Distant Shores! Doesn’t that have just the loveliest ring to it? The Costa del Sol – Spain`s glorious sun soaked coast! Playground of the rich and famous, no less. Well recession or not – it's Marbella here we come!
Organised by Sue and Howard Danker at spanishdreamweddings.com this was going to be an occasion not to be missed so, once again, the Irish travelled in numbers and 143 of us descended on Marbella for the wedding of Donna Kerrigan and Paul Murray on Friday 1st July.
Sincere compliments to Sue and Howard who really pulled out all the
stops for this one. We were all booked into El Fuerte Miramar –
this most central 4 star location is situated along Marbella's busy
beachside Promenade to the rear and a short 5 minute walk from the picturesque
and quaint Old Town to the fore.
We soon discover that location is not its only attribute. The staff of the Miramar are helpful, friendly and pleasing, the rooms are well air conditioned and spacious, the views from the balconies are breathtaking and the breakfasts are so splendidly extravagant, with a choice so vast that I would challenge anyone to say that there was nothing to suit them here no matter what their nationality or taste. My choice was Bucks Fizz - Champagne and freshly squeezed Orange Juice with strawberries and wild cherries. Decadence at its best. But how often do you get the opportunity to begin your day with such a treat? Sure, it would put you in immediate good humour, it would, and give you the illusion of celebrity status, if only for a week.
The Wedding Day began at 3pm with guests gathering for flutes of champagne in the hotel lobby before we left for the Church. A short walk to the beautifully ornate Incarnation Church at Old Town, Marbella for the simple ceremony. The pretty, petite Donna wasted no time keeping her future husband Paul in suspense and arrived early looking amazingly calm, cool and collected in her short, uncomplicated, elegant dress to the delight of the company who were furiously fanning themselves with the attractive pink fans distributed to all the female guests on arrival. A most practical Spanish tradition, I declare. The Incarnation Church opens out on to an attractive old fashioned Square which was set out with little white clothed tables and chairs as we emerged to partake of more champagne before we set out on our return journey. The little Square was an oasis of cool drinks and serenading Spanish airs provided by a quartet of pantaloon clad traditional musicians. Following this welcome respite we headed off back to the hotel and out on to the veranda where we were greeted with more drinks – red/white wine/beers and shots and a lavish array of finger food which we devoured with gusto thinking this must be how the Spanish do it. So imagine our surprise when we were then escorted out to the pool area where the tables were beautifully laid for a full and most delicious 5 course Wedding Breakfast — during which the fabulously flamboyant Flamenco dancers provided a most colourful and entertaining interlude. The wedding continued long into the night with singing and dancing and talk and laughter – a typical Irish wedding apart from the languid lapping of the waves over our shoulders a gentle reminder that we were still out under the balmy Spanish night sky and most definitely not in Ireland.
We awoke on the morrow to find invitations under our doors asking us to join the Bride and Groom for Cocktails at the Babilona Cocktail Bar in Puerto Banus from 4pm to 6.30pm. We were to meet the Ferry at the port at 4pm to embark on our journey and return afterwards for what was billed as a BBQ on the beach at 7.30pm.
We decided to head to Puerto Banus ahead of the posse so to speak to have time to savour this vivacious vicinity that we had heard so much about. It is said that it has the most lavish Marina in the world and if you stand here long enough you are almost guaranteed to see someone famous. Well I was the only one who spotted him but I am 99% certain that Tiger Woods drove past me in a black open topped Ferrari as I stood sipping a Tequila Sunrise on the kerb outside the Babilona.
The affluence of Puerto Banus just plain screams at you. The names on the Boulevard – Gucci, Pravda, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Dior – just ooze class and wealth. The yachts in the Marina are the size of small cruisers – and who says size doesn’t count? Stunningly beautiful women glide by on the arms of powerfully attractive men. The Ferraris and the Lamborghinis cruise past complete with beautiful occupants on their way to their beautiful lives. Us ordinary folk are mere trespassers in this idyllic anchorage who have been granted a fleeting glimpse of Paradise. Yes this is where the Gods reside – this is Nirvana.
You just have to see Puerto Banus – it`s not just a visit –
it`s an experience!
