In the back of a 1970s Landrover Defender complete with plastic roll-down roof, first gear tilts us sharply up row upon row of tightly woven soil terraces. At every rocky turn there is another olive tree. Some are over a hundred years old, some almost freshly planted. Most are un-regimentally more than five or six meters apart. Here in the mountains we are just above Istran, a small Spanish village set deep in the heart of Andalucía where shadows of dark, misty green provide an outline to the expansive views below. To our right, a grey peak rises into the bright blue sky. It scores the horizon with a sharpness that is in keeping with its name, La Concha – the seashell: Marbella’s highest point and the reason behind this area’s unique and blessed microclimate. One that still affords us such warm sunshine on today’s mid-November afternoon.
Not half an hour earlier we are seated at a long dining room table in the house that forms the basis of this impressive estate – a beautiful mansion, kitted out in items of classy rusticity. Caravaggio-esque still life oil paintings flank either lengthy wall as golden liquid, in hues to match the hour in which we are served it, glugs into wine glasses in front us. Sandro, driver of the Landrover and owner of the property, describes the oil’s flavour profile, prompting us to ‘wait for the kick’ – a spice that without warning, suddenly develops along the backs of our throats with unabashed vigour.
One-time winery owners in La Rioja further north, this young family have recently turned their attentions to renting out beautiful houses and making this cold-pressed, unfiltered artisan olive oil. “There are up to seven different varieties that grow here,” he says pointing out a young grafted olive tree between the clods of earth earlier on while we are up on the hill. It is here too that we learn too how Sandro, with his flawless spoken English, chocolate leather tasseled shoes and shiny, mirrored sunglasses is nephew, and direct descendant of Prince Alfonso de Hohenlohe Langenburg – owner and founder of the long-established Marbella Club set outside of the mountains and towards the coast. The coat of arms on the Landrover’s front grill provides the original clue.
Prince Alfonso, born in 1924, was the playboy and savvy businessman frequently associated with turning the sleepy fishing village of Marbella into the sparkling high-society haunt that it is today. 66 years ago the Alfonso family bought land and opened 18 hotel rooms – a number that has now grown to 137 rooms and suites, and six exclusive villas. These plushly-decorated, low-rise, traditionally landscaped buildings all boast a substantial amount of privacy which is no doubt what has attracted guests to stay here ever since. Of the original few, many were stars flown over from Hollywood where Prince Alfonso spent much of his time when not engaged in Spain.
Black and white photos that line various hotel passages and bookcases depict scenes from years gone by – parties by the pool, lavish dinners and dancing – Brigitte Bardot and Sean Connery are but two of the well known faces captured. Today the hotel attracts a similar clientele, with Lady Gaga amongst the latest of recent international guests to take up residence in the Villa Del Mar – the hotel’s largest. Complete with walk in wardrobe big enough to make even Carrie Bradshaw’s jaw drop, vast mirror clad underground disco Jacuzzi and a beautiful inner andaluz courtyard, this enormous space has hosted many a ‘home-from-home’ celebrity drinks party.
Aside the yesteryear opulence and current luxurious styling, what catches me most on this hotel visit, and to my gentle surprise, is not the dazzling touches that might be expected of an area often known to attract the most expensive of diamante white jeans, rather, it was the charming, earthy and altogether simplistic qualities of the wider Marbella Club outfit. In recent times, the concept of wellness has become an increasingly important focus, with special wellness packages being offered to guests through the dedicated wellness centre – another white-washed building decorated with natural fibre products and not a hint of ‘clinic’.
The award-winning kids club also mirrors this, with every room dressed in a host of natural materials – brightly coloured plastic is as far off the agenda as the would-be matching sugary sweets. Instead, birthday balloons and bright blue painted pumpkins typify the current ambience. In continuation of this theme, the hotel’s excellent Thalasso spa is set overlooking the sea, offering treatments that vary from deep relaxation massages to technological, marine and shower-based treatments. The hotel boasts its own private beach, and although the water might not be quite warm enough to swim come November, ground temperatures rise the day we check-out to a heady 24degrees centigrade – perfect for invigorating paddles at the very least.
If the outdoors is key to the fulfillment of guest’s enjoyment here, it is further backed up by the activities on offer. Plentiful joggers pace their way up and down the beach path that stretches all the way to Marbella old town to the left, Puerto Banus to the right, whilst barefoot walks along the pretty pier at sunset are an equal visit must. Further afield, guests can enjoy The Marbella Club’s excellent golf club, or hack out from the hotel’s very own riding school and stables. Bicycles can be rented from the hotel concierge, and other activities such as hiking, Pilates or more intense fitness bootcamps can be arranged according to individual preference.
Al-fresco dining options spill out over breakfast, which even in November is served outside by the hotel’s main swimming pool, brunch happens by the heated outdoor seawater pool – an enviable experience for the array of dishes on offer, and the MC café provides something a little more low-key. The ace in the Marbella Club’s dining cards has to be The Grill, the hotel’s flagship restaurant that won’t fail to provide a memorable dining experience – even if it is indoors, and of course pretty Marbella old town will complete the culinary set for authentic Spanish tapas outside of the hotel’s own environs.
In an unexpected twist, it is the peace and tranquility of this setting that transports you effortlessly away from life’s more furrowed daily habits and exchanges. Three nights away here left me feeling two inches taller, my posture had improved, and for the first time in months I felt rested, very properly, genuinely rested. There seems to be something noticeably life-prolonging about the Mediterranean in Marbella, and it’s not just the olive oil.
For more information about Marbella Club, including details of the hotel’s history and information on offers, visit www.marbellaclub.com.