Estepona appears to have been leading the way recently with the recuperation of the Costa del Sol's tourism sector. Home to not only the Kempinski resort, and the reopened Anantara Villa Padierna Palace Resort (where Michelle Obama once stayed), the municipality is also where visitors will find Spain's only Ikos resort.
Opened this month, Ikos Andalusia is a 400-room beachside property west of Marbella; an 'infinite lifestyle' resort with designer suites, exclusive leisure and wellness facilities (including an Anne Sémonin Paris spa) and gourmet menus designed by Michelin-star chefs. It's surely set to raise the bar for visitors' expectations of the Costa del Sol.
It's here, at the resort's main bar that I met with Marian Beke, the renowned bartender and mixologist, and owner of London's award-winning cocktail bar, The Gibson.
«These mixology seminars are all about inspiring the team,» explains Marian, who flew over from London last week to train the resort's team.
«I'm sharing some of the techniques we use in London. I want to excite the team and bring a smile to the guests' faces.»
Designed by Madrid-based architectural firm Studio Gronda, the Main Bar of Ikos Andalusia is an architectural masterpiece. Opening onto an Ibiza-style Mediterranean beach terrace, the bar is an elegant, continuous oval, with sweeping, drinks shelves above, stocked with hundreds of bottles, that seem to climb (thanks to the ingenious use of mirrors) up beyond the ceiling, to infinity.
This stylish space is the setting for Marian Beke's cocktail workshops, showcasing his new collection Exclusive Elixirs cocktails for the Ikos Andalusia, as well as teaching a few tricks of the trade this master bartender has learnt in his illustrious career in mixology and hospitality.
Marian Beke is from Slovakia. His father was in the wine business, so from an earlier age Marian was immersed in the world of hospitality. Although he could well have gone on to become a sommelier, it was a teenage trip to Prague, and a visit to a cocktail bar that was to change the course of his life.
Seduced by the freedom and creativity of a bartender, able to mix a drink to suit a client's mood and appetite, Marian made a leap of faith and moved to the UK, where he learnt the language and honed his creative mixology skills at some of the city's most iconic bars.
The Gibson, on London's trendy Old Street, is Marian's first bar of his own and is already recognised as one of the top 50 cocktail bars in the world.
For the Andalusian workshops, Marian has also brought with him a large collection of his unique cocktail glasses and accessories. It's a captivating display of vintage ceramic designs and porcelain cups, customised items made from coconut shells and even candle sticks, together with kitsch and fun creations like floating glass holders for the pool and even an incredible hulk hand!
This is all in the name of inspiration. You won't see these quirky items on the menu, but they are fun and evocative tools used by Marian to communicate the power of story-telling that lies in each unique, artisan concoction.
Marian wants to nurture creativity, motivate the team to create their own stories and «continue their journey as bartenders. It's not just about preparing the cocktails on the menu,» explains Beke. «Guests may want to order off the menu and ask the bartender to create a drink. I want them to offer the wow factor. These days, guests expect more than the typical resort pina colada or mojito.»
That's where the mixology magic of Marian Beke comes in, creating evocative and beautiful drinks that use international and locally sourced ingredients, with garnishes from the Mediterranean gardens.
The opening of Ikos Andalusia begins a new chapter in the story of the Costa del Sol's reinvention as a 21st century tourism destination that can compete with the finest resorts of Europe.