With the nuptials over and people beginning to gradually drift homewards it was time for us to see a bit of this part of Spain. Our first trip was to a little town in the hills called Mijas, recommended to me by a friend. It was only about 30 minutes from Marbella. You take the bus to Fuengirola Bus Station for about €1.25 per person and from there to Mijas for €2.50. On the way there we got chatting to a young couple – he was from Singapore and she from Japan – both of them living in Sheffield. Sheffield it would seem was a rather dull place compared to either Singapore or Japan or indeed Spain. They had only come over for 4 days and were really sorry not to be staying longer – the drabness of Sheffield wasn’t exactly beckoning them home.
The first thing that you notice about Mijas is the donkeys with their multicoloured hats and blankets; you simply cant miss them. You can see this wonderful Andalusian white village from the back of a donkey for a small fee but it was so warm on the day we visited I just couldn’t inflict myself on these poor animals in the scorching heat. But they do add a certain je ne sai quoi to this most picturesque place neatly nestled at the foot of a mountain. The souvenir shops are plentiful here and seem to specialise in leather goods particularly jackets and coats at pretty competitive prices – that being of course if the leather is authentic! But in the blistering heat we found that we weren’t remotely interested in even trying them on. But worth a visit if you are a leather lover. One of our party did purchase the most divine little bikers jacket for his grand nephew of just 2 years with Harley Davidson embossed on the back of it. Cool – really cool! Mijas is a picture postcard town of narrow cobbled streets where people live and trade. The pretty whitewashed houses with their attractive balconies and tiled roofs are the perfect backdrop for the brightly coloured geraniums that abound. Put Mijas on your agenda for a visit – it is well worth it.
Ronda was a little further away being 1 hour and 15 minutes from Marbella but it was a direct trip from the Bus Station which is at the very top of the town and at €11.40 return pretty reasonable. We took the bus at 11.30 and arrived a little later than advertised due to the precarious drive through the mountains that had us enthralled all the way. If you do nothing when you arrive in Ronda, which is highly unlikely, this trip is worth it for the breathtaking scenery all along the journey. It is Spain’s answer to the Amalifi Coast. Stunningly spectacular!
Ronda will leave you breathless and give you the most mouthwatering flavour of old Spain. If you have an eye for beauty, a sense of history and a passion for the unusual then Ronda is the place for you. Unfortunately, our time there was limited so we headed straight for the Bullring –La Plaza de Toros - the oldest in Spain. Probably a mistake as we found it so interesting that we spent too much time in the adjoining Museum and were under pressure for the rest of the afternoon. But we just had to make it to the Puerto Nuevo bridge to see the famous Ronda Gorge – or El Tajo – where a photographer friend said I would get brilliant photos of this most magnificent vista. Well he certainly wasn’t lying. This is indeed a photographers magnet – the bridge was full of busy snappers all doing their utmost to capture this exceptional panorama from every possible angle, and we very quickly followed suite. You will twist and turn, and turn and twist trying to record the wonder and the beauty of it all. Multitudinous photographs later we only had time for a rather hasty look around the old medieval town of Ronda with its elegant antique buildings and its many impressive Churches, our time ran out far too quickly and we had to head back to the bus station to catch our ride back to Marbella. But yes Ronda has left an indelible image and has been firmly put on my list of `places to return to` - it is so beautiful, so picturesque and so very Spanish and there is just so much to do and so much to see that you could spend a couple of days here – and I intend to do just that at some future date.
Our last trip was to see The Rock! Sure how could you go home without seeing the Rock, and it so close. This trip we booked through the hotel leaving at 9.30 on a coach with our own personal guide, a cable car to the top to see the famous Barbary Monkeys plus an afternoons shopping in this tax free haven – all for €41 per person. Not bad. We were warned to bring our passports, Gibraltar being British.
