Nick Clarke: Once it was strictly A-list – now they're all in on the act


These days it's better known for silicon-filled beach babes than for truly famous Hollywood stars, but Marbella was once the St Tropez of southern Spain, attracting the likes of Ava Gardner and Cary Grant to its Med-fringed shores.

But despite what the champagne-spraying photos of TOWIE's cast at Ocean Club would have you believe, the resort still clings to some of its stardust, with a slew of stylish hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs that have stood the test of time.

One such is the Marbella Club Hotel, whose guests have included Audrey Hepburn and Laurence Olivier. Found on the Golden Mile – a prime piece of Marbella real estate flanked by the mansions of millionaires – it was originally built as a private residence by the legendary Marbella playboy and founder Príncipe Alfonso von Hohenlohe.

With Beverly Hills-style villa accommodation and an on-site Thalasso spa, it's hardly surprising that the guestbook has held its own despite a deluge of bad press tarnishing Marbella's shine (political scandals have plagued the town since its mayor, Jesús Gil, was imprisoned for embezzlement, and a tasteless show following the lives of bored housewives did it no favours either).

Yet Marbella still keeps the A-list rubbing shoulders with the D-list. Michelle Obama flew in for a four-day visit in 2010. Her stay of choice? The five-star Villa Padierna, another prestigious place to slip between high-threadcount sheets at night and look out towards Morocco in the morning.

A classic reservation is Villa Tiberio, where Dame Shirley Bassey, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sean Connery have chowed down on Italian cuisine against a backdrop of scented botanical gardens.

The hottest table now is La Sala, recently opened but already famed for its wooden decking that is more people-watching perch than terrace. The food? Who knows. The stick-thin socialites who flock there in barely-there Carolina Herrera creations come to see and be seen, eschewing solids for sustenance of the liquid variety.

While Marbella's new generation of "slebs" head to beachside drinking dens such as Nikki Beach and, more recently, Buddha Beach, the A-list still prefers the more elegant environs of the quayside playpen that is Puerto Banús (or "Port of Abuse", as insiders call it).

Here size is everything, and super-yachts, supercars and supermodels jostle for space in a marina crammed with designer labels. Thankfully, the young 'uns stick to one end while the older crowd enjoys more sophisticated tipples at Sinatra's at the other.

Nightclub queen Olivia Valere retains its crown as the chic-est place to mingle when you're single (just ask Mariah Carey and Naomi Campbell, who love the paparazzi-free secrecy of its 1,001 Arabian Nights-inspired courtyards).

Those gorgeous places to sleep, eat, drink and dance, those white-sand beaches and a cobbled Old Town juxtaposed against a super-sleek marina – all are still there for the taking. Trashy flash in the pan it ain't.