To paraphrase the Foo Fighters slightly, I've got a confession to make. Not having been to Marbella before, I had only stereotypical images of the town to go on – gathered from stand-up comedians and blurry memories of equally blurry slides my grandparents brought back from a trip there in 1978. In my mind, stuffed straw donkeys and outsize sombreros mingled with high-rise blocks and package holidays. So, to find myself in the oasis of cool marble and Farrow and Ball-esque colours that is the Town House was a pleasant surprise.
Located in the orange blossom-filled old quarter of this golden mile of the Costa del Sol, the hotel cocoons you in a timeless, airy space. Tastefully chosen decor combines with a mixture of modern and antique-style furniture. So far, so Soho House. But what really makes the Town House is that, although you are in the heart of the bustle of Marbella – in a beautiful old square – the relaxed and quiet ambience of the hotel transports you to another world. (And unlike most stopovers in these parts, your wallet won’t get it in the neck in return.)
The atmosphere is like instant meditation – as though you've suddenly been injected with a syringe of liquid yoga. Retreating from the heat and bustle of the town, the cream calmness of the atrium will stop you in your tracks as you make your way to your individually designed room. Ours took us back to a bygone era, with a dark wood four-poster bed and colonial-style furnishings, and a pretty Andalusian-tiled bathroom.
Part of the ethos of the Town House, which opened in April 2004, appears to be to bring fellow guests together at breakfast. Amid the tea lights that burn ’round the cloc, the hotel provides the kind of delicate breakfast you need when you have the prospect of appearing at the glamorous Nikki Beach in a bikini later in the day. All guests help themselves to the buffet at the intimate hotel bar, while sharing stories of the night before or passing on tips as to where the best beaches and bars are. The atmosphere was reminiscent of backpacking days – but more upmarket of course.
Now we're grown-up, so we want our laid-back days served up with more luxury, and I was glad to see the rusting vending machines I remember from my teenage travels replaced by a gleaming chrome cappuccino machine. And the tales told by the pretty young things here are of afternoons spent cavorting on a huge day beds at Marbella beach clubs, dodging the spray of yet another bottle of champagne.
One of the best features of the Town House is the roof terrace. Covered in cream cushions and featuring discreet speakers wafting out old ambient Ibiza classics, it's a relaxing area in which to escape the hurly-burly of summertime midday Marbella, or to enjoy late-night drinks looking out across the moonlit terracotta-tiled rooftops. Look down over the cobbled streets and, among the pedestrianised warren of shops, you’ll also spy some great bars and restaurants, such as Pintxo for tapas – and it’s also only 20 minutes from the coast with the most, Nikki Beach of Miami and St Tropez fame. Top tip though, is to buy a good map.
We struggled slightly with finding the Town House, and half a dozen late-night U-turns and a detour through Marbella’s pedestrianised streets in a scene out of Herbie Goes Bananas ensued. Fortunately, by the next morning my boyfriend and I had established that I wasn’t really stupid, and that his parents had been married when he was born – but to save incurring the wrath of locals who had to fling themselves against shop windows to avoid us, arm yourself with a decent street plan.
It's also worth taking all of your Smith ‘In the know’ info with you, as the Town House prefers not to bombard you with information leaflets, leaving you more to your own devices. There are details provided of its companion hotel the Beach House, which is located out of town and specialises in yoga sessions; and if you ask the staff for recommendations, they'll also be happy to guide you. They are invariably polite and helpful, wafting around the hotel in crisp white, all smiles and tan, and more laid-back than a limbo champion. (The laissez-faire is best summed up by the honesty bar on the roof terrace. Rather than there being a mini-bar in each room, all the drinks are in a fridge on the top floor, and you have to write down what you've taken.)
Clearly, a few pennies have been spent to create this atmosphere of relaxed decadence. It is the sort of place you wish your own house might be more like, if only your flow of creativity didn’t keep being interrupted by practical necessities. The best way to describe the Town House is by its name. It is like being in someone's home, rather than a hotel – especially unique in a part of the world populated by pricey five-star hotels. And if you want to escape the trappings of hectic modern life – satellite TV, phones, information overload – then there is nowhere better suited. The only Blackberries that fit in here are in the jam at breakfast.