Raffles in Singapore, the Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, the Ritz in Paris, Claridge’s in London… some great hotels have become so closely associated in the public mind with the cities they inhabit that to think of one is to immediately think of the other. So too is the case of the historic Puente Romano in Marbella.
Article by Vivion O’Kelly
It’s both relatively new and very old, starting life as a luxury apartment complex in 1974 and turning into a premium hotel some five years later. Two years on from this, Puente Romano became a member of the esteemed Leading Hotels of the World Group, and since then it has become a brand that has shaped the way Marbella is perceived around the world. If the authentic Roman bridge that lent its name to the place could talk, it would tell us a great deal about the numerous celebrities from all walks of life who have stepped over it during the past four decades or more, and about the establishment of Marbella as one of the leading tourism destinations of the world.
The story begins when Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe spotted the potential of a chic Andalusian village-style apartment complex as an alternative to the very stylish Marbella Club Hotel nearby. He commissioned Bolivian-born architect Melvin Villaroel to come up with a design, and the architect, being a resident of Marbella himself, designed a complex of buildings that was, and still is, a sophisticated reflection of the traditional Andalusian village. Here was the essence of local culture in a luxury setting made available to the kind of clients Marbella was becoming famous for, and it won Villaroel the prize for the Best Tourist Complex in the World.
By the time Bjorn Borg chose the hotel as the venue for his wedding in 1980, the delights of such a classy establishment built in such a traditional style were becoming known throughout the jet-set world of the time.
It was hardly surprising then that the Swedish champion, still at the height of his fame and game, took up the position of manager of the newly completed Puente Romano Tennis Club, thereby attracting many more celebrities from the world of tennis and helping establish the complex as a venue for many official international events. He handed over to the great Manolo Santana a few years later, who ensured the hosting of some of the most important tournaments in the world over subsequent years. Tennis at this level has now become synonymous with Puente Romano.
Parallel to its primary purpose, the 3,000-capacity centre court has been used extensively as a concert venue on many occasions though the years, hosting such names as Montserrat Caballé, Ray Charles, BB King, Van Morrison, Grace Jones and Gloria Esteban. Meanwhile, the hotel’s nightclub, then called Regine’s, attracted the rich and famous, with names like Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Streisand, Adrian Brody and many more inscribed in its guestbook.
Today, a walk through the grounds of Puente Romano is not far removed from a walk though the streets of an exceptionally stylish Andalusian village. The main difference would be, perhaps, in the number of high-end restaurants and other amenities one would pass along the way, not to mention the Andalucía Conference Centre that opened in 2002, providing the hotel with one of the largest of its type on the Costa del Sol.
The core services of any hotel, small or great, are food and board, and Puente Romano takes the basics very seriously. Fine dining for every occasion is the key, from tapas at the beach bar to the gastronomic delights of one of the many other restaurants within the main hotel building and around the grounds. Good food, of course, means many different things to many different people, but every taste is catered for in this place. Personal experience can assure you that even the most basic of dishes (in this case a simple fish dish available in almost any restaurant anywhere in Southern Spain) was an experience of the senses that will linger forever.
One of the best-known of the almost two dozen different eating and drinking establishments in the complex is Nobu, named after chef Nobu Matsuhisa. It is run by Executive Chef Elenio Manousou, offers an inventive fusion of classic Japanese cuisine with Peruvian flavours and specifies smart casual as the dress code. Quite different from El Chiringuito, for example, where your choice of dress could well raise eyebrows but will probably not be commented on. In between is renowned chef Dani García’s Steakhouse X, whose very name, Leña, meaning firewood, already makes the mouth water. The Thai Gallery, the Sea Grill and the Serafina suggest the choice on offer; the La Plaza, Les Jardines and La Selva tell you where you are, and the Supperclub reminds you more or less what time of the day it is. In short, something for everyone, and much more of what you never even knew you wanted. Booking is recommended in all the restaurants during the busy season.
The past and the present, and as this iconic hotel and apartment complex edges closer to its 50th anniversary, it’s good to know that its future is in the expert hands of an Andalusian and international team who have lost none of the passion for excellence instilled by their colleagues of earlier times. The Puente Romano lives on.