The Mancunion

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Living abroad: Marbella

Lucy introduces us to the reality of life in Marbella, beyond the glitzy image


“Why are you here?” – not the most welcoming of questions but one I’ve heard countless times in the past two months. Fresher’s introductions come in three steps: Name, course, where you’re from. Having lived in Marbella since I was four, the last question caused excitement as it broke the chain of “near Manchester” answers. I’ll be asked why I would leave sunny, old Spain for grey and drizzly Manchester? What was it like? Did I see any of the ‘rich and famous celebrities’ that are said to use Marbella as their personal playground? In all honesty, Marbella isn’t all the glitz and glam TOWIE like to make it out to be. In fact, it’s a lot more Essex than they may think.

Yes, you can find the clubs that charge you €1,000 for a bottle of champagne and the hotel resorts graced by famous faces and millionaires but the reality of living on the Costa del Sol is a bit rougher around the edges. You drive past countless unfinished apartment blocks and rundown buildings that have been neglected in the wake of the recession, the local port is more fishing boats than expensive yachts and it’s hard to miss the underlying world of crime that is rife along the struggling coast. However, just a few minutes away from this you will enter a world where money is no issue and is thrown around like there’s no tomorrow. You really can find everything on Spain’s south coast.

Nights outs, more often than not, are more Malia than Miami with the morning after the night before breakfasts being more McDonalds than sangria by the side of a fancy, beach-club pool. The cheap, predominantly English town of Fuengirola is home to cheesy yet appropriately named party bars such as Tramps and Playerz (yes, with a Z) which outside of the holiday season are usually filled with the local Year 10s dancing on the bar, getting ‘wasted’ on Smirnoff Ice – something that is unavoidable when a student budget won’t quite stretch to €20 Marbella club entries. Weekends would be welcomed with €1 shots and jugs of suspicious, lethal sounding concoctions. The summer marked the start of bars’ wet t-shirt contests, drunken street fights and rather loud rides home on the 6am bus. A word of warning, do not decide that a stroll along the beach at sunrise is a pleasant or romantic thing to do – far too many times have I had to witness, in the harsh light of a new day, sex on the beach not being just a cocktail but a promise. Despite the flaws, it is strangely difficult to not develop a crush on the tackiness of the town.

If you do venture towards the slightly more dignified west you will find Puerto Banús – a town that tries its hardest to maintain the Marbella image. Overpriced (in my opinion) cars will inconveniently cruise along the front line of the port as people watch on from the sea front, upscale restaurants. If you do have the money the nightlife can live up to the hype. If not, you find yourself in the pricey yet still completely tacky bars and clubs that hide behind the front streets of expensive designer shops and boutiques.

If you are looking for the ‘Marbella’ experience, this is where you go. Cheap, drunken, probably not going to be remembered weekend? Go East.  Looking for culture? Prepare to look hard and leave the shiny Marbella bubble and head to the old town or nearby villages to experience the ‘real’ Spain (may include donkeys, tapas and a lot of beer). Living in Marbella is a mix of all three of these experiences and in all honesty, I wouldn’t change a thing.