It’s been quite a while since I’ve been somewhere I’ve never visited before. And though I’ve never been happier in Prague than I am now, I’m always open to sunnier and greener pastures should they present themselves. So keeping with GnomeTrotting tradition, I’ve spent some time during our trip trying to decide if Marbella could be home.
Marbella is one of Europe’s premier beach destinations on the southern coast of Spain. Normally, I find beach towns a little depressing – half dead during off-season and way too busy during peak season, full of lonely leather-faced people. But Marbella has all the laid back and jovial vibes of a southern Spanish city even in the dead of winter (although I suspect summer months are an overcrowded nightmare). The boardwalk feels relaxed and slightly upscale, while the old town neighborhood is full of adorable little alleys with traditional flats and tabernas for live music, tapas, and sangria.
And not to be overshadowed by the ocean at its feet, Marbella is flanked by mountains, so you can have any kind of outdoor experience you like at your fingertips. It’s like Malibu to the south and Jurassic Park to the north. Though it’s small, it has a lot of character – far more than any beach town I’ve ever visited.
I find Spanish travelers to be one of the most obnoxious groups of people, but when they’re in their own environment, there’s absolutely nothing bothersome about them. The people of Marbella are nice and friendly, though they’re probably a little more in-your-face than I prefer. They’re less likely to yield to oncoming pedestrians than Czechs, but that’s because Czechs are the most considerate people on earth. Strangers on the street are not shy about approaching you to ask for money or sell you something, and since this is a tourist hub, anyone that looks even remotely foreign is probably more of a target. But generally speaking, they’re not a bad people to be around.
Having bought groceries and eaten out at a variety of places, food in Marbella has proven to be spectacular. Though it’s pricier than you would expect for Spain, if you want to treat yourself to an octopus leg once in a while, there’s probably few places in Europe that do it better. Its cultural and geographic proximity to Africa also means that this is one of the best places to get authentic Moroccan food outside of Morocco. Between the varied culinary offerings and the non-stop access to manchego cheese, Marbella is simply an ideal place to spend all day snacking on really quality ingredients. I could certainly live with that.
What I would find it hard to live with is the dining schedule. Nearly all decent restaurants and bars close for several hours in the middle of the day, usually not opening up again until 7 or 8 pm, and while I love to do as the Romans, I also like to eat my meals whenever I want, which is usually not after 8 pm. But having an early dinner is basically impossible here if you’re dining out. On the other hand, I don’t know if it’s the sound of the ocean or the late-night table full of tapas and sangria, but I’ve maybe never slept better.
As one of the only places in continental Europe where the weather in February doesn’t make you want to kill yourself, Marbella isn’t cheap. Most of the apartment buildings are used at least for part of the year as vacation rentals. And when someone can stand to make a ton of money off tourists, they don’t have much incentive to offer deals to people living here long term. But based on the local demographics, I would say it’s a popular retirement destination. If you’re not dining at a beach-front restaurant every night, living and eating here won’t cost an arm and a leg even if rent is steep.
Public transport in Marbella is provided by local buses, though the town is so small that it feels like almost anything is 5-15 minutes away on foot. Also worth noting is that although it does not have its own airport, transport to and from the Malaga airport is also provided by a simple and frequent direct bus. But private transfers between the two are readily available – they’re just upwards of €80. But if you have access to Google Maps, traveling from Marbella to nearby areas and to the airport is fairly affordable and hassle-free by bus. Speaking Spanish doesn’t hurt either.
Total Livability Score 7/10
Although the influx of tourists in the summer months might be overwhelming, Marbella is a fun and peaceful city that feels warm and welcoming. Even if I decided not to move here anytime soon, Marbella wouldn’t be a bad place to retire.