mooching about, I remember friends recommending Healy Mac’s Irish bar just round the corner. A pint of cold Guinness on a hot afternoon is a hard thing to resist.

Afterwards I sit on the wall outside Ricks Cafe (no apostrophe or accent, thank you very much), the self-styled ‘Superior Quality Gin Tonic Club’, and listen to a fast-mellowing table of British and Irish expats. On the quayside below in the octagonal blue and white maritime building, the Jazz Pub Cafe Bar is enjoying some repose before the evening session. Not a bad idea.

I tootle slowly back to the hotel through the beautiful old town and rejoin the coastal path until I arrive at the elegant front portals of the METT and walk, Lycra-clad and dusty, into the vaulted atrium. Perhaps I’ll risk the Italian restaurant this evening after all, even though I am aching to eat Spanish. Toothsome though it is, the service appears to be having teething problems, but is firing on all cylinders by midnight.

The Marbella area has long been a favourite among a global elite of criminals, Mark learns 

Mark uses one of the METT Hotel & Beach Resort’s e-bikes to cycle to Marbella Old Town. Above is a pretty sign pointing travellers in the direction of the district  

Mark observes that Marbella’s Old Town is ‘looking smarter, but has lost none of its Spanish character’ 

In the morning I stumble across a long and meticulously researched investigative article from the reputable Spanish newspaper, El Pais. The Marbella area has long been a favourite among a global elite of criminals, I read. ‘It is the United Nations of crime and the entry point for Europe’s cocaine,’ it concludes.

According to the Spanish Intelligence Centre for Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime, there are at least 113 criminal groups representing 59 different nationalities operating out of the Marbella area. Their investigation is so alarming that I later pop across the busy A7 road to Benevista, an expat community not far from the hotel, to ask some questions.

I alight at The Dog House, where dozens of decorative Union flags hang across the outdoor drinking area.

‘Any gangsters been in?’ I ask. Roger, a grizzled old chap who likes to sink a couple before tea, pipes up: ‘What about Frank the Bank? Still on the run, isn’t he? Frankie Maple, lovely guy. For a safe-cracker. Paints watercolours now. Mind you, he’s cracking on a bit.’

While cycling along the coast, Mark spies sea and sand, as well as wild jasmine, bougainvillea and hibiscus trees. Above is Marbella’s Rio Verde beach, with the mountains behind

Frank helped pull off a £8 million robbery of the Bank of America in Mayfair, back in 1975 — it was the biggest heist ever, at the time. Mark Bruce, an English expat who organises golf holidays, gives the matter some thought: ‘George Davis was in not long ago. You know, the guy whose supporters dug up the Headingley wicket, protesting his innocence back in the 1970s. No sooner was he freed than he was back inside.’

‘Long gone is the gentleman bank robber,’ says a tall, wistful chap who is on his way out.

At the nearby Robin Hood, I try a similar tack and am greeted with silence. Then: ‘You need to talk to the owner. And she ain’t here.’

My morning ritual of healthy breakfast, pool, sea, gym and bicycle is proving addictive, but I am beginning to pine for a good lunch — some Spanish seafood and a good glug of the delicious Malaga white wine the hotel’s sommelier has introduced me to. So I head eastwards along the walkway using one of the hotel’s e-bikes.

Mark dines at The Altamirano in Marbella’s Plaza Altamirano (above), where ‘the service is impeccable and the food a delight’

Mark feasts on the traditional Spanish dish of gazpacho (stock photo) while in Marbella

The traffic-free path to Marbella is not quite finished, but with GPS you can avoid most traffic and the ride to Marbella is an easy ten miles. I go to the old town, an area I already know a little, and order razor clams, gazpacho, mussels and squid, punctuated by a few glasses of the local nectar.

The Altamirano in the Plaza Altamirano is chock full of locals. The service is impeccable and the food a delight. Old Marbs itself is looking smarter, but has lost none of its Spanish character: it’s the real thing.

I go back through Puerto Banus, following the portside road I came up the previous day. I pass Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Salvatore Ferragamo outlets, then Lineker’s bar (owned by Gary’s brother, Wayne).

Three times I am ordered by port police to get off and push my bike. This is to let the Maseratis and Ferraris past. I cut up a side street and just behind Bling Alley is a Mr Kebab outlet, next door to Tucan Toco bakery, where I order a pint and contemplate a Nutella pizza.

This is nightlife central, where the clubs take millions. I guess you have to take the rough with the smooth, so I head back to the calm of the METT and drift off thinking to myself that this famous Costa has a rakish charm which is irresistible.

There’s lots of talk about it moving upmarket. Which is fine. But some of us like it just as it is.


Rooms on a B&B basis from £390 at METT ( Return Gatwick to Malaga flights with Wizz Air from £25.98 (

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