The area we generally call Marbella is – as far as tourists and foreign residents are concerned – mostly made up of the suburbs and resort areas that stretch out along the coast following golf courses inland, on either side of the town itself. However, what was once a little fishing village has grown into an appealing town full of shopping, dining, beach and nightlife.

Follow the famous Golden Mile from the coastal road at Puerto Banús and this 6,5-kilometre palm-lined avenue will take you to the heart of the Marbella area – the actual town. At the point where a stylistic copper tower marks the entrance into the downtown area, the avenue becomes known as Avenida Ricardo Soriano, the boulevard that runs across the centre of the town.

The transition is noticeable mostly as the resort hotels, luxury apartment complexes and boutique shopping areas give way to taller city-style apartment blocks. It is an area filled with the daily life of a Spanish town, including the vibrancy of its ebb and flow, as people stroll, take a coffee at one of many coffeeshops and sunny terraces, head into work at the offices and law, accounting and other professional practices, or shop at the boutiques and specialist stores sprawled across this compact city.

Turn right and a few blocks dotted with leafy squares later you find yourself on the Paseo Marítimo – the beachside promenade that extends in both directions from Marbella’s yacht harbour for kilometres, all the way to Puerto Banús and San Pedro Alcántara in the west and the Río Real golf course in the east. This area is home to cafés, boutiques, restaurants, bars and also ice cream parlours, most located either along the Paseo Marítimo or within the marina.

Marbella Old town

The pearl of Marbella

The most ambient and beautiful part of Marbella is not here, however, it awaits you on the other side of the main avenue, where cars give way to the pedestrian alleyways and squares of the Casco Antíguo, or Old Town. Marbella’s historic quarter is a sheer delight, a maze of pedestrian streets interconnected by cosy squares that lead past pretty Mediterranean village houses in pastel and white plaster.

The pearl of Marbella is home to a great selection of antiquaries, boutiques, shoe shops, curia, cafés, tapas bars and many of the town’s best restaurants – often located within highly picturesque settings. The old town is also increasingly the site of elegant boutique hotels situated within tastefully restored historic buildings, many with attractive inner courtyards and panoramic rooftop bars. From the latter, it is a delight to enjoy a meal or evening drink and watch the setting sun cast the town and La Concha Mountain in its glowing light.

Marbella Old town

Pass the imposing remnants of the ancient town walls and you leave the historic quarter and enter a typically Spanish suburb complete with simple but authentic shops and eateries – including the churerías where locals and visitors flock for a classic Spanish pastry dipped in sugar or hot chocolate. Cross the avenue near a park that runs downhill towards the coast and you could be tempted to head into the beachside Emaré design hotel’s rooftop bar, from which the views across the town and the shoreline all the way to the entrance of the Atlantic are simply spectacular.

By now you will also be within a stroll of Marbella’s fishing harbour, visible across expanses of sandy beach. Not surprisingly, this is the part of town best known for fish restaurants that offer a simple, authentic ambience combined with excellent seafood and fish right by the sea.

Continue on from here and you will approach the Río Real golf course, having traversed this compact town at the heart of what we know as Marbella