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'Puerto Banús is for fun, beautiful people who know how to enjoy life'

Modern day Puerto Banús.
Modern day Puerto Banús. / SUR
  • Puerto Banús, famous for its grand parties, will spend its 50th anniversary without celebration or celebrities. Restaurateur Paolo Ghirelli, currently trapped in Buenos Aires by the Covid crisis, looks back at those early years

Since its ostentatious opening on 18 May 1970, the luxury marina Puerto José Banús has become a jet-set playground framed with world renowned designer boutiques, stylish bars and restaurants and glamorous nightclubs. The legendary Marbella restaurateur, Italian Paolo Ghirelli, considers himself as a native of Puerto Banús. One of the picturesque corners of the iconic Ribera wharf is named after him by the locals.

Paolo, how did you come to settle on the Costa del Sol?

Quite suddenly. Just before Christmas 1969 I moved to Marbella. I fell in love with the place and settled in the Old Town - Casco Antiguo. But when the first apartment buildings in Puerto Banus were ready, I moved from the centre of Marbella and I have lived in this marvellous place until now. So, I would say that I am a native of Puerto Banús.

Paolo Ghirelli.

Paolo Ghirelli.

Did you ever meet José Banús?

Sure... I met him and his wife María del Pilar Calvo. He is like me; in the 60s he moved to Marbella to start a new life and a new business. However, he had come here seven years before I made the decision to leave Italy. In that period he was always busy with property developing the western part of Marbella. He bought the land which is known now as Nueva Andalucía. It is nice that José Banús managed to transform a small fishermen's village into the largest entertainment centre of the Costa del Sol for tourists from all over the world. I can't help admiring people who not only dream but also make their dreams come true.

What was your dream when you moved to Marbella?

I worked in gastronomy before moving to this country. I must stress that at that time Italian cuisine was exotic as it was almost unknown in this part of Spain. That's why I am considered one of the first chefs to make fresh pasta on the Costa del Sol. And before I opened my restaurant, La Meridiana, I started an eatery in Puerto Banús in the most picturesque corner of the port, in my opinion. I ran the bar Da Paolo and later I moved my restaurant D. Leone from the Old Town of Marbella to Puerto Banús and I added just "del Puerto" to the name. Now the names are kept by current owners. So, the people and guests still call this corner on the first line of Ribera - "Corner da Paolo".

So you are, like José Banús, memorialised in the port...

Kind of... Actually there are more emblematic corners on the first and second lines where there are lots of boutiques, nightclubs and, of course, restaurants. One of the corners is named after the restaurant Los Bandidos - a pioneer of Puerto Banús gastronomy. Moreover, just at the main entrance there is a pleasant meeting spot called by many Corner Salduba-Sinatra. You know, these two bars have welcomed people since the very beginning. Salduba is an ancient name for Marbella given by the Romans. Sinatra... obviously, the bar was named after the famous American singer and actor. Lots of Hollywood actors and American singers have visited Puerto Banús. Most of them had breakfasts, lunches, dinners in my restaurant and my bar. Among them Rod Stewart, Joan Collins, Mick Jagger... Personally, I kept in contact with Sean Connery when he lived in Marbella for several years and we were close friends with the singer Prince, whom I considered a humble and very interesting person.

Lots of well-known personalities were spotted at the opening of Puerto Banús 50 years ago...

Yes. The opening party was extravagant and, as they say, with no expenses spared. Frankly, I didn't pay much attention to the event. At that time I was focused on my business... in every sense of the word. As I mentioned I had moved just months before the opening of Puerto Banús. However, I heard that Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, and my favourite ladies Sophia Loren and Liza Minnelli attended the event. I saw that Marbella in the evening of 18 May was crowded. Later I read that about three hundred waiters from Seville went to Marbella to serve the guests. Sure, Marbella chefs were curious to find out what dishes were prepared. Everybody spoke about Beluga caviar.

The port is home to superyachts. Which yachts could you remember easily?

It is fair to say that the port took Marbella to the next level and helped to internationalise it. Its berths rapidly filled up with luxury yachts from different corners of the world. Among the many famous faces on yachts was King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. I knew him personally. La Meridiana is located very close to his palace. He was one of my clientele. So his yachts have always been of astonishing beauty. Even now you can see in the most western berth the biggest yachts belonging to his successors and other Arab sheikhs. I remember the yacht of Onassis. Last year my countryman - the Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli - arrived here from Mallorca in his floating work of art.

Do you think Puerto Banús is a playground only for the rich and famous?

Since the inauguration, Puerto Banús has depicted the high life on the Costa del Sol. In the very beginning the resort was visited by exclusive personalities and noble families. That's why, it was synonymous with wealth, extravagance, sophisticated night life. In the 80s and 90s fairly high-toned nightclubs appeared in Marbella. Nowadays Puerto Banús increasingly attracts millennials from all over the world and especially from the UK. I know, crazy nights of Puerto Banús have been filmed for some UK TV shows. I think Puerto Banús retains its status as the all-year-round holiday destination but not only for the rich and famous. Probably more for... fun and beautiful people who know how to enjoy life. And life is always in motion.

The marina is always full of action. What would you highlight?

I like the moments when Puerto Banús rolls out red carpets for its events. One of them is Marbella International Film Festival. I am very interested in and enthusiastic about cinema as an art form. So I tend to attend it. And as an Italian for sure I love fashion. So, I was glad when Puerto Banús started hosting Marbella Fashion Week. On the catwalk "on the water, " national and international designers present the latest trends. It is unique! In addition, it puts Marbella firmly on the map as a reference in the world of fashion.

Paolo, are you going to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Puerto Banús?

Definitely. For sure, we could have arranged something on a greater scale... if it weren't for this coronavirus pandemic. It's a pity I will not be in Marbella on the day, as I am stuck in Argentina for all these months of quarantine. In February I came to Buenos Aires to spend the hottest month here but the coronavirus changed my plans and made my return impossible. Anyway, I will celebrate the anniversary here... with a glass of my favourite inky dark Malbec.

Speaking of plans, what is the future of Puerto Banús?

I am sure the combination of beauty and functionality will make this marina famous and attractive for ages. I hope the main feature of Puerto Banús - quality - will be not decreased. As for me, next year I will celebrate my own Palladium jubilee. Believe me, I have relished my moments of glory and now it is a moment to relish life. When I was 70 I took the decision to leave my business and thereby to let the younger generation continue to make my favourite Puerto Banús prosper.