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?…
One of our favourite places to spend a leisurely day out on the Costa del Sol is Malaga, a city that is full of charm and character, and surprisingly easy to visit.
Since the Picasso Museum opened ten years ago, Malaga has become a vibrant, happening city whose cultural attractions now rival those in Seville, Andalusia’s better known capital city.
Recent upgrades have turned what used to be a somewhat shabby historical centre into a chic and fashionable cultural capital that’s overflowing with things to do, which is now firmly on the Spanish map. Visitor numbers and hotel occupation are at their highest ever and Malaga is now a definite must-see on any Costa del Sol to-do-list.
Getting around Malaga
Malaga is Spain’s sixth largest city, but it’s compact with most attractions within easy reach of the centre. And it’s mainly flat making it ideal for sightseeing on foot or bike. Several companies offer rental bikes and cycling tours round Malaga including Bike2Malaga, or there’s the open-top Malaga Tour Bus whose routes gives you a good overview of the sights including the Gibralfaro Castle overlooking the city.
Taxis are plentiful and usually easy to find in the centre either at Taxi ranks or flagging down a passing cab showing a green light, though with much of the city centre pedestrianised it can be quicker to walk than take a taxi.
Top tip for visiting Malaga in a day
Pick up an audio guide from the Tourist Office in Plaza de la Marina (guides are free but you need to show your passport and a credit card). The six themed guides walk you round the main sites in Malaga and each tour lasts around two hours, excluding time for visits to museums etc.
You can also book a private tour guide through The Luxury Villa Collection for a bespoke day in the city with a local expert. Our Art in Malaga or Malaga Tapas tours are both excellent ways to see a side to the city you might miss with a guidebook.
What to See in Malaga
Modern Art: Take in some contemporary art in Malaga’s up-and-coming Soho District situated between the river and port. Begin at the Contemporary Art Centre (Cacmalaga.org) housed in a 1940’s market where the permanent and temporary exhibitions showcase the latest trends in modern art. Entry is free and guided tours are available in English.
Before you leave the CAC behind, admire the two massive murals that backdrop the museum. Painted by graffiti artists Obey and D Face in late 2013, these are a taste of the street art that characterises the narrow streets in the Soho District with galleries and small restaurants and bars. For coffee and snacks, try Picnic (Barroso 10) or Señor Lobo (Somera 10).
If you’d like a further dose of cutting-edge art, head for the Pompidou Centre on Muelle Uno on the Port. The iconic multi-coloured cube gives you a taster of what’s inside where the permanent collection of very, very modern art is guaranteed not to leave you indifferent. Don’t miss the museum shop, packed of fun and unusual gift ideas.
Indoor Market: Malaga’s largest and most colourful market, is the Mercado de Ataranzas, whose recently restored building contains the original 14th-century Moorish gateway plus some stunning stained glass windows. Take your time to browse the stalls for fresh local produce including olives, dried figs and raisins, and Malaga sweet wine.
Calle Larios: Next stop is Malaga’s most famous street, the pedestrianised Calle Larios, which is also its busiest and has become the vibrant central spine of the city.
Some sort of cultural display usually lines this pedestrian street and musicians, magicians and human statues always provide entertainment. Admire the 19th-century architecture as you make your way to the Plaza de la Constitución square at the top. Pop into the Café Central to see the tiled board explaining the ten types of coffee you can ask for in Malaga.
‘One-armed Lady’: Stop to admire Malaga’s unfinished Cathedral, known as ‘La Manquita’ as it only has one finished tower. Interior highlights include the Pedro de Mena choirstalls and two giant 18th-century organs. And if you fancy a tour of the Cathedral rooftops, book your place at the Palacio del Obispo or online (Museosmalaga.net). It’s 200 stairs up, but the panoramic views of the city below you make the climb more than worth it.
Museum of Malaga: The newest arrival on the Malaga cultural scene – it opened in mid-December – this giant museum ranks as the fifth largest in Spain and houses a unique collection of priceless archaeological pieces plus Spain’s largest exhibition of 19th century Spanish art. Look out for the opening of the top-floor restaurant (due mid-2017) with some of the best dining views in town. Find them on their Facebook page.
Romans Meet the Moors: Take a stroll round Malaga’s best-preserved and largest Roman monument, the Theatre, now restored to its former glory. From here, visit the Alcazaba fortress, not in the same league as the Alhambra in Granada, but the ruins give you an excellent idea of an 11th-century Moorish palace and there are lovely views over Malaga.
Picasso Museum: This is one of the best museums to get an overview of all the Malaga-born artist’s styles from adolescence to his last days. All the works were donated by the Picasso family and the permanent works are complemented with excellent temporary exhibitions. Tours are available in English (Museopicassomalaga.org). The 15th-century palace also houses Roman and Moorish remains in the basement.
Museo Carmen Thyssen Malaga : Over 200 works, mainly Spanish paintings from the 19th century, from the Baroness Thyssen’s private collection (Carmenthyssenmalaga.org) are on show in this restored Baroque palace. Temporary exhibitions are worth visiting too as they often include paintings by the world’s masters.
Sky-high: Take a ride on the Malaga Ferris Wheel (find it to the right of the port entrance) for some more great views of the city. Time your twirl for sundown to make the most of the last light over the sea, port, mountains and Costa del Sol beyond.
Gibralfaro: If you’re feeling energetic, walk up the (very) steep pathway to this Moorish castle perched over Malaga’s old quarter. If not, take the tour bus or a taxi. Admire the sunset over Malaga and the Mediterranean while sipping a drink on the terrace at the Parador hotel.
Meal stops – a few of our favourites
El Palmeral, Palmeral de las Sorpresas (just inside port, near Plaza de la Marina) – Open all day for food and drink, specials here include innovative starters and traditional mains (the fideuš is excellent). Sit outside for prime views of the port and pergola walkway. Palmeralmalaga.com
El Pimpi, Granada 62 (near the Roman Theatre and Picasso Museum) – A long-running favourite with locals, this labyrinthine restaurant also has a great outdoor terrace overlooking the Roman Theatre. While the food’s can be so-so, the setting and general atmosphere more than make up for it. Elpimpi.com
Eboka, Pedro de Toledo (off Císter, near the Cathedral) – One of the newest restaurants in town and it’s already difficult to get a table without a reservation. Eboka takes traditional Spanish dishes, gives them a new twist and accompanies them with the perfect wine – ask Antonio the manager for advice on pairing. Ebokarestaurante.com
Like the sound of these things to do in Malaga – and looking for a beautiful place to stay nearby? Check out our collection of luxury villas near Malaga.
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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.