I was really looking forward to this trip as I have always wanted
to see this famous Iberian Peninsula on the Mediterranean. Booking through
the hotel I thought that we would be picked up outside the main door
but this wasn’t the case. It was only a short walk up the street
to where the bus did pick us up however it was not very clear that it
would stop there and it was late – not arriving until about 10.10am,
leaving us pondering if we were at the correct stop or indeed if we
had missed it altogether. When it arrived our tour guide introduced
himself and proceeded to give details of the trip in English, Spanish
and German. I thought that I had suddenly become hard of hearing as
I couldn’t decipher a word until a German woman beside me said
that she couldn’t make out what he was saying in either German
or English and her English was perfect. She was getting irate and was
going to talk to him at her first opportunity. Me, being the impatient
type and really not wanting to miss a minute of this trip couldn’t
wait that long. At the next set of red lights up I went to the top of
the bus and explained in a most polite way wearing my biggest smile
that I couldn’t hear anything that the man was saying. Instead
of apologising he told me that it was the engines at the back of the
bus and that was more or less it. I related this to my new found German
ally when I returned to my seat and she was furious and became even
more determined to speak to him at the earliest opportunity. Which came
eventually when we had a pit stop for toilets and coffee. Another cause
for complaint, I`m afraid. Three bus tours stopped at the same time
at the same rather tardy location so naturally there were queues for
both the toilets and the coffee – with the result that we never
did get any and found the toilets to be rather basic and not the cleanest.
If tours are using this venue for a stop over then they really should
liaise with each other as it just can`t cater for a large crowd and
they definitely should ask them to clean up their act in relation to
We arrived at Gibraltar and went first through Spanish customs and then British customs with ease. We were then told that the German speaking people on the bus would get the first tour of the Rock and the rest of us – the Spanish, the English and the Irish - could do some shopping and come back at 1.30pm for our tour. It was now 12 o'clock and we had about a 10 minute walk to the main shopping area. Not a lot of shopping time really particularly as we would have liked to take time to have a bite to eat. We had to forgo the food in favour of the shops and we literally ran around trying to see as much as we could but with little or no time to compare prices. Not very satisfactory at all in a tax free zone that was thronged with shops and shoppers; one would need a little time to make comparisons with the prices at home.
Anyway, back we went to the bus station for 1.30pm and off we went for our tour of the Rock on a small 16 seater bus with a different tour guide – Brian who was English was very audible and amusing and we enjoyed our little trip round Gibraltar as we headed for the Rock. The Straits of Gibraltar are one of the busiest shipping routes in the world and Gibraltar is the busiest port in the world second only to Rotterdam. The views of all this maritime activity as you ascend the Rock are magnificent, gigantic and spell binding and you cannot help but gaze in amazement at the wide expanse of azure blue ocean dappled with the many and varied cargo ships, and image the vast array of treasures they carry.
This Mecca of trade is most definitely where it`s all at. Up we go a little further on the Rock and our next stop is the Caves where stalagmites and stalactites merge and mangle into a haunting fairytale darkness that conjures up warlocks and wizardry, mystery and magic, and Harry Potter style enchantment. The coloured lighting and the melancholy music is worked to best advantage here and definitely contributes to the bewitching ambience of the caves but you do need to mind your step – the ground surface is quiet wet and although there are hand rails to hold on to it would be very easy to lose your footing and slip.
A small 100 seat theatre has been established in St. Michael`s Cave where regular concerts are held – imagine the acoustics! Rumour is rife here that the caves are bottomless and that there is a subterranean link between Europe and Africa – sounded perfectly plausible to me as I wound my way through this fascinating fathomless fantasyland half expecting a garrulous gargoyle or a hirsute hobgoblin to bounce from the shadows at any moment.
I was disappointed to find out that there were other caves to be explored on the Rock known as the War Caves and Siege Tunnels that we didn’t have tickets for. The War Caves as they are known were used by the Allies in WWII. Miles of tunnel were excavated and masses of rock blasted to create an `underground city` with offices, barracks, a fully equipped hospital complete with operating theatre. Code name Operation Torch – or the Allied Invasion of North Africa was co-ordinated from the Rock. With a penchant for war I would have loved a tour of these caves, but we had not been told about them and couldn’t book a ticket at that stage.
We move on a little higher to take in the Barbary Monkeys – we have been warned not to carry plastic bags or bright jewellery as they will try to pull it from you and to be aware that they will try to snatch whatever it is you are eating. One little guy did try to board our bus and another hitched a ride and kept putting his hand through the open window in an effort to grab the steering wheel from the driver as we went down the hill. But by and large I found the Barbary Monkeys enchanting and rather quiet, mind you one lady on our tour got quiet the fright as one jumped from a tree on to her shoulders and then hurriedly fled as the woman`s screams got louder and more frantic. But for the most part these very tame monkeys will pose for photos, take food out of your hand or just simply ignore you. Another photographer's magnet – your lens just won't be able to resist their cute countenances and their absorbing antics as you endeavour to snap them in every possible pose. Indeed observing these creatures watching us watching them and our eagerness to capture their every move and expression I did have cause to wonder which of us really is the higher life form.
