A two and a half hour flight over the Costa del Sol is the beautiful resort of Puente Romano, full of gardens. The drive from Malaga airport is less than 40 minutes, which makes it a very doable long weekend (although you’ll want to linger longer) and once on site, it’s an easy ten-minute coastal loop to downtown historic Marbella in one direction, or the lively Puerto Banus in the other.
The sprawling hotel feels both like an Andalusian town in its own right, complete with a glittering central plaza filled with restaurants, where locals and Premiership footballers flock to each night, and a seaside respite filled with shady corners amidst extraordinary subtropical gardens where only frogs caw and the song of larks disturbs the peace. We spotted both wild rabbits and dolphins on the beach at the foot of the resort.
Luxurious but with rustic touches, so it also feels homely. Think white wooden daybeds with Soho House-style striped cushions and delicate rocking chairs tucked under palm trees. The room decor is simple and modern, with lots of cream and greige, punctuated by yellow pillows and mirrored wardrobes. At the center of it all is the historic Puente Romano, the eponymous Roman stone bridge that has seen it all, dating back to the 1st century. It is now adjacent to that crowded square at night where people in gladiator sandals today sip yuzu margaritas at the Nobu hotel branch. As the resort was first built in the 1970s, the lush gardens are well established and provide much-needed shade from Marbella’s almost constant sunshine.
This is where the Spanish resort really stands out – it has a string of 18 restaurants and bars, all idiosyncratically designed rather than identikit hotel-style, from cuisines that stretch from Lebanon to Japan. I have to admit I only managed to eat and drink in, um, nine of them in four days, but every meal was perfectly cooked – even the poolside burgers at American restaurant Cheats and the huge crispy organic salads at Rachel’s Eco Love were memorable.
Outstanding dishes include the seven-course Omakase al Nobu tasting menu, where black cod with miso must be * really * great to beat the epic on-site people-watching; models sprinkled with a good chunk of the Premier League – and it is. Guacamole smashed right at our table in the hotel’s most typically Spanish restaurant, Sea Grill, went down a delight along with fresh Mediterranean sole and almost raw tuna.
Then there is the buffet breakfast by the sea, where tropical fruit alone could have satiated me all day. There is a discreet and excellent meze at the Middle Eastern garden Jardins Du Liban, gazpacho drunk on Balinese beach loungers accompanied by a DJ in El Chiringuito, which has the same vibe as its original Ibiza outpost. There’s also a branch of Barcelona’s Celicioso gluten-free bakery, and nearly impossible to get into Babette, an outpost of Michelin-starred chef Dani Garcia.
We enjoyed the truly homely atmosphere during our mid-term visit, with Nobu also happily accepting little ones and everywhere happy to offer smaller portions (and very generous ice cream portions for dessert) – but adult guests had too. many places to escape.
Where to start? A resort newspaper, the Daily Flash, lists the day’s activities, but it needs to be concise as there are so many. I spotted some British players at the Six Senses spa, where even the stained glass windows were filled with soothing waterfalls and a series of thermal pools were Insta-perfect. Novak Djokovic, who has a home locally, regularly plays ball-cracking in the huge tennis center – clay courts and clay courts galore, where my kids enjoyed so much on their first taste of the sport. which I hope Wimbledon will attract.
Most mornings there are free yoga and pilates classes and even water sports on the beach (for a fee). Three family pools have bridges and fountains. There are also plenty of adult-only spaces like La Concha, where a Maldivian-style pool is surrounded by loungers and overlooks a cocktail-filled bar. The gym is a micro village in its own right, a cavernous Third Space-style set-up, with an epic boxing ring, spinning studio and a busy schedule of classes.
For families, the kids’ club is a real attraction in its own right. Many European hotels call a kids club a cramped room filled with Ikea children’s furniture and a bored local teenager. Not here. London-based duo Sharkey and George have organized a busy schedule of activities (their reps fly to the resort to play even during the holidays, and have instantly become my children’s idols). The schedule for my five and seven year old included beach survival skills (making burrows and water bombs), science club, candle making, swimming in the kid’s club kidney-shaped pool, and dance shows. magic. It all takes place in a beautifully designed mansion with Smeg refrigerators full of snacks, craft equipment a la Hobbycraft and a treehouse playground that I would very happily live in for a summer.
At € 50 for a morning or afternoon session, it’s not cheap at all – as you could say about the resort in general – but the numbers are kept low and every kid I saw was asking me to come back the next day. Anyone worried that their kids are having too much fun or missing out on schoolwork can even book on-site tutoring sessions with Oxbridge-style friends. There is also a teen club in a separate area and a poolside mini club for under fours (the minimum age for the kids’ club) to escape the sun with parents, filled with puzzles, houses of dolls, Duplo and more.
Marbella has plenty of day trip options – we went no further than hiring the resort’s bikes (kid-sized and children’s caravan included) to ride the waterfront to the Old Town marina. But those who want to explore further can take a day trip to Moorish Grenada or even Gibraltar, go horse riding on the beach, take off-road buggy tours and river canyoning, or take the shorter uphill journey to Ronda, where an ancient arena dominates.
All rooms, starting with the “deluxe double”, have a terrace for lounging and admiring the tropical gardens, the beach or the swimming pools. The rooms are of adequate size: the bathroom alone in our junior suite was more spacious than our London kitchen-dining room. The two-bedroom deluxe suites are perfect for families, and none of the traditionally whitewashed buildings are more than three stories tall. Leave the windows open to fall asleep listening to the sound of nature swaying in the background. Adults might prefer to be close to the Plaza, to fall straight into bed from cocktails on its atmospheric sofas. Or you could opt for the € 18,000 in July Villa La Pereza with four bedrooms, pool, sundeck and gym, beach-facing balconies, and zero reason to leave (except maybe earning enough to pay for it).
The crowd during the school holidays is a mix of young London and New York families and beautiful people sporting £ 600 Dior sandals. It’s hard to think of anyone who wouldn’t love this place. The friendly staff can’t do enough for you: from running in the sun to shade umbrellas on poolside kids all day, to stopping a whim (be it a wealthy tech tycoon or a toddler) respectively with a mojito or a fruit kebab.
Low season, deluxe double rooms from € 407 / night, high season from € 891; puenteromano.com