Along a coastal drive, the Alboran Sea crashes to the left, and the rock-faced Montes de Málaga speeds along to the right. Fleets of bleach-white buildings moored atop rolling hills mirror the frothy wave caps opposite. I am in Málaga, one of the oldest cities in Europe, and I’m heading for southern Spain’s party capital, Marbella.
Regarded as the “Spanish Cannes”, Marbella is a charming city filled with diverse culinary options and one hell of a nightlife scene. At a distance from the jostling tourist hub of Marbella’s city center and its Old Town district lies Anantara Villa Padierna Palace Resort, a luxury hotel set on a sprawling acreage of manicured golf courses, hidden villas, blue-tiled fountains, and lots and lots of Italian marble sculptures.
Entering Anantara, you’re greeted by a cavernous lobby – the belly of the main building where most of the rooms are contained – featuring a carved out center that is bathed in light. Millennial-pink walls offer a highly Instagrammable backdrop to the hotel’s curated art collection, which is so Italian in origin (Renaissance era to be specific) that you might think you’ve stumbled into the wrong European country by accident.
Upon entrance, to your left, a terrace restaurant called La Loggia (which has an incredible breakfast buffet in the morning) overlooks the links. Satellite dining options extend across the property, from its bespoke Dine by Design experience to 99 Sushi, a renowned spot to gobble down the freshest sashimi in town. There’s also the nearby beachfront Club de Mar that belongs to Anantara and is only a short ride away by a hotel-provided transportation service.
Like Dubai, Marbella represents a highly diverse population, with people flocking to its sandy shores from every corner of the world. With Brexit looming in the UK, the British population is absconding from Marbella, but as quickly as they leave, they are replaced by hosts of families from Russia, Scandinavia, and the Middle East. It is a city that caters to luxury tastes – and Anantara Villa Padierna Palace is their chosen place of respite.
However, I’m not here solely for a serene hotel experience, but also to celebrate a fashion collection that has its origins right here in Spain. Homegrown brand All Things Mochi by designer Aya Tabari was the ostensible co-host of our trip and helped design the itinerary that would introduce us to the beauty of the Spanish coast. All Things Mochi’s tradition of using local craftspeople to create the collections in the places that inspire Tabari means the new ‘Spanish’ collection is tinged with elements from flamenco fiestas and Tomatino festivals, as well as vibrant embroidery details.
After strolling through the property grounds, I headed up to my room, where something unexpected awaited me: a fluffy bathrobe embroidered with my name in rainbow colors on the front and the words “All Things Mochi x Anantara” on the back. It served as a signpost of what’s to come: an intimate, thoughtfully curated experience that showcased the best of what the hotel and the homegrown fashion label have to offer. Dressed in the robe, I thrust open my windows to be greeted by a stunning sight.
Across from my position on the starboard side of the hotel was its famous double-story spa, which houses 2,000 square meters of Roman baths, treatment rooms, a hammam, and a pool. “I’ll be seeing you later,” I murmured in the direction of the spa, already picturing myself unwinding with a much-needed massage. But first, it was time to explore. Our first night took us to Old Town, where we feasted on Spanish tapas at Taberna La Niña de El Pisto. The atmosphere was so cozy and unpretentious that it felt a lot like dining at someone’s home – if that home happened to be one of the best restaurants in Marbella.
Next, we wound our way through the narrow, charming streets of Old Town to a tiny bar, where I witnessed a traditional flamenco performance. As ribald Caló poetry burst forth from the performers and the seated dancers stomped and clapped along in rhythm while a dancer twirled and clacked, I got emotional. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen humans do. They turned their bodies into instruments of percussion, and the timing and intricacy of every move must have taken a lifetime to learn. As if to illustrate my point, the patriarch of the group finished up the performance with the agility of a much younger man.
After a satisfying breakfast at La Loggia overlooking the links, our group headed out for a spot of retail therapy at El Corte Inglés, the number one luxury department store in Spain. Well-stocked with all your favorite brands – everything from Balenciaga to Bottega Veneta – this should definitely be on your list of pitstops if you have a lot of shopping to do and intend to save money doing it. Prices of luxury goods in Europe tend to be more affordable as you’re not paying VAT and import costs on them. I only brought one suitcase, so I bypassed the bigger items and snagged some Byredo instead.
Not only did El Cortes Inglés have a lovely, discreet shopping lounge (for more high-end clientele) where our group was received and treated to a personal-shopping service, but it also has a wonderful dining area on the second level offering multiple culinary experiences that go way above and beyond your typical food court at the mall. A six-course meal at the El Corte Inglés restaurant filled with fresh seafood options was light enough to fuel my shopping frenzy without slowing me down.
We returned to the hotel for a leisurely afternoon before making out way to 99 Sushi, where dinner was served. The ingredients were fresh, the presentation was gorgeous, and the fusion of flavors was explosive. While it’s clearly a bonus to have an incredible sushi place on hotel grounds, people come from all over Marbella to eat there, so book your table as soon as you check in for a guaranteed seat.
The day began with an in-depth tour of Anantara, which proved how massive it was – a fact I hadn’t quite grasped from my limited strolls around its grounds. Far afield, there were villas stacked on villas, a sacred chapel that was off-limits to visitors, amphitheaters, manicured grounds that have played host to many a wedding, and a labyrinth of trees to navigate. One could (happily) get lost here. A trip to the spa later, I returned to my room, only to be greeted by another goodie bag from All Things Mochi. This time around, it contained a dress and kaftan from the collection that had tinged this trip with so much Latin flavor – just in time for the All Things Mochi-hosted dinner later that evening.
We were told that dinner would be held at a secret location and, after familiarizing myself with the resort, I mentally ran through the list of possible spots. Maybe we were going to dine inside the famous ‘Villa Obama’, where the famous family once stayed? After dressing in my embroidered kaftan and matching dress, I met up with my fellow travelers and as we made our way through a beautiful courtyard lined with ash-white sycamores, I couldn’t have anticipated where we were headed. Imagine my surprise when, inside the sacred chapel where no one had ever dined, we were greeted by a scene so lavish that I stopped short in astonishment.
A tapestry of interwoven flowers rose above the table like a trellis, with vines and petals dripping gently down towards a surface laden with bowls of small fruits, white candles, and elegant place settings. All Things Mochi had tapped Anantara’s Dine by Design team for this feast, with the label’s ‘Spanish’ collection on display next to a musician who added romance to the scene by serenading us. It was a seductive way to view a fashion collection, marrying together native craftsmanship, flamenco flare, and the influence of the Spanish countryside. To be a part of that, even if for a single night, was to feel the magic of waking up inside a dream.