Fam­ily-friendly fun in the Costa del Sol

Pop­u­lar with a party crowd, Mar­bella and the Costa del Sol are equally well set up for high-end fam­ily-friendly hol­i­days, dis­cov­ers Emma Love

Business Traveller - - LIFESTYLE | CONTENTS -

The meet­ing point for my evening ta­pas tour of Mar­bella – out­side one of the boozy beach bars on the main strip – doesn’t seem to be the most promis­ing of starts. But within min­utes of meet­ing Nancy Gomez Sanchez, founder of Tapa Ex­pe­ri­ence, I am whisked away to the maze-like cob­bled streets of the Old Town. It may only be a fiveminute stroll but it feels like a world away – palm tree-lined squares with tin­kling foun­tains at their cen­tre are flanked by white­washed houses, hot-pink bougainvil­lea trail­ing over their wrought-iron bal­conies.

Laid-back restau­rants, the kind you want to linger at, sip­ping wine un­til the early hours, are around prac­ti­cally ev­ery cor­ner. Which is where Nancy comes in. Tak­ing away the tricky de­ci­sion about which to choose, she takes me to a hand­ful of her favourite non-touristy spots, teach­ing me to order in Span­ish not just tra­di­tional dishes but more con­tem­po­rary bites, too, such as a de­li­cious slice of sum­mer lasagne with lay­ers of crab and av­o­cado.

This is sym­bolic of my en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence of the Costa del Sol. On first im­pres­sions, it seems like solely one thing – end­less sandy beaches and golf cour­ses – but scratch be­neath the sur­face and there’s a lot more to dis­cover. As I quickly come to re­alise, this pop­u­lar sec­tion of Spain’s south coast, which is backed by the Sierra Blanca moun­tains and stretches from Malaga to Gi­bral­tar, is a win-win for fam­i­lies thanks to its ad­ven­ture theme parks for lit­tle ones and high-adren­a­line ac­tiv­i­ties for thrill-seek­ing teens (the hope be­ing that the lat­ter will be so dis­tracted by all the ac­tion that they will for­get about their iPhones).

If you’re bring­ing the kids, it’s worth opt­ing for a fam­ily villa at the Mar­bella Club (mar­bel­la­club.com), which is about 4km west of Mar­bella town, at the heart of the “Golden Mile” and well po­si­tioned for ex­plor­ing. Famed for the A-list guests who have par­tied and stayed here (Au­drey Hep­burn, Sean Con­nery, Brigitte Bar­dot and the like), this is a chic ho­tel that com­bines old-school glam­our with fa­cil­i­ties rang­ing from a tha­lasso spa to a smart cham­pagne bar.

There are two out­door pools, a hand­ful of ex­cel­lent restau­rants (the piz­zas at MC Café will please even the fussi­est of eaters) and a beau­ti­fully de­signed kids’ club. Here, a cen­tral per­gola is sur­rounded by a kitchen for cook­ing classes, a vegetable gar­den, an aroma lab where chil­dren pick flow­ers and learn how to cre­ate their own per­fumes as presents for par­ents, a dance stu­dio with Span­ish gui­tars, and an arts and crafts room.

Sportier types can sign up for lessons at the world-class ten­nis club at sis­ter ho­tel Puente Ro­mano (puentero­mano.com), an easy five-minute cy­cle ride along the pedes­trian-only beach­front Paseo Mar­itimo (bor­row a bi­cy­cle from out­side re­cep­tion), or a round of

begin­ner’s golf at the Mar­bella Club Golf Re­sort, a 20-minute shut­tle bus away in the Be­na­havis moun­tains. The neigh­bour­ing Mar­bella Club Eques­trian Cen­tre hosts Span­ish showjump­ing and of­fers horse-rid­ing lessons.

If you want to ven­ture fur­ther afield, hop on a boat to flashy Puerto Banus, full of de­signer bou­tiques, sports cars and lux­ury yachts in the marina. Or hire a car and dis­cover the tiny vil­lages and towns dot­ted around the An­dalu­sian coun­try­side. Ronda is par­tic­u­larly spe­cial, with a stun­ning stone bridge, the Puente Nuevo, cross­ing the El Tajo gorge that splits the city into two.

Charm­ing Mi­jas, which lies mid­way be­tween Malaga and Mar­bella, is also worth a stop, es­pe­cially at lunchtime on Wed­nes­days, when there’s a free fla­menco show in Plaza Vir­gen de la Pena. For a dash of cul­ture, don’t dis­count Malaga ei­ther – this was Pi­casso’s birth­place and is home to the fan­tas­tic Pi­casso mu­seum, plus the Cen­tre for Con­tem­po­rary Art and a pop-up of Paris’s Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre on the ren­o­vated wa­ter­front, which has works by Magritte, Ba­con and Kahlo.

Most chil­dren go wild for a wa­ter park, and the Costa del Sol has sev­eral of them. Par­que Acu­atico in Mi­jas-Costa has slides for all ages, while Aqua­land in Tor­re­moli­nos is known for its stom­ach-flip­ping Kamikaze slide, ar­ti­fi­cial surf beach and rub­ber­ring Boomerang ride. There’s also Aven­tura Ama­zo­nia Mar­bella, an ad­ven­ture park with 20 tree­top zip-lines spread across six cir­cuits, from a “Minikids course” to the heart-pound­ing “Quick Jump” from a 12-me­tre plat­form.

But what of those beaches that the re­gion is so fa­mous for? One of the best by far is Playa Ar­tola, to the west of Cabopino Marina and 14km from the cen­tre of Mar­bella. It has clean shal­low wa­ter, a curv­ing bay of golden sand and is backed by dunes that are part of a pro­tected na­ture re­serve. Other must-vis­its in­clude Real de Zaragoza – it’s far enough away from town that even in the height of sum­mer, it doesn’t feel too crowded – and Playa Nague­les on the Golden Mile. How­ever you like to spend time on hol­i­day, it seems the Costa del Sol re­ally does have some­thing for ev­ery­one.

Clock­wise from left: Mar­bella old town; Puente Ro­mano; Mar­bella Club

Clock­wise from top left: Puente Nuevo; Puerto Banus; ta­pas in Mar­bella old town

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