Marbella in southern Spain has been a magnet for the jet set since the 50s when, as legend has it, Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe’s car broke down near what was then a sleepy fishing village. He fell in love with the area and bought a farm which he transformed into the Marbella Club that went on to host the likes of Grace Kelly, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. The surrounding area grew into a popular summer holiday destination for the well-heeled and famous. In spring and autumn months, though, it is a veritable haven for those in search of a slightly quieter scene. The climate is mild, the scenery is stunning, roads are quiet – and you can get a table in the most popular restaurants and tapas bars. There’s also an endless list of things to fill your days, whether you want to pursue energetic activities, enjoy a gentle stroll along the Golden Mile seafront or immerse yourself in some local culture.
Surrounded by greenery, and with distant views of the Mediterranean, the dusty pink Anantara Villa Padierna Palace sits in the heart of Andalusia, between Marbella, Benahavís and Estepona. It’s a 50-minute drive from both Málaga and Gibraltar airports. Reminiscent of a late 18th-century Tuscan palace, the hotel was in fact designed by a British architect and built a mere 20 years ago by an art-loving Spanish family as a place to house their prolific art collection. The running of the hotel was taken over a couple of years ago by the Thai-owned Anantara group.
As you enter the tall glass-roofed lobby, with its sweeping twin staircase, the first thing you’ll notice are the stunning flower arrangements. Then you’ll spot some of the artwork from the owners’ collection – some 1,200 original pieces including paintings, sculptures, ceramics and archaeological finds are displayed throughout the hotel and gardens. Wander outside onto the terrace overlooking the lake and into the grounds, where the centrepiece of the extensive and impeccably manicured gardens is the swimming pool, surrounded by palm trees, cypresses, fountains and turquoise-tiled canals.
The 120 rooms and suites are spread across two buildings. Decorated in pastel tones, antique pieces and watercolours on the walls, they have uber-comfortable king-size beds, a pillow menu, vast marble bathrooms with a shower and bathtub (we loved the Ortigia toiletries), fluffy robes and slippers. Most have views towards the sea or over the greenest of golf courses; some have their own terrace. There are also nine private pool villas, including the ‘Villa Obama’ where the First Lady stayed in 2010.
Eating & Drinking
Breakfast is eaten on La Loggia’s sunny terrace. The lavish buffet features an enormous selection of Spanish goodies including a Serrano ham carving station, cheese, fruit, yoghurts and cereals; don’t miss the famed Andalusian molletes (soft bread rolls) and the ABC juice – a blend of apple, beetroot and carrot. The terrace is also perfect for light lunches – think salads, sandwiches, pasta dishes and small pizzas.
Before dinner, head to Eddy’s Bar. Diego Cabrera, one of the world’s 50 best mixologists, consulted on the cocktail menu. Try the ‘Arrow’ – gin, apple juice guava purée and pink pepper syrup, bay and lemon juice – or the Saint-Léger – cognac infused with lemon grass, coconut water, yuzu, cardamon tonic, lemon juice, ginger and cinnamon. The décor is very English, with works of art on the walls and comfortable seating areas that are ideal for cooler evenings. You can also order light bites to tide you over.
For dinner itself, La Veranda focuses on Mediterranean flavours – opt for the tasting menu to experience a variety of the best seasonal dishes, including mango and lobster salad, grilled squid, and smoked Iberian pork. Or, set amongst the gardens, a lovely standalone building houses 99 Sushi Bar. This is Japanese haute cuisine – with a twist. The extensive menu features sushi, sashimi, nigiri, tempuras and wagyu beef, but with contemporary Spanish influences. Our tip: order the crispy tiger prawn tempura and ask the sommelier to help with pairings from the incredible wine list.
This being Marbella, there’s a beach club just a few minutes’ drive down the hill; or you can take the hotel’s shuttle bus. A whole day can easily be spent here, lounging on chic sun beds, shaded by swaying palm trees. The By The Sea restaurant serves an outstanding Sunday brunch with unlimited cava, seafood, oysters, hams and salamis. The à la carte menu also features typical Spanish dishes, including local fish soup, gazpacho and seafood paella.
Inspired by Roman baths, the spa is one of the hotel’s highlights. Anantara’s wellness philosophy is rooted in Thailand, so treatments are created around the holistic benefits of both Thai and Spanish traditions. They include Thai massages, body scrubs, hot stone massages, as well as a range of facials, manicures and pedicures. A hydrotherapy circuit (free for all guests) includes a hammam, salt bath, saunas and aromatherapy steam rooms of various temperatures, and several relaxation areas – the antidote to a day on the golf course. There’s also a pretty indoor pool with pressure jets.
If you’re a golfer, you’ll feel as if you’ve landed in paradise. In a small valley where the climate allows play year-round, the Villa Padierna Golf Club surrounds the hotel and comprises three 18-hole courses: Flamingos (par 71), Alferini (par 73) and Tramores (par 63). Prefer tennis? The shuttle bus will take you to the racquet club (near the beach club) where you’ll find several tennis courts, as well as padel courts and a croquet lawn. Coaching can be booked.
Cycling is a great way to see some of the local scenery, but the terrain is hilly so, unless you only want to ride along the flat seafront, you’ll need the help of an e-bike. Depending on your level of fitness and the number of hours you want to spend in the saddle, there are several routes on offer – discuss an itinerary with your guide via the hotel’s concierge. One of the trips takes you to the Valle de Genal. You’ll start in the pretty village of Pujerra, ride to white-washed villages through forests and up to the charming village of Genaguacil, Europe’s first ‘Village Museum’. Here you can meet local artists who exhibit their contemporary pieces all over the village. Or you can start in the harbour area of Marbella and head into the hills above the town, stopping off for lunch in the village of Istán – it’s then downhill all the way back.
Out & About
The concierge can organise outings and tours or recommend places to visit, should you wish to venture out under your own steam. Some of the best from an extensive menu of experiences include…
The nearby seaside town of Estepona has been inhabited by fishermen for centuries. You’ll go out on a sailing boat, sample catches of scallop and tuna with a glass of local wine, before returning to shore to visit the fish market and stroll through the town’s cobbled alleys.
Ronda is one of Andalusia’s most iconic towns – and a Unesco World Heritage site – set in and around a deep gorge. Wander the old town, take in the incredible views and stop for lunch at a local tapas restaurant. The journey back takes you through vineyards, past houses built into the cliffside, and includes a visit to an olive estate designed by Philippe Starck.
Discover Marbella old town through the eyes of local photographer Jesús Chacón, who will help you find the best shots of the quaint whitewashed buildings, flower-draped balconies and narrow winding streets. Don’t miss Plaza de los Naranjos with its orange trees and 15th-century Ermita de Santiago church. Head for a bite to eat at Marbella’s most traditional tapas restaurant, Taberna La Niña del Pisto. If you want to keep going, spend the rest of the evening watching authentic flamenco.
When visiting Andalusia, you cannot miss one of Spain’s cultural jewels. Granada and its Alhambra Palace are just an hour and half’s drive, making for an easy day trip. Eat at Restaurante Chikito in the city centre, or at El Huerto de Juan Ranas.