Although I had put aside my prejudices about the Costa Del Sol (alongside memories of a disastrous hen weekend in Puerto Banus, a story for another day), I was still surprised at how much I loved this trip to Marbella. Mind you, the stunning Hotel Don Pepe Gran Meliá Hotel didn’t hurt any.
Built in 1964 and re-modelled three years ago by architect Alvaro Sans, this sleek, white, five-star retro beachside hotel, sitting below panoramic mountains and nestled amongst cypress trees, is a masterclass in modern kitsch. It feels like walking into a Slim Aarons photo shoot, with a dose of Martin Parr reality.
The contemporarily-designed ground-floor atrium is the size of an aircraft hanger with its chic, well-stocked bar as focal point – and that’s the kind of focal point we love! – is overlooked by a loungy/library-y/café mezzanine check-in floor, where we were greeted with bubbles before being shown to big comfortable rooms, with huge bouncy beds.
Of course size isn’t everything, but the vast expanse of Hotel Don Pepe Meliá does give a sense of space that is both relaxing and breathtaking, with designer furniture everywhere and no lack of areas to explore and chill out in. The lush gardens include two large circular adjoining pools where scantily-clad perma-tanned folk baked, whilst remote-working professionals made use of the spacious al fresco chill out areas, and young wedding parties nursed hangovers in the cafés.
The mezzanine floor offers all-day food and drink to RedLevel service members that you can tuck into inside or out on one of its pair of large sea view terraces. There’s also an indoor heated pool, an on-site spa and five – count them! – restaurants making this something of a pleasure palace. Party animals, meanwhile, might consider the two exclusive penthouse suites with rooftop bars, decking and plunge-pools. Whatever your choice, you’re never on top of each other. Unless you want to be, of course.
Whilst there is no dress code, it’s hard not to make an effort when meeting for drinks at the atrium bar where you can see and be seen, before heading to one of those restaurants. A sushi feast at their elegant Japanese Tahini restaurant, maybe. Or the Basque steakhouse, The ERRE Grill by Urrechu. The most relaxed option has to be the beachside Gran Café Capuccino Beach Club, perfect for a simple lunch between swims with, probably, the best people-watching the Costa Del Sol has to offer.
Tear yourself away from Don Pepe for a minute and Marbella Old Town is a hop, skip and a promenade away. The town’s narrow lanes with cute bars and boutique shops are a world away from the egg ‘n’ chips/glitz ‘n’ glamour reputation that southern Spain has become synonymous with – no TOWIE types here! – though you do still get the requisite lookie-lookie men selling faux designer schmutter en route but that’s always fun.
Hotel Don Pepe Gran Meliá is grand but in an understated and democratic sort of way that makes you feel comfortable rather than overawed with a chic that’s fun and not at all stuffy. If this cosmopolitan rebrand of Marbella continues, I’m converted.