Marbella, Spain's answer to St Tropez, with the motto, 'A Way Of Life', it has to be said, is not for everybody. If you prefer peace and quiet and the typical Andalucian relaxed attitude to life then Marbella is not for you. If on the other hand you like to party all day and night, visit the casino, perambulate down a promenade that has more restaurants per kilometre than you could visit in a year and have the opportunity to partake in every sport under the sun, literally, then Marbella is the place to be.
That is not to say that there is a club or pub on every corner, no, Marbella is much more discreet and to discover the real Marbella you need to start in the Alameda gardens in the centre of town. Fortunately the gardens are adjacent to an underground car park that will probably be the only place you can find to leave the car. Parking is an art in Marbella and you will see every form of it you can imagine, and some you thought were impossible. There is also an active grua wagon that seems to favour large, shiny, new saloons, preferably cabriolets. The driver was drooling over one such beast that had double parked on a corner with both ends on different zebra crossings. He had only managed this feat because the car against which he had parked was totally on the footpath.
So the car is safe and you emerge into blinding sunlight in a plaza that stretches to the sea on one hand and the aforementioned gardens on the other. Notice the statues in the plaza. The enigmatic mayor, Jesus Gil was responsible for those and a great deal more landscaping in Marbella towards the end of the 90s. You can tell by the size of the banana trees that the gardens predate Gil by a good way. Here, to the background sound of the fountain and the roar of traffic on the road alongside, you can join many of the older Marbella residents on the benches in the dense shade of the trees and shrubs. Reserve your spot; this is one of the few places in Marbella that is cool in the normal sense of the word.
Across the road and up a couple of alleys you will arrive in a super cool, (the other sense of the word), place, Orange Square. Partaking of refreshment beneath the umbrellas and awnings of the restaurants is obligatory if you are anybody at all. The rich and famous parade here when they are in town disguised in very dark sunglasses pretending they are incognito but really hoping to be recognised. It is actually quite pleasant, the 16th Century town hall, restaurants and the few houses are all a blinding white. Colour is provided by the deep blue sky, the flags outside the town hall, the orange trees for which the square is named and the flowers beneath.
From La Plaza de Los Naranjos you can choose to visit the old town or endeavour to lose yourself in the maze of winding alleys leading from the square. Ladies will like the alleys. Many are no more than a metre wide. There are boutiques and jewellers, shoe shops and perfume shops, all mixed together with the old houses and innumerable restaurants. Now and again you will come across an ancient bodega. Once your eyes become used to the dark inside you will notice that your entrance has caused a silence. You will be examined to see if you are somebody and, in most cases, just as quickly ignored because you aren't. Whilst you wait to regain the attention of the bar person look at the hams hanging from the ceiling. They are undergoing a second curing helped by the cigarette smoke curling into the rafters.
Emerging from this den the sun seems even brighter and you will find it a relief to return to the deep green gloom beneath your favourite banana tree.
© Nicholas Craig Nutter 2004 - 2012. Nick Nutter asserts his rights as the author of this article and all associated images. This article and images may not be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.