This autumn we headed to one of the best addresses on the sun-kissed Mediterranean coast for a Kempinski Experience; it was a memorable stay at the Kempinski Hotel Bahia, on the beach between Marbella & Estepona, writes Andrew Forbes.
A stay at the Kempinski Hotel Bahia is to experience an excellent quality Costa del Sol vacation experience, where guests can truly appreciate why this part of Andalucia is so special. From the beachside relaxation of the Kempinski resort; the old-world charms of nearby Spanish coastal towns like Estepona & Marbella…
…the pleasures of the great outdoors, from cycling along the coast, to sailing on the Mediterranean; to gourmet dining; authentic Andalusian tapas; and wine-tasting in the mountains…
…and all of this enjoyed in best climate in Europe. This was my Kempinski Experience in Andalucia, and one that is available for all guests, thanks to the inspirational ideas from the hotel’s concierge team. The hotel’s ‘Voyage Creators’ will design bespoke experiences for you. It will change your perception of the Costa del Sol for good.
Andalusia’s western coast drew the attention of the world’s rich and famous from the 1950s and 1960s, when it’s privileged climate, beautiful beaches and chic resorts attracted the ‘jet-set’. Over the decades extraordinarily luxurious homes and mansions have been built along these shores; together with a number of famous hotels. With the advent of low-cost flights, mass tourism and package holidays discovered the coast and for some years the image of the Costa del Sol was undeniably tarnished.
Yet those days are very much history. World-class hotels and resorts, and stylish boutique hotels are once again attracting the discerning traveller to the coast.
The Kempinski Hotel Bahia was amongst the first of the new wave of world-class hotels to establish on the Costa del Sol. The architect-designed resort was completed in 1999, and boasts one of the finest locations, with swimming pools punctuating glorious gardens that extend over thousands of square metres, down to the very edge of the Mediterranean.
2018 has seen much of the hotel reimagined, with the opening of the striking El Paseo del Mar dining and leisure concept. As soon as you arrive at the grand entrance of the hotel, you know you have arrived somewhere special.
Yet the lobby is so much more than just a lobby – it has become a destination in itself for those seeking signature cocktails, a cool place to meet friends, sharing tasty dishes and enjoy relaxed fun times.
The initial wow-factor of the entrance level sets the tone for a great stay at the hotel. Even a long weekend is enough to be immersed in this special part of the world – after three nights at the Kempinski I had experienced a real flavour of the diversity on the Costa del Sol.
The hotel is an elegant base for a holiday on the coast. Guest rooms & suites are spacious and chic – with balcony terraces overlooking the gardens and across the Mediterranean to Gibraltar, and the mountains of North Africa.
If you are a member of the Kempinski Discovery guest loyalty programme then also expect extra treats each evening as part of the turndown service; from local cheeses; Spanish cured meats;
…comforting homemade cookies;
and Andalusian sweet wine – or even a complimentary bottle of the resort’s own bottled olive oil, named ‘Orgulloso’, inspired by the Pedrín sculpture in the gardens.
When you book, let the hotel know what you are interested in; from a foodie break to a cultural escape – or just total relaxation. Then the hotel can tailor your Kempinski experience and make thoughtful gestures that will enhance your stay.
There is a strong temptation never leave the resort. I found that there were enough dining options to feel inspired each day.
Spiler Beach Club
The Spiler Beach Club is open all day, from breakfast through to the evening.
Yet it was at dinner that we got to try some wonderful Andalusian and Mediterranean dishes. From fresh seafood and fish through to classic, gourmet Andalusian rice dishes.
Baltazar Bar & Grill
This steakhouse and bistro style restaurant is designed to be inviting whatever the season. I loved how the glass curtains enabled the space to be completely open to the outside, with great views of the pool and gardens.
On autumn evenings, the ambiance can be warm and cosy with the comfortable décor of leather, wood and copper. The menu is great for families, as it has a range of dishes, from meat, vegetarian, fish and seafood prepared in an unfussy yet sophisticated way, straight from the grill.
Don’t expect your regular hotel restaurant – Baltazar is a stylish destination that makes for relaxed and enjoyable evening. It’s not formal gourmet fine-dining, but instead casual, elegant and good quality.
Black Rose Bar Lounge & Terrace
Start and end the evening at Black Rose Bar Lounge and Terrace.
There’s a great atmosphere, thanks to the venue being increasingly popular with locals too; there is often live music, and the cocktails are just great.
Wine Tasting in Ronda
The Costa del Sol is, contrary to perceived wisdom, a very green and natural part of Andalucia. In fact, the coastal strip of development is surprisingly modest and within minutes one can be within countryside of pine forests and olive groves.
If you are willing to drive a little more, you can enjoy sightseeing tours in Granada, Cordoba or Seville, some of the finest cities in Andalusia. Malaga capital has emerged as an arts hub with galleries from the Russian State Musuem, Pompedou and of course the Picasso Museum.
Within 45 minutes you can be in Ronda, one of the most spectacular ‘white’ villages and towns of Andalucia. Ronda is a vibrant town, and bustling community where you can discover the spirit of Andalucia through its architecture, history and food.
