Marbella can often get some bad rep and is often associated with the likes of ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ or ‘Brits abroad’, but my recent trip to the Costa del Sol has completely changed my opinion and opened my eyes to a destination with bags of potential for conferences and incentive travel.
Meliá Hotels International is one of the largest hotel companies in the world and the largest hotel chain in Spain in both resort and city hotels. The company currently operates more than 370 hotels in 43 countries and 4 continents. I was privileged to be hosted on a familiarisation trip to explore the hotels and experience exactly what Marbella and Malaga can offer our clients.
Bleary-eyed from a very early flight from Gatwick to Malaga, we arrived in sunny Spain (in just 2 hour 30mins) and took a 20-minute transfer to the Melia Costa del Sol, Torremolinos. This hotel is located right on the promenade overlooking the beach. It boasts 538 bedrooms and suites and a convention centre with 14 meeting rooms for up to 450 people, so will be ideal for large groups for conferences. It is currently going through an exciting renovation which is due to be complete by the end of the year.
We enjoyed a relaxing lunch of traditional Spanish food before heading to our second site visit at The Sol Principe Hotel. This beast of a 4* resort has direct access to the Playamar beach and boasts a lagoon-style swimming pool measuring 1,500 m2. It has 799 bedrooms and suites with a modern convention centre with capacity for more than 750 people.
Later we took a pleasant stroll through the cobbled streets of the Old Town, to a local shop where they had arranged for us to do ab olive oil and regional wine tasting. Our host was very informative and I was surprised how different the oils could taste, so I would definitely recommend this as a nice group activity on an incentive trip.
That evening we checked into our hotel The Gran Melia Don Pepe – a 5* luxury hotel situated on the desirable beachfront of Marbella. We were met by the hotel team who showed us around the 12 meeting spaces, multiple dining options and 2 swimming pools set in beautiful gardens. We also saw a range of bedroom categories out of the 162 sea facing options and had a sneak peak in one of the 24 suites in the hotel. The Penthouse Suite has its own bar, terrace and pool which you can hire out for drinks receptions and private events. That night we dined in the T-Bone grill which was exceptional. It is safe to say I rolled to bed after our 7-course tasting menu!
The following morning, we were up early for a trip out to Ronda which was about a 40-minute drive up the windy mountain roads. Ronda used to be a stop off for the wealthy diplomats to holiday and the town remains fairly untouched since the 18th Century. Renowned for its dramatic views and the El Tajo gorge, it is a beautiful stop off between the coast and Seville. On our tour, we came across the Plaza de Toros, an old monastery and a peaceful town square.
From here we drove out to a local winery which overlooked the town where we were tasked with making our own Paella for lunch and trying the different types of wine that they make – it was a hard job, but someone’s got to do it!
After lunch, we headed back to the hotel for some time down time before heading to the Melia Barbella Banus for a site visit and dinner. Yet another beautiful hotel located on the beach and just 5km from the centre of Marbella, this property boasts 200 guest bedrooms overlooking 3 pools and stunning gardens. This hotel had a resort style feel so might be more appealing to leisure groups or small incentives, but it still offers 4 good sized meeting rooms accommodating up to 150 delegates.
Obviously, it would be rude to visit Marbella without going out in Puerto Banus, so we hit the few bars that were open out of season and had a great night! Regrettably, no one managed to make friends with any yacht owners so no wild boat parties for us!
On Sunday morning, we took our coach to Malaga City. I have flown into Malaga multiple times before but never actually stopped off to explore, so it was a great opportunity to see what the city has to offer. We picked a perfect weekend to go as it happened to be the Malaga Film Festival, so there was a lot going on including street performers, exhibitions and music drawing crowds of people from all over the world.
Our hosts had kindly arranged lunch at the famous Bar El Pimpi in the Old Town. Located inside an 18th Century mansion house, this is one of the longest standing bodega bars in Malaga which is renowned for its local Tapas and wines alongside generations of celebrity guests that frequent the bar. Celebrities have been signing the barrels that line the bar for years, so it was like a Spanish hall of fame. The bar can be hired for private events which I would highly recommend for any incentive group visiting Malaga. Reservations are very limited so you have to book early or know the right people to get in!
After our feast, we were ready to explore the town, this time on two wheels. Segways are a brilliant and fun way to see the city and would suggest this to any incentive group visiting the area.
Spanish Heritage DMC cleverly pulled together this fun-packed itinerary, arranged all of our activities, transfers and were on hand to guide us with local knowledge while discovering Marbella and Malaga, so I would like to say a big THANK YOU to them. Finally, I would like to say a HUGE thank you to our hosts from Melia Hotels – Roger and Marina and all of the lovely hotel representatives who took the time to show us around their hotels. Needless to say, I will definitely be visiting the Costa del Sol again soon!
If you are thinking of booking an incentive trip to reward your staff or network with clients then please get in and we will be happy to help!