Welcome to Marbella

Trip Start Apr 25, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Our Skoda takes us out of Madrid. We're beginning our long journey from Madrid to the coastal town of Marbella in the Andalucía region. With no map in hand and a just a few written directions from the internet, we hit the road. After a few wrong turns, we stop at a gas station and purchase some snacks and the much needed map. Mike will be doing all the driving since I don't know how to drive manual. Poor guy, he's at the mercy of my navigation skills.
An hour south of Madrid, the flat, dry plains remind me of driving on Highway 5 in California from SF to L.A., except there are no billboards advertising beer or fast food eateries. It still hasn't hit me that I'm in Spain. Highways in Spain are no more than two or three lanes, and people drive FAST. It was something that we needed to get used to. We'll be driving and in our rear-view mirrors we suddenly spot the edge of a bumper-you can't even see the entire car since it's riding your tail so closely! Crazy!
The Michelin directions take us through mountainous valleys like those found in Lake Tahoe and hilltops dotted with acres of olive orchards like the vineyards in Napa Valley. It's amazingly beautiful. The drive is a good six to eight hours. Once we see signs indicating we're in Malaga, we're relieved. Just another 30 minutes to Marbella or so. Having reached the Costa del Sol area, Mike and I are excited to relax for a few days before heading to Valencia and Barcelona. To our left, we see the sparkling hues of blue of the Atlantic Ocean. Mercedes, BMW's, and a few Porsche Cheyennes pass us. Obviously this area has some wealth. We don't know much about Marbella. Mike found a B&B back in February of this year that he wanted to stay at and visit, so here we are.
La Villa Marbella, located in what is called Old Town, is a charming 4-star hotel. Upon our arrival, we're greeted warmly by Shane who tells us to climb the narrow, small steps leading to the upstairs terrace. The evening sun highlights the sweeping valleys of mountain ranges behind us. It's gorgeous up here. The air is fresh. We are given a glass of white wine and chat with our host for awhile. As the sun settles behind the mountains, the air begins to cool down and we go to our suite located down the cobble-stone path from the main building.
Old town is charming. It's reminiscent of the towns, Praiano or Positano, along the Amalfi Coast in Italy with the narrow streets and the terraced buildings. Our first night in Marbella, we eat at Bar Altamirano, which came highly recommended by Shane. A good 15 minute walk, Bar Altamirano is like a sports-bar, noisy and bustling with activity. There is outside dining, but we decide to eat inside. There are a lot of tourists here, and the walls are covered with banners from soccer teams around the world. We immediately take to the place and its liveliness. Two large Spanish families on either side of us are roaring with laughter and conversation. Several Dutch and German tourists with friends and family are busy eating platters of fried fish, calamari, and gambas a la plancha (grilled shrimps).
Shane told us to try the chipirones (deep-fried baby squids). We order that and a suggestion from our waiter. He describes to us in his limited English what he'll bring. Not understanding, we nod our heads "yes" in excitement. The chipirones and small fried fish resembling sardines arrive. Fried-goodness perfected! Both are incredibly tasty, just battered lightly and the natural saltiness of the sea lends plenty of flavor to the seafood. The house appetizer served to us free, were boquerones (a type of anchovy first marinated in vinegar, then drenched in olive oil and fresh garlic) with a mixture of piquillo peppers and sweet onions, along with some bread. Mike took instantly to the boquerones, which eventually becomes his favorite dish in Spain. The servings are large, so come with a hearty appetite. Our main course is pan-fried gilthead (white Dorado fish) in butter with loads of garlic and olive oil. Simply prepared, it is one of the best fish dishes I've had.
The remainder of the night is spent strolling about in Old Town, which is markedly different than the rest of Marbella. Old Town has that warm, inviting feel of Old World Spain-white washed buildings, black wrought-iron balconies, narrow cobble-stone paths, and tiny plazas. Some of the buildings date back to the early 1500s and are falling apart. Impressive it's maintained its character as the rest of Marbella is slowly becoming more modern.
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