Marbella. There aren't many places offering year-round sunshine in Europe that, from beaches and golf to shopping and fine dining, tick as many of the luxury holiday boxes. Sounds tempting?…
Spain is a country where history and gastronomy merge, and nowhere is this truer than in the southern region of Andalucia. Many threads of influence and tradition run through Andalucian cuisine – from the Phoenicians, who first arrived on these shores almost 3,000 years ago, and the Romans who introduced wheat, olives and vines to the area, to the Moors who imported their expertise of almond growing, saffron and rice.
In years gone by, food often defined where we were from, but now food-lovers’ travel choices are influenced because of a region’s gastronomy. We no longer just eat to live – many of us live to eat. So here we’ll share with you a local’s guide to many of the authentic foods of the Axarquia, a mountainous coastal region in the eastern corner of Malaga province. That way, you can really experience the local culture via its cuisine.
We’ll start our journey in Malaga, a city whose history can be traced back more than 2,800 years, making it one of the oldest in the world. Malaga has undergone a cultural renaissance over the past few years, and rather than being just ‘the place where the airport is’, the city is now one of Spain’s unmissable destinations. You’ll discover ancient architecture, a well-established international art scene, important cultural and religious festivals, tapas bars and elegant fine-dining as well as the warm, clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea lapping at Malaga’s long, sandy beaches.
Why not give your senses a treat and head to the Atarazanas market? Here, the Moorish arched entrance and the huge, colourful stained-glass window tell the history of the origins of this bustling marketplace. As you wander around, take in the dazzling displays of freshly-caught fish with their scarlet gills and scales glistening under the spotlights. You can marvel at the kaleidoscope of colours of the artistically displayed fresh fruit and vegetables and savour the counters of aromatic cheeses, spices, artisan bread, marinated olives, dried fruits, nuts, chorizos and ham – all perfect for a gourmet picnic. Or you could try a skewer of fresh tuna or salmon at one of the tapas bars inside the market, where the fish is so fresh it almost melts in your mouth.
From Malaga, consider heading east along the sub-tropical coast of the Axarquia, past orchards of mango and avocado trees, where you’ll be spoilt for choice with an array of chiringuitos (beach bars) stretching for miles. It’s hard to resist the smell of espetos de sardinas (sardines) being cooked on skewers over a wood fire on the beach; so simple yet totally delicious. Alternatively, you could choose one of Malaga’s favourite dishes, boquerones (anchovies), either deep-fried in olive oil, or marinated in vinegar, salt, garlic and olive oil. Boquerones en vinagre are a favourite in many places serving tapas.
Most of the white villages of the Axarquia have an association with a particular fruit or traditional product and host an annual gastronomic festival to celebrate. Periana, for instance, is known for juicy peaches, and Canillas de Aceituno is renowned for the best oven-roasted kid for miles around. Elsewhere in the region, Torrox hosts the Migas festival each December (you can read more about this on Eastofmalaga.net), when more than 40,000 people feast on the traditional Andalucian peasant dish (fried breadcrumbs liberally laced with garlic, small pieces of chorizo, ham or peppers).
The mountain village of Frigiliana, once voted the prettiest village in Andalucia, boasts the last remaining factory in Europe producing miel de caña (literal translation: sugar-cane honey, but in reality this is molasses). Production began at the Ingenio Nuestra Señora del Carmen (Mieldelatorre.com) almost three centuries ago, and the same traditional recipe without additives is still used today. Miel de caña is delicious when drizzled over berenjenas (deep-fried egg-plant) or cod fritters.
A product that is 100% ‘made in Malaga’ is the crumbly Algarrobo cake, a perfect accompaniment with your morning coffee. The ingredients are all sourced within the province, and this gastronomic delight consisting of olive oil, almond flour, aniseed, sugar and cinnamon is put together with love at the Carmen Lupišñez factory, within the village of Algarrobo. You can buy a packet of these cakes at any of the local street markets and little grocery stores for just a couple of euros. Perfect to pop in your suitcase to take back home!
If you’re lucky enough to be travelling to the Axarquia during January, you will see the delicate pink almond blossom on trees throughout the region. First introduced by the Moors many centuries ago, the almond is an important ingredient in local cuisine, from sauces, stews or simply roasted and salted. As you’re wandering around Malaga city you’ll be sure to see a small table at the side of the street where a vendor is selling roasted almonds in a paper cone. You might also like to try ajoblanco (Malaga’s answer to gazpacho) – a refreshingly cold, garlic and almond soup.
