Escape to Estepona: legacy luxury on the Costa del Sol

Ah… wonderful Spain.  My affinity with this country runs deep, with part of my soul residing in beloved Madrilenian haunts, the wilds of the rich Andalusian hills and the chatter of evenings with olives. With the eyes of the world on Spain’s economic crisis, the strength (and importance) in its own identity continues to resound.  Even with their financial sky rapidly descending, the majority of the passionate population remain unperturbed in their day to day existence. Siestas remain strident, cognac remains cogent and Spain’s virile self-confidence remains firmly on display.

I love Spain’s admirable arrogance, entirely justifiable in the context of wild, and natural beauty in abundance.  That said, Spain can be mightily frustrating too, especially when it departs from what it does best.  The Gran Hotel Elba Estepona somewhat falls into that category. Situated on the tired, and much harnessed coastline of Spain’s sunshine coast, the hotel (at the helm of the Elba chain) is striving to assuage the twilight years of the Costa del Sol.

Estepona, a municipality located just south of Marbella, and just north of the Gibraltar Straits, retains very real charms. Famed for its pueblo pizazz, cobbled streets and bodegas, Estepona is a charismatic (albeit, redolent) town, offering respite from the over-brash lights of its northern neighbours.  The town has a typical southern Spanish history, caught in the conflict and trysts of the Moors and the Christians, it was finally captured by the Enrique IV of Castile in 1457.  It was Enrique IV who ordered the construction of a Christian church (on the site of the old Moorish mosque), and commissioned the construction of the grand old castle of Castille, built to deflect the attentions of Berber pirates from the coastlines of North Africa.  The old church clock tower, and the ‘ruinas del Castillo de San Luis’ are all that now remain, engendering fleeting legacies of a very different era.   Centuries later, modern Estepona again bequeaths a familiar story: her charms were not overlooked in the Costa del Sol’s touristic charge.

We were to stay at the Gran Hotel Elba Estepona, part of the burgeoning Elba Group who have been heralded as setting a new innovative tone to Spain’s classical Costas. Championing a ‘refresh’ over a ‘revamp’, the Group seek to spruce up the tired resorts and hotels of yesteryear, whilst re-positioning the appeal of their timeless white beaches and blue skies. I appreciated their sentiments.

It is hard to accurately portray the Gran Hotel Elba. Some things about her are truly glorious, but such glory felt slightly fleeting. I wanted the Gran Hotel to be all sorts of things, and I was willing the Gran Hotel to be all sorts of things (I am after all, the greatest champion of Spain). However, something felt rather lacklustre (and at times, rather bemusing) about the place. The Elba Estepona feels slightly uncomfortable in her own shoes – and that is not akin to the ‘Spanish way’.  Its fusion of old Spain with a new perceived modernity, at times rather missed the mark. I found myself longing for the warming comfort of some tatty curtains.

But, needless to say, the sparkling facilities are great; and no doubt constitute a stellar attraction on this side of the coastline. Staying true to the coast’s Moorish roots – the Elba’s Thalasso spa is truly wonderful (and has attracted numerous, recent awards). With dynamic pools, numerous thalassotherapy treatments on offer, and both outdoor and indoor swimming pools; this is a destination in itself. The Elba offers an easy life in Estepona: with four restaurants on site, convenient access to nearby sights, and sweeping views of coast, the Gran Hotel is perfectly poised for weekends in the south. The accommodation, unfortunately, is where the confusion sets in.  On face value, the hotel works: the rooms are enormous; the coastline is striking; and the staff are excellently appointed.  Yet, with a rather distracting oriental ambience, and fairly outdated bathrooms, the rooms felt dark and tired.  The Elba, is undisputedly comfortable, but at its price point – expectations sit slightly higher.

This is a very amenable spot for some guaranteed Mediterranean rays, and for exploring the marvelous hinterland which southern Spain has to offer.  It is not to be overlooked, and do try to scratch beneath the surface (some wonderful characters reside here). Nevertheless, and suffice to say: it might be worth hiring that car…

The Gran Hotel Elba Estepona & Thalasso Spa is a member of the Great Hotels of the World Luxury Collection.

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