Situated 25 miles (40km) southwest of Malaga, the few miles of coast between Marbella and Puerto Banus is Spain's answer to Monte Carlo. Spain's elite, and Britain's more successful, have flashy holiday homes in the surrounding hills, and swanky yachts in the marina. Marbella is the Costa del Sol's best quality holiday resort - the restaurants and bars are more stylish (and expensive) and the town has been spared the worst excesses of concrete development that have blighted neighbours such as Torremolinos. The old town of Marbella is hidden away and retains some of its medieval charm, and has some good clothes shops and restaurants. The more exclusive Puerto Banus, six miles (10km) to the west, is where you will find the casino and the seriously large yachts. Those holiday visitors who drive just a few miles inland, to the villages in the hills around Ronda, will discover a Spain seemingly untouched by tourism, with village markets and authentic tapas bars to be explored.
The best shopping is at the markets, which are a focal point of local life. Marbella has a good Monday market at Recinto Ferial de Arroyo Primero, and an antiques market on Fridays in the old town. Good buys in Marbella include Moorish pottery, designer clothing, and Andalucian crafts such as shirts and leather shoes. Tourists should expect to bargain hard on all items from fresh produce to Spanish tourist souvenirs and clothing.
Eating out in Marbella tends to be pricey although there are plenty of good value fish and chips venues around the seafront promenade. Beach bars offer good pub grub and excellent views at sunset. Tapas is always a good bet, as is the local fish, particularly in paella. Visitors should avoid eating the widely touted Chanquetes (tiny, deep-fried baby fish) which are endangered.
Marbella's best bars include Ana Marias, La Notte Piano Bar and Stones Music Bar. Clubs worth trying while on holiday in Marbella are the legendary Nikki Beach, long-standing favourite Dreamers Disco, Suite del Mar and Olivia Valere. Dress codes are the norm in Marbella, and entrance fees are often higher than those in Madrid and Barcelona. The Golden Mile in Marbella is the place to be seen and tourists in Marbella should expect to rub shoulders with the rich and famous including many well-known celebrities and even members of the Saudi royal family.
Apart from beach activities and water sports, there is a casino, a mega-bowling hall and a go-kart track close to town, while the Crocodile Park and Fuengirola Zoo are a short drive away. Local flamenco shows are also fun.
Marbella can be expensive when compared to smaller towns on the coast; it has also grown into a busy and modern place, with little of the old world charm that attracted many visitors here twenty years ago.