As you travel around this region you will see the dry, steep terraced land that is perfect for cultivating vines and, in particular, the sweet moscatel grapes which enjoy the sun and the influence of the sea. No mechanical devices are used for picking – these grapes are all hand-picked to make the local sweet (high-proofed) aromatic wine. Served cold, these wines pair well with blue cheeses, many desserts, chocolate, and are the perfect choice for your sobremesa (the time after a meal when you sit around the table and enjoy a drink with friends).
The mountain village of Competa, which lies in the foothills of the impressive Sierra Almijara and Tejeda mountains, hosts the annual Noche del Vino (not only a night of wine, but a whole day of it!) Every year, thousands of people descend on the village to witness the ritual treading of the grapes and share in the fun and festivities to herald the start of the grape harvest.
Whilst you’re in the area, you might also like to take a tour of one of the excellent wineries nearby. Bodegas Bentomiz (Bodegasbentomiz.com) near Sayalonga supply their Ariyanas wines to many of the finest restaurants in the world, and you can enjoy a tasting or a delicious winemaker’s lunch at their contemporary headquarters.
Welcome to La Axarquia – the authentic Costa del Sol.
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Where is Marbella?First things first, though. Where is it? Marbella is in southern Spain - in the province of Malaga in the Andalucia region, to be exact - on a stretch of coast called the Costa del Sol. Here's a map of Marbella to help you get your bearings:
Where Do You Fly to?It depends on from where you're flying in. The nearest international airport to Marbella is Malaga. Málaga-Costa del Sol Airport (Aena.es) is 51km away and an easy 40-minute car/taxi ride. Virtually all the major airlines fly there direct from the UK and from across northern Europe. The next closest airport to Marbella is Gibraltar (Gibraltarairport.gi), which is just over an hour's drive away. British Airways, Easyjet and Monarch all fly direct from the UK to Gibraltar.
From the USIf you’re flying into Spain from the USA you'll probably have to travel to Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport (Aena.es). From there you'll have to either fly, take the fast speed AVE train (Renfe.com) or drive to Malaga and transfer from there to Marbella. The most convenient way to get to Marbella from Madrid is by the fast speed train taking just 2.5hrs or by flying taking only 1 hour and 15 mins.
how to get there from malaga airport
By CarThe best way to get from Malaga to Marbella is to drive. And if you're on holiday that probably means you're going to need to hire a car. As with almost all international airports, Malaga has a frankly baffling array of different car hire options to pick through. To avoid the scrum of the departures lounge, jump on the complimentary minibus to the offices of Niza, Helle Hollis or Enterprise situated a mere minute outside of the terminal. Inside the terminal you can find Sixt, Hertz and Europcar. If you're unsure of which company to use, click the following link. For a more luxury car hire service we'd recommend Sixt (Sixt.com). They're friendly, totally professional, trustworthy and have a range of high-end rental options, from BMWs, Audis and Porsches to Mercedes and Range Rovers - and even automatics. If you're travelling in a large group, they also have 8-12 seater self-drive minibuses available for hire. Of course if you're looking for ease, our Concierge can make the reservation for you to be dropped directly off at the villa. A car of your choice can be delivered to your villa. Once you've picked up your car/minibus hire, driving from Malaga airport to Marbella could hardly be easier. Directions from Malaga-Costa del Sol airport are as follows:
- Leave the airport and head southeast onto N-348
- At the roundabout, take the 2nd exit and stay on N-348
- Take the Torremolinos ramp to N-340/Cádiz
- Merge onto Avenida de Velázquez/N-340/MA-21
- Take the ramp to E-15/A-7/Benalmadena/Algeciras. Merge onto AP-7
- Pass Torremolinos, Benalmadena, Fuengirola
- Take exit 184 towards Marbella/Casco Antiguo/Avenida del Trapiche
By TaxiFor sheer ease, you can’t beat jumping in a taxi. A taxi rank is situated outside the arrivals sidewalk of Terminal T3, level 0. It's best to ask the driver, beforehand, how much a taxi is from Malaga to Marbella to ensure they don’t overcharge you. There are two transfer prices, and these are dependent on both times of the day and the day of the week. Transfer Price Band 1 is weekdays from 06.00 to 22.00 hrs. Transfer Price Band 2 is weekdays from 22.00 to 06.00 hrs, all day Saturdays, Sundays, public holidays, the August Feria and Holy Week. Band 2 transfer time is more expensive than Band 1. Alternatively, you can pre-order a taxi at Malaga Airport Taxi (Malagaairporttaxi.net) and get a price when booking. The transfer time from Malaga Airport to Marbella takes around an hour, in a taxi.
