A WELL-OILED tourist machine and one of Spain’s most famous holiday resorts, Marbella was a natural choice for this year’s ABTA Convention.
Hundreds of you will descend on the resort in November and many more will be selling the destination to clients, so here’s an overview of what to expect.
Marbella is the main tourist resort on Spain’s famous Costa del Sol, located at the foot of the Sierra Blanca mountain range on a beautiful bay.
Despite its popularity, Marbella has managed to retain some of its Andalusian charm and character. Away from the glamour of its port, visitors should take time to explore the picturesque old town with its famous Plaza de los Naranjos (Orange Square) dating back to 1485.
Here you’ll also find the 16th century town hall and the well-equipped tourist office. The town is partly surrounded by an old Arab wall, and there are narrow streets to explore in every direction.
Down by the sea, visitors can stroll along the Avenida del Mar or take a horse-drawn carriages from the nearby Alameda park.
Check out works by Picasso, Miró, Tapies, Chillida and several other famous painters at the Museo del Grabado Español Contemporaneo (Museum of Contemporary Spanish Engravings), the first of its type in Spain.
This building was formerly the residential palace of Mayor Don Alonso de Bazán, who later, in a generous will, donated it to the town to serve as a hospital for the poor.
Today, the building carries out a noteworthy social service as a museum, as well as housing the offices of the Marbella Cultural Delegation.
Marbella also has a Bonsai Museum in Arroyo de la Represa Park, with an exquisite exhibit of mini trees, open daily from 10am to 1.30pm and from 4.30pm to 8pm.
To get a bigger picture, browse the works of one of the world’s most famous artists at the Picasso Museum in nearby Malaga, housed at his birthplace on Plaza de la Merced.
No trip to Andalusia would be complete without experiencing a flamenco show and, as you would expect from a key tourist resort, Marbella has dozens of options.
In many tourist haunts this traditional extravaganza of frilly costumes, stamping feet and stormy beauty has been watered down to nothing more than dancing and clapping.
So for an authentic flamenco show, try the Tablao Flamenco Ana Maria in Plaza Santo Cristo, Tablao Flamenco Donde Maria in Calle Vicente Blasco Ibanez or the Restaurante Patio de los Perfumes, Calle Aduar.
If you prefer something a bit harder, Marbella’s club scene is hot, hot, hot, with top DJs and glamourous venues. The appropriately-named Glam, in the heart of Puerto Banus, has no fewer than five bars and the same number of VIP areas.
The likes of Teddy Sheringham, Westlife, and the cast of EastEnders have all been spotted strutting their stuff there. The club always has big DJs daily in the summer and is still pumping in the weekends during the winter.
Marbella town centre and nearby Puerto Banus are a shopper’s paradise.
There are designer stores including El Caballo, Dior, Versace, Bulgari and Emporio Armani, plus feminine creations by Andalusian designers Victorio and Lucchino.
In nearby Malaga you’ll find all the high-street brands at La Canada plus AlCampo, a Spanish supermarket that’s a great place to buy specialities to take home.
Flex your credit card in Porto Banus at El Corte Inglés, Spain’s famous department store. The food hall is particularly good, so treat yourself to ham, chorizo, Manchego cheese, olives, and lots more tasty goodies.
Bargains can be found at high-street favourites such as Zara. But if you thought the Spanish shop was good value for money in England, wait until you check out the prices in its native country.
Marbella is packed with restaurants serving local seafood dishes, gazpacho and tapas.
Perhaps the most famous restaurant in town is Santiago on Paseo Maritimo, owned by top restaurateur Santiago Domínguez. A veritable temple to good food, it is a popular with celebrities and gourmet foodies.
The speciality of the house is shellfish in any form: lobster, crab, prawns, clams, mussels – you name it. But don’t ignore the selection of fresh fish or the superb rice dishes and make sure you take your time over the extensive wine list.
For seafood right on the beach, head to La Pesquera Barbacoa on Nikki Beach, at the Don Carlos Hotel.
Mesana, at the Gran Hotel Guadalpin on Blvd Principe Alfonso de Hohenlohe, is the place to go for a special occasion. With one Michelin Star, prices are what you would expect but it’s worth every euro.
You don’t have to go far in Marbella to feel the presence of the past – particularly the town’s Arabic influence.
But two landmarks stand out – the castle, known as the Alcazaba Wall, and the 16th century town hall, the city’s finest building.
Admire the Moorish architecture as you stroll along Salvador Rueda, Avenida Ramon y Cajal or Avenida Ricardo Soriano.
Another building of note is the Chief Magistrate’s house and the Apostle Santiago’s Chapel dating from 1552.
If you want more, take a trip to nearby Malaga and visit La Alcazaba, a 9th century Muslim palace, and the 14th century Castillo de Gibralfaro, complete with museum and stunning views.
Step back in time as you chill out in one of the spacious public squares, such as the Plaza de la Constitución where many of Malaga’s festivals and events are held, or the Plaza de La Merced, filled with cafés and bars.
Cosmos offers seven nights’ half-board accommodation at the four-star Gran Hotel Costa del Sol in Mijas Costa, just inland from Marbella, from £345 per person twin-share including flights and transfers in summer 2007.
Airtours offers seven nights’ half-board accommodation at the three-star Hotel El Rodeo in Marbella from £289 per person twin-share including flights and transfers in May 2007.
Thomas Cook offers seven nights’ self-catering accommodation at the four-star Sultan Club in Marbella from £489 per person twin-share including flights and transfers in May 2007.