Something funny was going on – Marbella was doing weird things to our sense of time. Church bells were ringing for midday as we emerged, clumsy and blinking, into the glorious sunlight on the roof terrace for breakfast.
As we settled into the cushions under a white canopy, we realised we had been seduced into a more relaxed approach to life. Green mountains rose to one side, the Med glistened to the other, and behind us – almost forgotten in London – was my body clock.
Despite our ninja-like stealth, a waiter immediately appeared once we had left our decadently comfortable room. Having surmised we were thinking breakfasty thoughts, he carried salads of figs, pineapple, mango and kiwi, accompanied by warm croissants, chilled butter, strawberry jam, honey, and chewy, crusty bread and light coffee and a jug of warm milk. Unlike us, it looked perfectly prepared on its white Villeroy & Boch tablewear with shining sugar tongs.
Given that there are only seven rooms, the waiter would have guessed that we would be arriving at some point, Mrs Smith pointed out wisely as I remained astonished at his foresight.
A light breeze blew as we awaited our smoked salmon and eggs, and admired Old Marbella’s red-tiled roofs. Hotel Claude’s 17th-century building is next to the church that had reminded us of our indulgently slack approach to meal times. One of its towers was emblazoned with blue tiles in a nod to southern Spain’s Moorish past.
In our defence, it had been late by the time we had had seafood and rosé for dinner at one of the pavement cafés in the old town, where fairy lights intertwined with tropical blossom. Meanwhile, the turndown pixies had been behind our carved wooden door and closed the shutters. With the lights off, we were cocooned from the world.
It’s not as if we had planned a busy day, quite the reverse, but we felt we ought to do something. The problem with finishing breakfast so late is that it leaves the conundrum of what to do when you would normally be eating lunch.
These Smiths are not great fans of the sun, so we decided to go to the spa hooked up to the hotel. It’s a walk beside the beach to get there, so we skirted along beneath palm trees and restaurant awnings, and took in Marbella proper. At one point, a four-mast frigate took up quite a lot of the view; further along, four girls with a chi-chi dog appeared off the beach in heels, with perfect make-up and hair. We noticed that long-term residents sport the sort of deep, deep tans that would make Bob Monkhouse look as pasty as, well, us.
At first, it did seem odd to be in a spa overlooking a beach but we got the hang of it. After we’d put a few perfunctory lengths behind us, we settled into the serious business of relaxing. Don’t think we didn’t mix things up, there’s not a bubbling tub or lounger overlooking the Med that we didn’t sample.
To add to the joy, windsurfers and kitesurfers would occasionally flit past at reckless speed – it looked like a lot of hard work. We drowned out the sounds of the people cycling on the spot, the whooping boxercisers or the semi-submerged old ladies dancing to techno.
As a town, Marbella does not enjoy an untarnished reputation, we did see occasional two-for-one beer offers next to breakfast menus – you see, other people were still ordering breakfast! – but a Spanish Southend it is not. Technically, we did have fish and chips for lunch, but our lightly fried sea bream came with salad was no grease-up on the pier.
Desiree, Hotel Claude’s glam manager, told us the gin palaces are moored in a swanky marina outside town and they attract a different scene. We had brought our own preconceptions of the whole place, but the reality of Old Marbella was a happy surprise. A potter around the narrow alleys revealed elderly ladies watering plants that tumbled over roofs and balconies of white-washed homes. There is a castle wall, which is part vertical garden and home to a tiny chapel. It’s all very charming – there are even flower baskets built into the streetlights.
Hotel Claude was once the summer home of the wife of Napoleon III and retains its old charm, while the decoration is contemporary and cool – a Cadbury’s-purple pouffe sits in the atrium.
A polished wooden ceiling soared over our rooms, which had all the mod cons. A Moorish-style arch divided bedroom from bathroom – replete with Molton Brown, bath towels and slippers, and even a completely unnecessary heated towel rail.
With sunset, we returned to sofas on the roof terrace, where candles were lit as we looked down on the palm trees. Plinky-plonky music played from speakers built into the terracotta-toned walls. We whetted our appetites with Tanqueray G&Ts and the chilled cava that had greeted our arrival at the lily-scented reception.
Desiree had recommended an excellent spot for dinner. As we swayed home – extravagantly late again – live flamenco vibrated around the square. At the hotel’s stucco façade, a brace of couples headed past in search of dinner. Clearly, we still had plenty to learn about Marbella life.