60km (37 miles) W of Málaga, 45km (28 miles) W of Torremolinos, 80km (50 miles) E of Gibraltar, 76km (47 miles) E of Algeciras, 600km (373 miles) S of Madrid

Although packed with visitors and only slightly less popular than Torremolinos, Marbella is still the chicest resort along the Costa del Sol, with some of the region's best upscale resorts coexisting with more affordable hotels. An Andalusian port at the foot of the Sierra Blanca, Marbella displays traces of its past in its palatial town hall, medieval ruins, and ancient Moorish walls. The biggest attractions in Marbella, however, are El Fuerte and La Fontanilla, the two main beaches. There are other, more secluded beaches, but you need your own transportation to get there.

Marbella's chic reputation dates from the beginning of the Eisenhower era. The Marquis don Ricardo Soriano and his nephew, Prince Alfonso Hohenlohe, started spreading the word in 1953. Soon the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and lesser mortals began arriving to see what this sleepy coastal town was all about. The Rothschilds heard about it, as did Saudi emirs. Marbella was on its way; its discovery by jet-setters brought long-overdue prosperity.

Many resorts have better beaches and more attractions than Marbella, which raises the question, "Why do such chic people still flock here, people who could vacation anywhere?" A local resident, Rafael Trujillo, said, "Rich people come here because other rich people come here." Marbella's fans and detractors agree on only one thing: The prices are a joke.

One can only regret not having seen Marbella in the 1960s and 1970s, even though Franco was in power. Those were the days before ugly concrete tower blocks grew up around its old quarter and fishing port. Fortunately, old Marbella, with its flower-filled balconies and whitewashed houses, remains delightful. Make the Patio de los Naranjos (Court of the Orange Trees) your focal point for a night wandering the cobblestone streets of the Old Town. Here you can enjoy the fountains and cafes with sidewalk tables where you can sit back and watch the world go by.