It's no secret that I like to travel, to live a slightly nomadic lifestyle. Yet each time I board an aircraft to return home, it's always with a feeling of excitement to be coming back to Andalucía. Even after countless trips, each time the plane descends, flying over the lakes at El Chorro, heading towards Malaga, I'm captivated by the view. Despite all the clichés and misrepresentation, the reality is that the Costa del Sol is a wonderful place to live.
Yet, it’s all too easy to take our part of southern Spain for granted; to complain about the summer traffic, the inflated tourist prices, and yes, the heat. So as the summer holiday season draws to a close, we’re offered a welcome respite. With the departure of the high season summer visitors it’s maybe the time to take a September ‘staycation’ and fall back in love with the province.
Unprecedented numbers of visitor to Spain over the past few years has meant that not only has the traditional holiday season become extended, meaning that cultural events, popular summer beach clubs, and pop-up restaurants continue for longer; but also, that the coast has seen an increase in investment in the hospitality sector.
For decades Marbella suffered with an identity crisis, fuelled by low-cost tourism and the competition from trendier, smarter international destinations. Yet now the tide has most definitely begun to turn with the coastal resort town once again attracting more discerning tourism. For example, iconic properties such as the Puente Romano Beach Resort & Spa; and neighbouring Marbella Club have been reimagined as 21st-century luxury resorts with world-class dining, international-standard spas and interior design that sets the tone for a memorable experience.
Urban beach resort
The focus on a quality guest experience for both locals and visitors has extended to properties across the coast. I recently caught up with Marcos Rodríguez, a hospitality expert and consultant for Hotel Amàre, the adult-only urban beach resort in Marbella. Many will remember this family-friendly spa hotel when it was a classic Fuerte Hotels property – comfortable, but not particularly inspiring.
Now it is the first of a new brand of Amàre Hotels, a new concept from Fuerte that is designed to appeal to Generation X - adult professionals, that still feel young at heart. “We’ve created an urban beach resort,” Marcos explains. “Everything is focused towards the Mediterranean yet the hotel is also in Marbella, sharing its cosmopolitan, international flavour.”
The traditional Costa del Sol package holiday ambience has gone - in its place is a sleek, contemporary hotel, at its heart the vibrant Amàre Beach Club open to both locals and hotel guests. It includes the trendy pool terrace, beach club restaurant and the stylish Amàre lounge for late night cocktails, entertainment, and live music that often brings in a younger crowd at weekends. It gives the flavour of what one might expect in bigger cities like Barcelona.
Eat, drink, dance
“The style is vanguardista: very modern and eclectic,” continues Marcos. “All the elements combine to create a new sophisticated feel - from the fragrance in the hotel, the staff uniforms and training, to the design, and of course the music.”
Although the hotel has repositioned itself from being a family spa resort into an adult-only property, that doesn’t mean it’s become a party hotel for youngsters. The market is moving away from that sector; instead Amàre has created an on-trend environment where the services and facilities are aligned to more discerning couples and groups of friends that enjoy classic house music, live DJ shows, and seasonal events. Healthy Mediterranean food, a Germaine de Capuccini spa, and experienced mixologists at the bar are all elements that reflect a new direction for Amàre, and also for Costa del Sol tourism. For residents, it’s a bonus too, as we have a full-service spa, beach restaurant and club available for ‘staycation’ days out.
Play well, eat well
The wave of renewal continues with other familiar properties. I recently visited the Westin La Quinta Golf Resort and Spa, to the west of Marbella’s golf valley, near Benahavís. In recent years it seemed to have lost its direction. Under the former hotel management, it faltered. Yet now it has recently rejoined Westin, as it originally was when it was built.
Westin is an established family brand within the Marriot hotel group. In my mind, it’s good to see international, world-class hotel brands investing on the Costa del Sol. At the Westin La Quinta Golf Resort and Spa one sees how that global perspective can transform a resort from having a provincial, slightly out-of-date feel, to one that showcases modern family resort style. The Westin ‘Heavenly’ brand values are now seen across the property, from guest room amenities to the spa, while the resort has a recurring theme of nature and the Mediterranean. This is reflected in its design colour palette of white, neutrals and natural tones as well as features such as the new vertical garden in the lobby.
Although a popular venue for weddings, La Quinta’s spa and the golf course are of course the biggest draws for locals. Both facilities are well-established and during off-season one can find offers. Weekends can be enjoyed on the fairway; or being pampered in the Westin Heavenly Spa - a wellness and fitness area that covers some 1,500 square metres and includes a Mediterranean sauna, aromatic steam bath, hammam, hydro-massage and aqua-therapy. Both are a relaxing way to build an appetite for a healthy meal in the club house or the new resort restaurant.
Again, design has been a driver for change here, with the UK’s acclaimed hotel designer Anita Rosato Interior Design commissioned to create the stunning Sunsa restaurant. The new dining space has a contemporary, sophisticated style of brilliant white walls, modern lighting, blond woods and natural elements that convey a fresh, Mediterranean flavour. The menu has been transformed by Westin, offering balanced healthy dishes, considering modern requirements for gluten-free, vegetarian and low-fat options.
Let’s embrace the cooler, quieter more mellow weeks ahead and make the most of late summer. Remember that our What to Do section is the place to look for the latest listings of events on the coast.