I’ve often thought that the true magic of a town happens not in the bustling middle of a day, but first thing in the morning, when the first rays of sunshine hit deserted squares, when workmen and women head quietly into the streets to prepare for the visiting masses, when cafes start to open up for business, and when the squares and fountains and pavements are scrubbed clean in readiness for another day. In Rome I remember savouring the view from my hotel window in the Piazza Della Rotunda at 6am, watching the elegant fountain being scrubbed clean in front of the Pantheon before the tourist masses descended. In Krakow likewise I would be mesmerised watching the cleaners out on the streets first thing in the morning, while from the Mariacki Basilica the Hejnalista trumpeter would play his mournful tune.
Marbella, one of the gems of Andalucia, is no exception when it comes to the tourist crowds. And while I often find myself becoming vexed at the sheer number of visitors who clutter up the streets of the city’s old town, which I am lucky enough to call my second home, I cannot blame them for wanting to visit. For Marbella’s old white washed streets and cobbled squares are amongst the most beautiful on Spain’s Costa del Sol. But for me, they never look better than first thing in the morning, empty and in the first sun rays of the day.
So when I headed out to Marbella this Easter, the first thing I did on my first morning when, accustomed to rising early in London, my body clock got me up early, was to stroll out into the deserted streets of the old town to enjoy these rare quiet moments of having the town almost to myself. The shop shutters were still closed, and the postcard stands hadn’t yet made it out onto the streets; the rising sun was casting long shadows over the cobbled squares; and the only people around were those few taking equal advantage of these quiet moments: to head up a ladder to change a light bulb in a street lamp, to mop the patio in front of a cafe, to quickly walk the dog before work.
So as Marbella gradually opened up for the day, I took a seat in the Plaza de Naranjos at the heart of the old town, sitting in one of the only spots being hit by the slowly rising sun. And with the square’s cafes only just beginning to open up, with chairs being unstacked and umbrellas gradually opening up around me, I gave the first order of the day to an open cafe’s lone waiter: churros and coffee, to be sampled slowly while watching the world around me awaken.
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