Where is it?
A two-and-a-half-hour flight away on the Costa Del Sol is the beautiful garden-meandering resort of Puente Romano. The drive from Malaga airport is under 40 minutes, making it a very doable long weekend (even if you want to stay longer), and once in situ it’s an easy ten minute coastal cycle to Marbella Old Town in one direction, or busy Puerto Banus in the other.
The huge hotel feels both like its own Andalusian city, complete with a brilliantly restaurant-filled central Plaza where both locals and Premier League footballers alike flock every evening, and a seaside sanctuary full of shady nooks amid extraordinary subtropical gardens where only croaking frogs and singing sky larks disturb the peace. We saw both wild rabbits and dolphins on the beach at the foot of the resort.
Luxury, but with rustic elements so it feels homely too. Think white wooden beds with Soho House-esque striped cushions and soft rocking chairs tucked under palm trees. The room decor is simple and modern, with a lot of cream and greige, characterized by yellow cushions and mirror cabinets. 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 first century. It is now next to the night-filled Plaza where people in gladiator sandals today sip yuzu margaritas at the hotel’s branch of Nobu. Since the resort was first built in the seventies, the lush gardens are well established, offering much-needed shade from Marbella’s almost constant sunshine.
This is where the Spanish resort really stands out – it has a range of 18 restaurants and bars, all idiosyncratically designed rather than identical hotel style, from cuisines ranging from Lebanese to Japanese. Granted, I only managed to eat and drink in, uh, nine of them over the course of four days, but every meal was cooked to perfection — even the poolside burgers at American Diner Cheats and big, crunchy organic salads at Rachel’s Eco Love were memorable .
Standout dishes include the seven-course Omakase tasting menu at Nobu, where the black cod with miso has to be *really* great to beat the truly epic folk-watching at the venue; models sprinkled with a good portion of the Premier League – and that’s it. Guacamole smashed right at our table at the hotel’s most typical Spanish restaurant, the Sea Grill, served up a treat alongside fresh Mediterranean sole and almost raw tuna.
Then there’s the breakfast buffet by the sea, where the tropical fruit alone could have kept me full all day. There’s underrated, excellent meze at the Middle Eastern garden spot Jardins Du Liban, gazpacho slurped on Balinese beach beds accompanied by a DJ at El Chiringuito, which has the same vibe as the original Ibiza outpost. There’s even a branch of Barcelona’s gluten-free bakery Celicioso, and it’s almost impossible to get into Babette, an outpost of Michelin-starred chef Dani Garcia.
We appreciated the really family-friendly atmosphere during our half-time visit, and even Nobu welcomed little ones and were everywhere happy to offer smaller portions (and very generous portions of ice cream for dessert) – but adult guests also had plenty of places to escape to.
Where should I start? A resort newspaper, the Daily Flash, lists the day’s activities, but it has to be brief as there are so many. I saw some England players at the Six Senses spa, where even the glass windows were filled with relaxing waterfalls and a series of thermal pools were Insta-perfect. Novak Djokovic, who has a home locally, regularly smashes balls at the huge tennis center – lots of hard and clay courts, where my kids enjoyed their first taste of the sport so much that I hope Wimbledon beckons.
There are free yoga and pilates classes most mornings, and water sports available on the beach as well (at an additional cost). Three family-friendly pools have bridges and fountains. There are also plenty of adults-only spots, such as La Concha, where a Maldivian-style pool is surrounded by daybeds and backs onto a cocktail-filled bar. The gym is its own micro-village, a cavernous Third Space style, with an epic boxing ring, spinning studio and packed schedule.
For families, the children’s club is an attraction in itself. Many a European hotel calls a poky room full of Ikea children’s furniture and a bored local teenager the kids’ club. Not here. London duo Sharkey and George have set up a packed schedule of activities (their reps fly into the resort to play during the holidays too, and instantly became the kids’ idols). The schedule for my five and seven year old included beach survival skills (hut building and water bombs), science club, candle lighting, swimming in the kids club’s own kidney shaped pool and magic shows. It all takes place in a beautifully designed villa with Smeg fridges full of snacks, arts and crafts equipment a la Hobbycraft and a treehouse playground that I would very much like to live in for a summer.
At €50 for a morning or afternoon session, it’s far from cheap – as you can say about the resort in general – but the numbers are kept low and every child I saw asked to come back the next day. Anyone worried about their kids having too much fun or missing out on schoolwork can even book tutoring sessions on site with Oxbridge-style buffs. There’s also a youth club in a separate area, and a poolside mini club for the under-fours (minimum age for kids’ club) to escape the sun with their parents, filled with jigsaws, dollhouses, Duplo and more.
Marbella is packed with day-trip options: we went no further than renting the resort’s bikes (kids’ sizes and baby trailers included) to whiz along the seafront to the old town’s marina. But those who want to explore further can take a day trip to Moorish Grenada or even Gibraltar, ride horses on the beach, go on off-road buggy tours and go river rafting, or take the shorter trip uphill to Ronda, where an old bullring dominates.
All rooms, starting at ‘double deluxe’, come with a terrace where you can relax and look out over the tropical gardens, the beach or the pools. The rooms are a decent size – the bathroom alone in our junior suite was more spacious than the London kitchen. Two-bedroom deluxe suites are perfect for families – and none of the traditional-style whitewashed buildings are more than three storeys high. Leave the windows open to fall asleep to the sound of nature tearing in the background. Adults may prefer to be near the Plaza, to fall straight into bed from cocktails on the atmospheric sofas. Or you could go for the €18,000-a-July-night four-bedroom Villa La Pereza, with pool, solarium and gym, beach-facing balconies and no reason to ever travel (except maybe to earn enough to pay for the).
The school holiday crowd is a mix of young London and New York families and ‘gramming beautiful people wearing £600 Dior sliders. It’s hard to think of anyone who wouldn’t love this place. The friendly staff can’t do enough for you – from braving the sun to keeping shaded umbrellas over the kiddie pool all day, to stopping a tantrum (be it from moneyed tech tycoons or toddlers) with a mojito or fruit kebab, respectively.
Low season, double room deluxe is from €407/night, high season starts at €891; puenteromano.com