Heidi Fuller-Love takes a gastronomic tour of this food-loving Andalusian city that can cater to any craving – and delivers views and vibes to boot
With three Michelin-starred restaurants serving world-class cuisine, plus hundreds of smaller eateries dishing up everything from Mediterranean and Thai to paella and succulent local tapas, luscious food is a major part of Marbella’s allure. And with more than 300 guaranteed days of sunshine per year, al fresco dining by the beach or beneath the stars is practically guaranteed.
You should start the day with local treats: order crispy pastry strip churros dipped into hot chocolate, or tostada con tomate y aceite – toasted bread topped with olive-oil-drizzled tomato pulp – in one of the city’s small cafés. Alternatively, pop into a panaderia (bakery) and try some of the local sugar-dusted almond cookies, called polvorones – typical Christmas products. Or buy a bag of sausage-shaped alfajores pastries stuffed with a honeyed blend of nuts and spices, tortas de aceite (oil tarts), roscos de vino (wine bagels), borrachuelos (sweet cakes) or torrijas (fried bread with honey).
At lunchtime, make a beeline for this Spanish seaside city’s chic marina. Puerto Banús, where celebrities love to party, is also home to a cluster of high-end restaurants where you can sup on creative fusion food and sip handcrafted cocktails as you admire the shiny super yachts bobbing in the harbour.
From Puerto Banús, follow the city’s 7km-long promenade, flanked by brilliant sea and framed by swaying palm trees, to find a string of traditional seafood restaurants, marisquerias, serving succulent seafood specialities: be sure to try puntillitas – crispy squid in batter – or order a racion (portion) of spicy seafood paella. This bustling promenade is also dotted with beach shack chiringuitos where – after a day spent lazing in the sun – you can sit at a seaview table and order espetos de sardinas: brine-fresh sardines sprinkled with sea salt, then grilled on wooden stakes.
If you’re seeking a budget option, this Costa del Sol food Mecca boasts half a dozen restaurants that have Michelin’s prestigious Bib Gourmand designation; in plain English this means that they serve top-notch food at very affordable prices.
There are also plenty of restaurants and traditional tascas serving competitively priced fare. Head into the labyrinth of cobbled alleys that fan out from main square Plaza de los Naranjos, situated in Marbella’s Casco Antiguo (Old Town), to find them.
Pull up a chair on this shaded square, which was named for its sweet-scented orange trees, and sip a glass of red wine and sweet soda water (tinto de verano), as you listen to the murmuring splash of fountains and the flow of Spanish conversation. Now, order gambas al pil pil – flash-fried prawns – creamy, garlic-laden ajo blanco soup or lomo embuchado – sausage skin stuffed with cured pork. Wash it all down with chilled tumblers of sweet Málaga Virgen wine straight from the owners’ barrel and relax as you soak up the atmosphere of this food-loving Andalusian city.
Backdropped by the mountains of the Sierra Blanca, the coastal city of Marbella has it all: sun, sea, sand, historic remains, delicious Andalucian fare, accommodation to suit all budgets and many sporting delights. As our guide, produced in association with the Tourism Department of the Marbella City Council, proves: Marbella is one of Spain’s most beloved cities, with good reason. Read the ABTA Magazine Guide to Marbella in full here.