I was enjoying and looking forward to reaching the top now, however, my euphoria was short lived as this was the end of the tour. Where was my cable car to the top? Our tour guide Brian just gave me a vague look and a mumbled answer when I enquired so it was back to the bus station to embark on the journey home. This time my German friend was much more upbeat, she had really enjoyed the different tour guide and her trip on the Rock plus she had much more time shopping and had found amazing little shops up side streets and down alleyways that were much less expensive than those on the High Street, and indeed had purchased some choice items which she proceeded to show me. But we hadn’t been given the time to do that. So my final analysis was that this was a good tour but much better if you`re German rather than English, Irish or Spanish. This caused a chuckle from the German fraulein.
Once back in the hotel I sought out Maria – the girl we had booked the tour with – and pointed out to her that we had no cable car ride to the top. She was amazed that it was not on the Itinerary and said that she would make a call and check it out. We had enjoyed seeing Gibraltar and weren`t complaining I explained but for future reference and for her own benefit she should clarify the position with this.
Gibraltar is historic, unusual, most interesting and I am very glad to have seen it but it is not one of those magical, memorable places that I would have a yearning to return to.
'Marbella' – simply means beautiful sea in Spanish but, trust me, nothing about Marbella is simple. My expectations were for a typical Spanish Resort but perhaps a little more classy than the norm and definitely more expensive so I was totally and pleasantly surprised to see how aesthetic beautiful it really is. It is an exciting, eclectic blend of old and new, Andalusian and Moor, with each complimenting the other. The Old Town kind of tucked away in the heart of Marbella is a maze of the narrowest of little streets that one can span with arms outstretched, coupled with quaint, curious shops where one has to almost breath in and turn sideways to view their wares, but ladies so worth a visit, bags, scarves, shoes, jewellery of different design and excellent quality and reasonable enough prices. These cool, slender streets open out on to the most colourful, exquisite Squares with cascading balconies of pinky purple bougainvillea, sweet-scented Orange trees and ruby red geraniums against white washed walls and terracotta tiled roofs reminiscent of a small Mediterranean fishing village that time has transformed into one of the most exclusive resorts on the Costa del Sol.
Marbella has the highest per capita income in Europe and more Rolls Royce’s than any other city in Europe except London, and yet in the Old Quarter with the remains of its Moorish Castle and its Spaghetti Western style Churches there is little or no evidence of this affluence or prosperity as you sit sipping coffee in its fragrant Orange Square all is leisurely and tranquil and exceedingly unassuming and discreet.
The luscious green Parque de la Alameda can sometimes act as a most welcome oasis from the intense July heat with its cooling fountain and charming ornate ceramic seats it leads on to one of the most impressive features of Marbella - the Avenida del Mar with its captivating and interesting Salvador Dali sculptures. Salvador – Spain`s much loved son is everywhere you will hardly turn without tripping over one of his striking works.
Marbella`s sun drenched beaches are stylish and chic and populated by some of Europe`s most wealthy. The wonderful Promenades all along the beach fronts are ideal places for a stroll both day and evening and provide perfect forums for those who wish to be viewed and admired or indeed if you decide to dine at any of the many and varied restaurants along this fascinating stretch you will have a ringside seat and can spend many relaxed and enjoyable hours at that most absorbing of pastimes - people watching, at the same time partaking of some of the most delectable cuisine in Spain. A striking feature of the Marbella beaches are the life-size Elephants – standing tall between swaying palm trees these remarkably life-like statues eyes fixed on the nearby African coast are used as showers for bathers with water coming out from under the tusks. An arresting and apt beach attraction.
Beautiful Sea – there certainly is. Beautiful place it undoubtedly is. Marbella is a cultured and sparkling jewel on Spain`s most golden coast. Although dubbed as the haunt of the rich and famous, Marbella is neither pretentious nor pompous. It is subtle, poised, elegant, and sophisticated and a joy to visit... at least, once!