Legend has it that while traveling between Málaga and Gibraltar in the 15th century, Queen Isabella of Spain looked out across the Mediterranean and gasped, "Que mar bella [How beautiful the sea is]." She may have blessed the luxurious Costa del Sol town of Marbella with a majestic moniker, but it has since become just as notorious in the 21st century for its gangsters and glitz. One hideaway where a noble atmosphere lives on is the five-star Marbella Club, which retains the understated glamour created a half-century ago by founder Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe. The European aristocrat's jet-set lifestyle took him to the U.S., where he mingled with Hollywood royalty. Upon his return to Spain, inspired by resort hotels he had seen in America, he opened his own hotel, and his movie-star friends came to stay, thus putting Marbella on the map for the rich and famous.
It's easy to evoke memories of Hollywood royalty like Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart mingling with crowned heads around the pool, and among the whitewashed bougainvillea-clad buildings that line the large, sandy beach. Luxurious yet understated rooms are surrounded by olive and orange trees, fountains and shady courtyards. By day, the Beach Bar offers a bacchanalian feast modestly described as a buffet: the dressed lobsters and buxom prawns look like they should be wearing Harry Winston jewels. Following a siesta and sundown, the candlelit summer terrace makes the Grill Restaurant achingly romantic. Michelin-starred executive chef Juan Galvez avoids ostentatious ingredients and trends and produces simply delicious food, cooked perfectly. Once you try the exceptional cheese soufflé and the melt-in-the-mouth beef filet, you won't even mind buying a larger bathing suit. With its 18-hole golf course, equestrian center and thalasso spa, the Club provides a fantasy setting for your own reign in Spain. www.marbellaclub.com