Though the Andalusian resort town of Marbella, on Spain’s southernmost Mediterranean coast, has long been renowned as a luxury travel playground of the rich and famous, the Costa del Sol itself gained a bit of a reputation for lower end tourism and overcrowding, particularly to the west of Malaga city. However, in recent years Malaga and the surrounding province have made strides to overcome this reputation with much success. There’s no slowing on this front at present; in fact, there are now more projects in the works across Malaga province than ever.
Disney Pixar theme park coming to Marbella
Something big is happening in Marbella. It won’t be the previously agreed €400 million redevelopment of the La Bajadilla fishing seaport complete with a a 6-star hotel, high end shopping malls and a luxury cruise liner port, but it now looks likely instead that Disney Pixar will be taking up residence.
The previous plan fell apart after disagreements between the regional government and Sheik Al-Thani, owner of the Malaga Football Club, both accusing the other of essentially changing the goal posts after an initial agreement. Still, the port location is a highly desirable one, just 15 minutes down the coast from the iconic and glitzy, see-and-be-seen gathering point of the super rich at Puerto Banus, and walking distance into the Marbella old town centre.
The Disney proposal envisions a theme park based on animated features from the eponymous Pixar studios. While at least one Pixar themed attraction exists in every Disney theme park, this unique “Pixar Port” would be dedicated only to Pixar films and themes. Expect “Ratatouille” to feature in the park’s fine dining establishments, and Marbella’s famous luxury car market will sit nicely alongside “Cars” themes; and of course, with its port location, “Finding Nemo” is a no brainer.
While Sheik Al-Thani may be regretting the initial investment at this point, it’s best to remember the words of Miss Mode from the Incredibles, “I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now.” And for over excited children everywhere who are hoping for this plan to become reality, “Adventure is out there!” (from Up), while Pixar and Disney will be hoping this takes Marbella “To infinity and beyond!”. But the park won’t be for children only, for as Walt Disney himself famously said, “Who says we have to grow up?”
La Axarquia: the anti-Marbella
Meanwhile, on the other end of Malaga province in the peaceful and picturesque region known as La Axarquia, the Association for Tourism Promotion of Axarquia is also planning new luxury developments. Here the residents and regional authorities distinguish themselves from their busier and more boisterous neighbours to the west of Malaga, including Marbella, with a focus not just on the coast but on their inland treasures as well. This mountainous and agricultural area attracts nature lovers, pure food enthusiasts and those seeking the culture and tranquility of “the real Spain,” especially in and around the romantic and historic white-washed villages dotting the hillsides. The region is on the rise as a luxury destination, and the tourism board recognises the necessity of improving infrastructure and facilities.
The port town of Caleta de Velez is the busiest fishing port in Malaga province, but plans are now in the works to expand the marina to accommodate more and larger private yachts, along with new fine dining establishments and transport links. Along this coast and inland, several high end hotels are planned with a focus on sustainable tourism, and the preservation of the timeless traditions and ecological richness and biodiversity of the area. The stated aims of the tourism board include raising the profile of the region to that of Tuscany, for example, revered for its natural beauty, tranquility and cultural richness.
Malaga City’s grand hotel
Finally, in the capital city of Malaga, the Gran Hotel Miramar (http://www.granhotelmiramarmalaga.com/en/) is already touted as the finest hotel in the city, though it is only now nearing completion with the grand opening scheduled for summer, 2016. The five star hotel and spa is a striking indication of the revival and renewal of this historic and under appreciated city. Overlooking the Mediterranean and surrounded by lush gardens, the architecturally impressive Hotel Miramar was inaugurated only 90 years ago, hosting Spanish royalty and foreign aristocrats alike. After years of sitting empty and derelict, the architects and construction workers are now restoring the building to its former glory.
A grade 1 protected building, the renovation is necessarily meticulous and is expected to cost about €65m, but the result will surely be Malaga’s premiere luxury hotel. The hotel will feature nearly 200 rooms, a state of the art gymnasium, heated pool and full-service spa, a café and international restaurants, plus events facilities for up to 1000 people. Assuming that Malaga’s investments in high level tourism, culture and the arts continues to pay dividends, the Grand Miramar Hotel may quickly have a house full of luxury and culture loving guests.
Alan Hazel is Owner and Director of Cortijo El Carligto.
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