Puente Romano: relaxed and family-friendly without sacrificing luxury

Where is it?

The beautiful seaside resort of Puente Romano, winding through the garden, is a two and a half hour flight from the Costa Del Sol. The drive from Malaga airport is less than 40 minutes, making it a very doable long weekend (although you’ll want to stay longer), and once on site it’s an easy ten minute coastal cycle to the old town of Marbella in one direction, or bustling Puerto Banus in the other.

The huge hotel feels both like an Andalusian town in its own right, complete with a twinkling restaurant-filled central Plaza where locals and Premiership footballers alike congregate every evening, and a seaside retreat full of shady nooks amongst extraordinary sub-tropical gardens where only frogs croaking and singing skylarks disturb the peace. We saw both wild rabbits and dolphins on the beach at the base of the resort.

Style

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Luxurious but with rustic touches, so that it also feels homely. Think white wooden loungers with Soho House-esque striped cushions and plush rocking chairs tucked away under palm trees. The decor of the room is simple and modern, with lots of cream and greige, punctuated by yellow pillow dolls and mirrored cabinets. At the center of it all is the historic Puente Romano, the eponymous Roman stone bridge that has seen it all and dates back to the first century. It now borders that crowded Plaza at night where people in gladiator sandals drink yuzu margaritas in Nobu’s hotel compound these days. Since the resort was first built in the 1970s, the lush gardens are well established and provide much-needed shade from Marbella’s near-constant sunshine.

Eat Drink

This is where the Spanish resort really stands out – it has an array of 18 restaurants and bars, all quirky designed rather than identikit hotel style, from kitchens stretching from Lebanon to Japan. Granted, I only got to eat and drink in, er, nine of them in four days, but every meal was cooked to perfection — even poolside burgers at American diner Cheats and huge crunchy organic salads at Rachel’s Eco Love were memorable.

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Standout dishes include the seven-course Omakase tasting menu at Nobu, where the black cod with miso has to be *really* amazing to beat the truly epic people-watching on the spot; models sprinkled with a fair share of Premier League – and it is. Guacamole slammed right at our table at the hotel’s most quintessentially Spanish restaurant, Sea Grill, a treat alongside Mediterranean fresh sole and almost raw tuna.

Then there is the seaside breakfast buffet, where I could have enjoyed the tropical fruits alone. There’s understated, excellent meze in the Middle Eastern garden spot Jardins Du Liban, gazpacho slurped on Balinese beach beds accompanied by a DJ at El Chiringuito, which has the same vibe as Ibiza’s original outpost. There’s even a branch of the Barcelona gluten-free bakery Celicioso, and it’s nearly impossible to get into Babette, an outpost owned by Michelin-starred chef Dani Garcia.

We appreciated the really family-friendly atmosphere on our half-yearly visit, with even Nobu happily accepting the little ones and happily offering smaller portions everywhere (and very generous portions of ice cream for dessert) – but grown guests had plenty of places to escape too.

Facilities

Where to start? A resort newspaper, the Daily Flash, lists the day’s activities, but it must be succinct as there are so many of them. I saw some English players in the Six Senses spa where even the glazing of the window was filled with relaxing waterfalls and a series of thermal pools were Insta-perfect. Novak Djokovic, who has a local home, regularly hits balls at the huge tennis center – hard and clay courts galore, where my kids enjoyed their first introduction to the sport so much, I hope Wimbledon beckons.

There are free yoga and Pilates classes most mornings and water sports are also available on the beach (for an extra charge). Three family-friendly pools have bridges and fountains. There are also plenty of adult areas, such as La Concha, where a Maldivian-style pool is surrounded by sunbeds and adjoins a cocktail-filled bar. The gym is a micro-village unto itself, a cavernous third-room-style setup with an epic boxing ring, a revolving studio, and a packed schedule.

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For families, the kids’ club is a real attraction in itself. Many a European hotel calls a dreary room full of Ikea children’s furniture and a bored local teenager the kids’ club. Not here. London duo Sharkey and George put together a packed schedule of activities (their reps fly to the resort to play during the holidays too, instantly becoming my kids’ idols). The timetable for my five- and seven-year-olds included beach survival skills (making dens and water bombs), science club, candle making, swimming in the kid’s club kidney-shaped pool, and magic shows. It’s all set in a beautifully designed villa with Smeg fridges full of snacks, craft supplies a la Hobbycraft, and a treehouse playground I’d love to live in for a summer.

At €50 for a morning or afternoon session it’s far from cheap – as can be said about the resort in general – but the numbers are kept low and every child I saw begged to come back the next day. Anyone concerned about their kids having too much fun or missing schoolwork can even book onsite tutoring with Oxbridge-style boffs. There’s also a teen’s club in a separate area and a poolside mini club for kids under four (the minimum age for the kid’s club) to escape the sun with their parents, filled with puzzles, dollhouses, Duplo and more.

extracurricular

Marbella is packed with options for day trips: we went no further than hiring the resort’s bikes (including kid sizes and baby carts) to paddle along the promenade to the old town marina. But those who want to explore further afield can take a day trip to Moorish Grenada or even Gibraltar, go horseback riding on the beach, go on off-road buggy rides and canyoning on the river, or take the shorter trek uphill to Ronda, where an ancient bullring dominates.

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Which room?

All rooms, starting with the ‘double deluxe’, have a terrace for lounging and looking out over the tropical gardens, the beach or the swimming pools. The rooms are decent sized – only our junior suite’s bathroom was more spacious than our London kitchen diner. Two-bedroom deluxe suites are perfect for families – and none of the whitewashed, traditional-style buildings are more than three stories high. Leave the windows open to fall asleep to the sound of nature in the background. Adults might prefer to be near the Plaza, to fall straight into bed over cocktails on the atmospheric couches. Or you could go for the €18,000 per July night, four bedroom Villa La Pereza, with pool, solarium and gym, balconies overlooking the beach and no reason to ever leave (except maybe earn enough to pay for it ).

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Best for

The school holiday crowd is a mix of young London and New York families and ‘grammed beautiful people wearing £600 Dior slippers. It’s hard to think of anyone who wouldn’t love this place. The friendly staff can’t do enough for you – from racing the sun to hold shady umbrellas over the kids’ pool all day, to stopping a tantrum (be it from a tech mogul or toddler) with a mojito or fruit kebab.

Details

Low season, deluxe double rooms from €407/night, high season from €891; puenteromano.com

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