Other Ways to Get to Marbella
- By bus: It is possible to take a bus (Alsa.com) from Malaga airport to Marbella. But it's a whole lot less convenient than driving via hire car or private transfer.
- By train: There isn’t a train connection from Malaga airport to Marbella.
Distances - how far is marbella from...
- Malaga (city): 61km away and 46 minutes' drive.
- Granada: 187km and just over 2 hours' drive.
- Seville: 258km and 2 hours 45 minutes' drive.
- Gibraltar: 78km and 1 hour 2 minutes' drive.
- Madrid: 584 km and 5 hours 45 minutes' drive.
A Bit of HistoryThe land previously belonged to the Saudi businessman Adnan Khashoggi, who it is said, used the estate as his party house and hunting grounds. The property and land went up for sale and a group of Spanish property developers bought it and put plans together to create a playground for the rich and famous in Marbella. Each villa is unique, with their own styles depending on the specifications of the owner.
Location & Getting There
So where is La Zagaleta?The large estate sits in Malaga province in the south of Andalucia. It’s in the foothills of the Ronda Mountains just 25 minutes from Marbella, 18 minutes from Nuevo Andalucia and the nearest beach. It's 20 minutes from the village of Benahavis, 40 minutes from Sotogrande port, 50 minutes from Ronda, 55 minutes from Malaga airport and just over an hour from Gibraltar airport. La Zagaleta is very easily accessed by car or helicopter. There's heavy security surrounding the estate and entrance is on prior permission only.
What Else is in La Zagaleta?It’s worth noting that all the facilities in La Zagaleta are for exclusive use to villa owners only; they pay an enormous service charge to be allowed to use the facilities.
Golf CourseLa Zagaleta golf club is only open to villa owners and their guests. They have exclusive access to two of the Costa del Sol's best private golf courses, La Zagaleta and Los Barrancos. La Zagaleta golf course - known as the Old Course - is to championship standard with 18 holes, Par 72 over a distance of 4800 - 6000 yards. Designed by renowned golf architect Brad Benz in 1991 and redesigned by Marc Westenborg in 2016, it’s a rewarding course with fantastic views to the coast and flanked by mountains. The New Course, Los Barrancos, is very different to the Old Course. It’s a challenging 18-hole, Par 70 with lots of obstacles over a distance of 4356 – 5381 yards.
The ClubhousesThe hub of the estate is the spectacular Old Clubhouse, or La Zagaleta country club. Measuring 5,100m² it has an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, billiards, bowling alley, tennis courts, gourmet food supermarket, pro-golf shop and restaurants (see below). There's also a nightclub, bars and events space where there’s a full schedule of experiences and parties planned. The New Clubhouse is a thatched lakeside venue. A lot smaller than the Old Clubhouse, it's still just as popular with La Zagaleta residents for events or having a quick drink in the bar.
Horse RidingLa Zagaleta is home to some beautiful stables with indoor and outdoor schooling arenas. Horses can either be kept on a full livery basis, or horses and ponies can be hired for lessons or hacks. ‘The Riding Club’ equestrian centre has a team of instructors and well-schooled horses for all levels of rider including Arab, PRE and, for the children, Farabella horses and Welsh ponies.
RestaurantsWhy leave the comfort of a beautiful villa when you can enjoy a top-quality meal at home? At La Zagaleta there are Michelin starred chefs available for in-house dining throughout the estate. However, for owners the clubhouse has two restaurants: the formal dining Old Course Restaurant; and a terrace bar restaurant that's ideal for light bites and brunches.
Famous ResidentsThere is private security throughout the whole of La Zagaleta - so know one really know who lives or owns houses there. It’s a place where the super-rich and famous go to be away from the limelight. However, it is said that Hugh Grant, Rod Stewart and Vladimir Putin all have house in La Zagaleta.
What to Do NearbyWhen staying in La Zagaleta, the houses are so special that it’s sometimes difficult to tear yourself away from the estate. However, if you do want to see more of the area, here's our pick of easily accessible and great day trips:
- Ronda: historic, boutique wineries and ab-so-lutely beautiful.
- Benahavis village: a great option for restaurants; have a lunch or dinner in this pretty village.
- Granada: a romantic inland city and home to the Alhambra Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Malaga: the birthplace of Picasso with a fort, palace and Roman amphitheatre.
- Cordoba: historic city with a stunning mosque-church at its centre.
- Sevilla: one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
- Sotogrande: a lovely port, wake boarding lake and polo hub.