For first-timers heading to Marbella, the westerly drive along the coast reveals apartment block after apartment block of people living out their version of the Spanish dream.
What once was a land of white-washed fishing villages has morphed into an urban sprawl, complete with shopping complexes and pub-style restaurants geared towards British tourists.
As you start to get closer to Marbella the landscape and architecture begins to improve and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in an upscale south Florida neighbourhood of delightfully decorated stuccoed villas and manicured lawns.
With Marbella’s reputation of being a hangout for the rich and famous, it is not the obvious choice when it comes to an affordable summer destination. However, don’t be put off as there are bargains to be had if you know where to look.
Staying in the Old Town, will give you a feel for how Marbella was before the developers moved in and before larger hotels stole the show.
By going self-catering you can be selective and benefit from supermarket prices rather than be forced to eat out every day.
One popular chiringuitos in Marbella is Los Sardinales on Playa de los Alicates where they specialize in seafood. Grilled sardines or tortillas (Spanish omelettes) are actually a local speciality and are very good value for money.
Strolling the seafront Paseo Marìtimo is enjoyable and free bit of escapism for many. If you are on a budget, you will need to resist the bars and restaurants as they command a premium price due to their location by the water.
It’s easy to forget that away from the tourist areas, Marbella is a large working town where Spaniards go about their daily lives just like anywhere else in Spain. With some careful observation, you can see how locals are wise in saving money and still enjoy this beautiful place.
Learning the bus schedules, you can easily get to anywhere you need to go on a shoestring. Of course if you are travelling with children then buses may not be an option. Getting to and from Malaga Airport, you may decide upon a direct transfer, especially to avoid walking from the bus stop or carrying your luggage on and off the bus. To save money on the taxi, make sure that you book in advance, agree your price first and therefore avoid a running meter.
Locals in Marbella or anywhere else on the Costa del Sol, still enjoy their siesta in the afternoon. Some spend the morning at the beach or tour the sights before having lunch at around two o’clock. Usually you’ll see residents heading to where there is a blackboard outside a bar which has a menu with prices for a three-course lunch all included. A great little tip if you fancy more than a snack but don’t want to pay over the odds for it.
After you have eaten, why not head back to your apartment to recharge the batteries for a night on the town. At around 10pm onwards, it’s common to see families and couples taking a stroll along the seafront or stopping by the Ana Marìa Flamenco. This is to see the show that people call a Marbella institution.
Marbella is a place that you can still catch a glimpse of TV stars, Hollywood actors, or even Barack Obama, who was recently there for a meeting. Yet with a bit of careful planning, you can enjoy the same celebrity spots, but without having to break your budget.