Puente Romano resort review: Roman indulgence meets Marbellan relaxation
Regarded as one of the finest resorts in Spain, this special hideaway is a vibrant cornucopia of food, nature and history
Lying by the pristine pool of Puente Romano, with the sound of waves lapping gently in the distance, it is easy to forget that just 50 metres away is a flashy Nobu restaurant, a glamorous bar favoured by Towie and Made in Chelsea types and a hedonistic all-night disco.
In fact, Puente Romano resort feels like two destinations in one, which is perhaps not so strange considering, well, it is. Puente Romano started out as a single hotel, but over the years it has expanded to include the Nobu Hotel, as well as - count them - 14 separate restaurants, a host of bars, a world-famous spa and a range of high-end sports facilities.
Not that Puente Romano was ever small or unambitious - it began its life in 1975 as an exclusive apartment complex, the brainchild of German-Spanish royal prince Alfonso Von Hohenlohe. Four years later it was converted into a hotel, but only in the last decade has it expanded its offering quite so broadly.
And the result? A sprawling resort that genuinely offers something for everyone - beach umbrellas and paddle-boarding, cycling and rollerskating along the boardwalk by the beach, a luxurious spa, tennis courts, clubs, bars, pools and yes - all those restaurants.
That ambition has certainly paid off too. In 2016, Puente Romano won the Condé Nast Traveler Award of “Best Resort” in Spain.
The Week Portfolio visited towards the end of peak season to find out what all the fuss is about.
An unquestionable highlight of staying in Puente Romano is the food and drink on offer. Our first night began with a drink in the Plaza, the open square that sits at the heart of the complex, nestled in between the restaurants and the remarkably well-preserved Roman bridge from which the resort takes its name.
Even with the weather across Europe cooling, the evening is warm enough to sit out beneath the stars in only a T-shirt. This of course is part of what makes Marbella popular as a tourist detination: its unusual microclimate, which offers warm sunny days for much of the year, due to its position sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea to the south and the Sierra Blanca mountain range to the north.
After two expertly mixed negronis, we make our way through the crowds to Nobu, where a familiar menu greets us. Nobu restaurants from Tokyo to Houston to Old Park Lane offer a relatively similar bill of fare, with a few regional deviations. But all your favourite dishes from back home are definitely likely to be offered, regardless of where in the world you find yourself. Marbella's Nobu is no different, so we went straight for the classics, starting - of course - with the black cod with miso.
Whether it is your first time at Nobu or your fifty-first, the black cod, with its melt-in-your-mouth consistency and honey-sweet sauce is a dish you will not want to miss. We also opted for the soft shell sushi rolls, filled to the brim with avocado, flying fish roe, chives and sesame seeds; the white fish tiriditos which are soft and delicious; and the eggplant miso, which turns out to be a more generous serving than we had anticipated. As a gesture towards health we add the baby spinach with dry miso salad. It too turns out to be huge.
Half of the pleasure of being in Nobu is the people watching. At one table next to us sits an oligarch type and his scantily-clad wife, behind us a brightly dressed table with a definite focus on one man - an artist of some kind and his entourage perhaps? And everywhere people who are coiffed and primped. Some eat, some drink, most have half an eye on their food and half on the room. But the atmosphere is convivial, and it is hard not to join in scanning the restaurant for faces familiar from reality TV.
At the other end of the resort, down by the sea, sits another sceney eatery: El Chiringuito, an import from Ibiza that arrived at Puente Romano in summer last year and proved to be a hit again with Condé Nast Traveler, which this year named it as the “Best Beach Club” on its annual hot list.
We had lunch there, looking out to the Med while sipping coco and chili mojitos from the bar. On our order, we made sure to include a platter of Cinco Jotas jamon - pretty much the best ham it is possible to eat. But our spread also includes pan con tomate, quinoa salad, flambed mussels in white wine with a touch of fennel, calamari Andalus (a must when in Andalusia) and an antipasti plate. It was all way too much, but then we were here for overindulgence.
The best restaurant of the bunch, though, is possibly the resort's most understated: the Sea Grill. Overlooking the lowest pool on the complex (you have three to choose from), the Sea Grill is the most quintessentially Spanish, with starters such as boquerones in vinegar - a pure taste of Spain, available in tapas bars the country over - as well as croquettas, gaspacho, fried prawns, and of course that perfect Cinco Jotas Iberico ham again. Mains are equally well pitched and delivered. On the 'Delica-Sea' menu, take your pick of the best of the ocean - lobster, cockles, razor shells, caviar. We go for tuna and king crab. Both elegantly presented and executed superbly, with flavours that match rather than overpower the delicate seafood. Wine is largely local and affordable, ranging from between €10 and €40 (more for champagne).
The resort and beyond
Of course, there is more to do at Puente Romano than just eat. The three pools all offer a chance to lounge around, but more active, cultural and culinary pursuits beckon, especially those that take advantage of the resort's prime location. Just a short drive away you can reach the fantasy hilltop town of Ronda, with its ancient bullring (which still hosts bullfights in September and occasionally other times in the year if you can stomach them), the fascinating, Moorish town of Granada, with its beautiful whitewashed houses facing the Alhambra fortress, Seville where you can see some of the world's best flamenco, and Cordoba, whose the Mesquita - a church in the middle of a hollowed-out mosque - neatly summarises the fascinating twin influence of Islam and Christianity on the region.
For the fitness-minded, bikes are available to ride along the long boardwalk that runs along the edge of the sea, or a stand-up paddleboard if you want to test your core strength against the waves.
There are also 10 tennis courts and eight clay courts (which play host to the annual Senior Masters Cup - a great opportunity to see some of the most famous names of recent tennis history duke it out on court), not to mention the private 18-hole golf course and equestrian centre.
The resort is also host to the only Six Senses spa in Spain, which has six interior treatment rooms as well as three canopied cabana rooms, plus hydrotherapy and cold plunge pools, a herbal steam room, sauna and a hammam for good measure.
Something, genuinely, for everyone - but with enough of a sense of style and exclusivity that it doesn't feel like it is simply for anyone.