The gem of the Costa del Sol, the playground of the rich and famous, the Miami of Spain, Marbella has been labelled many things over the years (good and bad) and there’s a reason for each of them.
Sure, you’ll find celebrities sipping champagne in the most exclusive clubs and restaurants, sports cars rumbling through Puerto Banús and superyacht owners comparing the size of their boats. But you’ll also find beaches, culture, history, exciting gastronomy, breathtaking mountain walks and hotels that will make others you’ve stayed at before feel incredibly, average. Or at least that’s how I felt staying at Hotel Don Pepe Gran Meliá.
From the moment I entered the five-star hotel, I was treated like royalty. After speaking with the team at the front desk myself and my partner were taken to the ‘Red Level’, an exclusive area for guests with this package. We were offered water and a glass of cava (both of which we accepted) and sipped happily while our host checked us in and informed us of the hotel amenities: three swimming pools, a spa, tennis court, sunbeds, solarium, shopping gallery, gym, two restaurants and multiple cocktail and snack bars.
Before heading to our room we grabbed a quick plate of cold meats from the buffet and another glass of bubbles. From 9am to 11pm, drinks and small plates are available for guests to enjoy as they please – another wonderful amenity of being a Red Level guest.
Hotel Don Pepe Gran Meliá offers a variety of rooms from standard doubles to suites, penthouses, and family rooms. The style is modern, with crisp white sheets on the huge queen size beds, and a large wet room, with marble finishings. Most rooms also have a balcony, and lucky for us, we were facing the sea – the perfect spot to watch the sun go down. Other amenities in the room include a sofa, which could be pulled out into a bed if needed, a fully stocked mini-fridge, dressing gowns, and complimentary water.
There are two main restaurants in the hotel, Tahini, which is a sushi bar on the seafront, and Erre & Urrechu, a brand new grill-wine bar from chef Iñigo Urrechu. After hearing such high reviews of Erre, and curious as to what made it so unique, we put on our best outfits and headed down to the restaurant for an evening meal.
As we entered Erre we couldn’t help but notice a huge cooking area with three different grills. We soon learned that each one had a different type of wood: holk wood for meats, olive wood for fish, and speto and orange wood for vegetables. It now made sense why the restaurant was named Erre, which means ‘burning’ in Basque.
Starters offered things like foie-gras with sweetbreads, tuna belly tartare and three different types of steak tartare! We went for the tuna and the traditional steak tartare, alongside a plate of olives and fresh bread, all of which was delicious. What we didn’t expect was for our steak tartare to be made at our table. In a huge spinning bowl, the waiter added each ingredient, carefully balancing the flavours, before shaping it and placing it before us. As we made our way through the small feast, the sommelier brought us out a bottle of Albariño to go with our meal (I was having mostly seafood so we went for white wine) – it was delicious, with just the perfect amount of acidity.
Eager to try something from each of the grills we selected eggplant glazed with miso, grilled octopus with a creamy potato puree, and a sirloin steak, which came with roasted vegetables and crispy skin on fries. My octopus was cooked to perfection, smokey from the wood and slightly charred but still tender. Meanwhile, my partner was in heaven eating his steak, well-seasoned and still blushing as he likes it. I think I ate the bowl of eggplant almost all to myself; sweet and salty from the sauce and still with some bite, the courgettes were possibly some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
After saying I was too full for pudding, after taking a bite of my partner’s cheesecake, I couldn’t help but go back in for more – much to his dismay. It was creamy but not too sweet and came with a thin custard-style sauce, delicately flavoured with a little cinnamon.
Breakfast was a treat too, especially on the Red Level. We sat on the terrace, overlooking the sea, feasting on fresh pastries, fresh fruit and poached eggs on toast, while being serenaded by a live saxophone player – I wish every morning could start like this.
Out and About
Though there’s plenty to do at the hotel itself, you are after all in the heart of Marbella. If you’re looking for culture, head to the charming old town. This ancient walled centre retains nearly all of its original 16th-century layout, even though chichi art galleries, fab tapas bars, quirky boutiques and ice cream shops populate its cobbled streets today – enough to keep you busy for hours!
At its heart is Plaza de Los Naranjos, also known as ‘Orange Square’, named for its abundance of orange trees. A tourist hotspot but well worth it for the ambience.
If beach clubs, cocktails, and DJs are more your thing, head to Ocean Club. Just down the road in Marbella’s famous marina, Puerto Banús, Ocean Club offers a mix of relaxing, partying, and exciting gastronomy. Order waiter service at your sunbed and chill out with a cocktail as the DJs create a relaxing ambience that gradually turns into a party atmosphere. When the beat picks up, dance under the palm trees then plunge into the huge saltwater pool to cool off. Feeling hungry? Fresh sushi and stone-baked pizzas are just a couple of delights on the menu. Book ahead, it gets busy!
There’s a lot of mixed opinions and rumours about Marbella. Some true, many not so true. It’s an exciting place to explore, thriving in peak season; It’s not just full of partiers, in fact, Marbella has much more class and history than that. At Hotel Don Pepe Gran Meliá, everyone is welcome: families, friends, and couples. There’s plenty of space and certain pools are reserved for adults only…
The Worst Thing
There really is very little I could fault this hotel on. The service was first class, so attentive and welcoming, and the food I ate was as delicious as it promised.
The Best Thing
I’m not someone who sits still easily. I can’t spend a full day lounging by a pool – even one as nice as Gran Meliá, so having a gym on-site, the beachfront just a few steps away, and the iconic mountain of La Concha behind me (which I certainly recommend hiking if you’re into that), offered the perfect mix of relaxation and adventure.
Rooms start at €210 for a classic room, varying depending on the time and length of your stay. If you’re heading to Gran Meliá for a special occasion, it’s definitely worth checking out the Red Level Suites or even one of the Penthouses. Some suites also have three bedrooms, if you’re heading to the area with a large group.
C/ José Meliá, s/n
+34 952 77 03 00