Kempinski Hotel Bahia can arrange for a guide to meet you in Ronda and give you a genuine insider’s perspective to this fascinating destination.
A walking tour is a splendid way to take in the gardens that run adjacent to the stunning river gorge that cuts through the ancient town; and explore some of the architectural highlights that date from Arab, Roman and Renaissance times – and don’t miss the beautiful cathedral.
The town was always a sophisticated summer destination for the rich, who loved the clean, cool mountain air; a welcome respite from the heat of southern Spain; so expect to see some spectacular historic mansions and palaces.
Ronda is also home to Spain’s oldest bullring. Admittedly, a controversial part of Spanish culture, but I would still recommend a guided visit to the bullring. It offers a fascinating insight into the importance of bulls in Spanish culture over many centuries, and it also offers the chance to see one of the oldest and most interesting buildings in the area.
Winery Tour & Lunch
Yet many people now visit Ronda for its wine culture. Wine was grown here since Roman times but was replaced with olives following the devastating phylloxera disease. Vines were re-introduced less than 50 years ago, and the wine making industry has thrived ever since.
We enjoyed a visit to Bodega Finca Las Frutales; an organic winery that makes award-winning rosé and red wines. The winery tour and tasting are such a great excursion as the Kempinski concierge can arrange for it to be combined with a lunch at the Finca.
It’s a special way to become immersed in the local culture and countryside – eating rustic food, surrounded by the vineyards; magical!
After a day’s excursion into the mountains it’s great ot be back at the resort. The spa is not to be missed. I tried one the signature treatments, the Kempinski Spa Signature Massage that cleverly combines different techniques from around the world, for a memorable wellness treatment.
Cinzia my dedicated therapist was professional and talented and created a truly relaxing atmosphere. Expect Natura Bissē products, as well as treatments using Niance products – including their serpentine stones that were used as the hot stone therapy at the end of my treatment.
The wellness area includes a sophisticated gym, and there is a free programme of exercise classes, yoga etc throughout the week.
Sun, sailing…and tapas of course
No stay on the Costa del Sol is complete without time on the water. Estepona is an authentic Spanish town, just to the west of the Kempinski Hotel Bahia. The best way to get there is to borrow one of the hotel’s bicycles (they even offer electric ones for those that really want to take it easy) and take the new Paseo boardwalk route that runs along the coast to the town. The port of Estepona is charming, and here the Kempinski concierge team can arrange for a skippered yacht to take you out on the Med. There are often sightings of dolphins in the strait of Gibraltar, but even so, it’s a fun way to sun bathe – or like me you can just jump off and swim from the boat! The hotel also has its own Water Sports Club, offering toys and activities in front of the property, including waveboard, banana boat, and jet skis.
Heading back into Estepona, take the opportunity to enjoy some of the best tapas in town, paired with local and national wines from Spain at ‘La Casa del Rey’.
This super-stylish tapas bar and restaurant, found in the town’s delightful historic centre, just a few minutes’ walk from the beach, takes the humble tapa and elevates it to a gourmet experience.
Don’t forget to order their signature wonton prawns with homemade sweet chilli sauce. There are always fresh specials of the day and interesting dishes like the fresh crab with soya-marinated cucumber and tasty seaweed.
It was so good paired with a Cantabrian Riesling! My suggestion it to let the team make recommendations for dishes and wines by the glass – you have some very pleasant surprises.
Marbella Old Town
The Kempinski Hotel Bahia is well-positioned to enjoy the western Costa del Sol. Its close to both Estepona and Gibraltar, but also just half an hour from Marbella. This famous coastal resort town has plenty of surprises, including its beautiful ‘Casco Antiguo’, the old town district where you can wonder narrow streets lined with historic white houses and buildings, covered in colourful bougainvillea.
It’s a fun area for browsing chic boutiques, specialising in local products like olive oil; fashion; shoes; jewellery; and even antiques. There are plenty of terrace restaurants and quaint tapas bars too.
Marbella also boasts some of the area best restaurants and the Kempinski Concierge was on hand again to make reservations and recommendations, including a truly memorable dinner at Dani Garcia’s Lobo del mar restaurant on the prestigious Golden Mile.
This ‘urban chiringuito’ has been spectacularly designed by the studio of Lázaro Rosa-Violán, and offers a menu of gourmet tapas, Andalusian specialities like rice dishes and local seafood; as well as some superb cocktails.
I was very impressed by the presentation, quality and service. A good choice to enjoy southern Spanish cuisine, with flair and not a little theatre.
The Kempinski Hotel Bahia is an all-year destination. I was an invited guest of the hotel, but it didn’t influence my opinion. I really feel, after my three-night, 4-day stay, that this hotel understands how to offer guests a complete experience. Not just 5-star resort facilities, but also lots of inspiration for enjoying this special part of Andalucia. Afterwards I am sure you won’t think of the Costa del Sol in the same way.
Kempinski Hotel Bahía
Carretera de Cádiz Km 159
29680 ESTEPONA, Spain
Tel: +34 95 280 9500