The financial experts, (if any still exist) say if Spain goes, so does the eurozone, so it’s quite serious. So when you come in to land at Madrid’s Barajas Airport, you look out of the window with some trepidation.
But you have nothing to worry about, everything works as efficiently as always and after clearing customs and immigration, it’s easy to make your way to domestic departures for your connector flight to Malaga on the Costa Del Sol. You could take a train or coach, but boy, that’s time consuming and if you are on a limited time schedule as I was, it’s just not worth it.
When you arrive at Malaga Airport in Andalusia the first things you notice are the cloudless blue sky and the heat. Andalusia can get hot, so if you arrive from cooler climes, dress appropriately. Picking up a taxi to take you to your hotel is a pleasure. Again, you could take a bus, but after a 9-hour flight with a screaming child centimetres away, I thought a bit of luxury was called for.
Gazing at the scenery as you make your way along the coast, you start to see clues about the financial state of Spain. Massive new blocks of apartments stand half built and abandoned, forlorn monuments to the huge financial crash which started with property in this country and, when the bubble burst, nearly took the country with it. Then suddenly, almost as a surprise, you come around a corner, down a slight hill and there it is, the place you will stay for a couple of weeks, Puerto Banus.
Puerto Banus is, without a doubt, Spain’s answer to Monte Carlo and down at the harbour you certainly can see the most amazing motor yachts. The coastal strip between Marbella and Puerto Banus is known as the “Golden Mile” because of the multimillion-euro apartments dotting the shoreline harbouring the rich and famous.
In the “bad old days” when the Costa Del Sol was known as the Costa Del Crime because of all the villains from London who turned up to hide from the law in the Spanish sun, the police presence was very obvious, but now in calmer times the gunfights are a thing of the past and everyone just goes about their business in a normal way.
The top sport now of an evening is to sit at one of the many bars on the restaurant strip, sipping a glass of red wine and do a spot of celebrity spotting. Was that Pierce Brosnan? Or that Kate Winslett? Hang on, I’m sure that was Jude Law. They are all often there.
Another thing to do is to watch the parade of expensive cars do the “slow drive” past the bars, Bentleys, Ferraris, Aston Martins, Lamborghinis Jaguars, all burbling their way by at 5km/* , all with the obligatory blonde in the passenger seat. If you ever want to know what money smells like, come to Puerto Banus and take a deep breath, a stark contrast to the rest of Spain.
When it comes to bars and restaurants, you are spoilt for choice, but sadly, as this town really is an international playground, you will battle to find anything which even remotely resembles Spanish food. And it’s difficult to even find Spanish people here. In fact, the restaurant I had recommended to me most often was Greek.
The most expensive establishments are at the western end of the strip, gradually getting cheaper the further east you go. I found a very pleasant place about half way down the waterfront, which was acceptable price-wise, but still pricey. Puerto Banus is two or three times more expensive than other places on the Costa Del Sol.
The beaches around Puerto Banus are typically Spanish, with row after row of sun loungers available for hire at quite exorbitant prices. At least you miss out on the brightly coloured plastic thatch sun umbrellas you get at other Spanish resort towns.
If you want a touch of the “true Spain” you will have to go inland, not too far, where villages still exist where no one speaks English, a donkey still causes traffic jams and the barman at the local tapas will still chalk up your bill on the bar counter in front of you.
Whatever you do, don’t think Puerto Banus is the real Spain. What it is, is an international playground for really rich people doing silly things. But an experience it is and if you can cope with the eye-watering prices and expensive apartments, you will have a really nice time in an area of Spain which seems to be in a bubble and at odds with the rest of its realities and agonies.
Would I go back? In a heartbeat.