Boots that are made for walking
A mixed wardrobe (warm in the day, nippy at night)
Factor 8 sun cream
A few paracetamol (booze is cheap)
And a car if you can (ideally a Range Rover because, well, "because you can")
An amazing host and hostess
The conditions on which we went to Marbella were slightly random and, arguably, possibly dodgy (the unsafe kind of dodgy). Basically, what happened was, we used to run a small Airbnb empire, by which I mean the spare room in our house, and one day this lovely couple came to stay. She was English and called Heather and he was half-German, half-Italian and called Ralph (I don't know why I wrote that in the past tense, they are both still alive and have both kept their names). Ah, man, they were lovely. Older than us by a generation, but then most of the people I get on with are. They are just more interesting. They come from a more interesting time, where people lived, like actually lived. Anyway, we got on so well that they decided to stay another night, which is when we got to know a bit more about them and they got to be entertained that much more by Phoebe (who was like 9/10 months old).
So here's the short story: it was late-August and they were using us as an Airbnb trial run before leaving two weeks later to travel Europe indefinitely using only their (gangster as) Range Rover for transport and Airbnb for accommodation. What an amazing thing to do.
We kept in touch, obviously, and about a month later they asked us to go and stay with them in Marbella. They had got this amazing house just outside of Puerto Banus and there was a spare room and they would pick us up from the airport, and we could stay with them and they would treat us like king, queen and princess. And I said yes. Of course. So we booked in a date, early-December (which probably explains the lack of drunken Geordie-shore wannabes with dodgy tans, top-knots and inexplicable gym-problems).
It wasn't until about 5 days before, however, that I started to question myself as a parent. I'm a Dad , and that means protector, guardian, comedian and logically-thinking soldier. And yet here I was about to take my young family to the south of Spain to stay with a couple of strangers we'd known for 1 and 1/2 nights. I freaked out. I sent every tiny detail of information I had to my best mate (Gorgeous George), including phone numbers, addresses, names, dates - the whole shebang - my mind tearing-off little bits of fear as I helped pack our bags, "what if these guys are murderers?" my brain said to itself, "that's a legit question, why else would they have fled to Spain where there's no extradition law? They're murderers. I'm taking my family to stay with murderers. Unless they are back robbers in which case they could help us out financial, maybe? Nah. They probably definitely murderers. Shit."
Turns out they weren't. Not immediately anyway. Actually, to drop a little kudos where kudos is due, Ralph and Heather are the greatest and most gracious hosts in the northern Hemisphere. As was Marbella. I mean who would have thunk the southern coast of Spain would be so gorgeous in winter.
First off, let's delve into the question on everyone's lips; the weather. Cor! Blimey! Oh wow! A cool 26 degrees (way warmer than Paris) and every beach on the Costa Del Sol to ourselves. What's more, I didn't get burned, which is unheard of (I'm so pale that I get burned by the light in my fridge or if the brightness on my iPhone goes above a third). It was warm. It was tee shirt weather. It was idyllic. And it was comfortable, by which I mean I hadn't produced 3 baths worth of sweat before brekky.
What I'm trying to say is, the south of Spain is fantastic if you're a parent.
You don't need to be worried about the cold.
You don't need to be worried about whether your kid has enough sunscreen on (although do apply some; Baz Luhrmann did the legwork by speaking to a load of scientists who'd looked at the long term benefits).
You can have every grain on the beach if you so wish.
The flights are cheap (cheaper than ones we got to Romania)
The accommodation is cheap (especially if you're lucky enough to know Ralph and Heather)
The restaurants wait on your hand and foot.
And there is a myriad of magic to be found without having to queue or puke in the fear of overspending.
You get to enjoy real peace.
You get to see what Spain is really like (not how drunken Brits see the pavements through blurry-eyes, or how kids see the obese bodies of sunbathers taking up every ounce of beach) but how the Spanish must see Spain.
But what is there to do. How about loads. I mean, it was the small things in life that got us smiling, like playing in the park with our just turned 1 year old, and going on walks everyday, of which only one went badly; the one where we hiked up a small mountain to get a view of Marbella and the Med, while searching for the a huge shopping mall, only to be chased off by a pack of rabid Jack Russell's, and I mean rabid (I don't care if they're small, if they're barking and foaming at the mouth, then they automatically fall into ferocious category #fact). We went to restaurants, visited bars, gawped at the mega-yachts in Puerto Banus, ran across the open sands, paddled in the (barely even luke) warm water and stared out across The Med and over to Gibraltar.
Of course, this may not keep everyone's family entertained (it only did us because Phoebe was bang on 1 years old, and at that age your opinion isn't valid), which is why I have made a neat bullet-point list of some other epic outings one can enjoy in the Marbella area:
Prison Island - this is amazing! It's in the Benalmedena Marina, which is about 25 mins from Marbs, and it is essentially an escape rooms, which are rooms you have to escape from, this one being in the form of a prison, or 12 prisons actually. They are so much fun, and the chance to do it with your young 'uns is awesome (we did one in Nottingham where you have to escape from a Crypt - not exactly child-friendly that one)
Aqualand - Boomerang. The Black Hole. Kamikaze. Yeah, this waterpark has a death wish, just one that doesn't actually grant you an escape from your fears. I mean, Kamikaze is the tallest slide in Europe, that deserves to come with the following forewarned piece of advice: wear your brown speedos.
Crocodile Park - There is some big-ass crocodiles (I don't mean crocodiles that look like Nicki Minaj, I just mean there are some f**k-off big crocs).
Segway Tours - No people around. Empty roads and beaches. Nice weather. It would rude (by which I mean f**king stupid) not to.
Mundo Mania - I'm going to do this one with exclamation marks: climbing frame with triple slide action! Twister slides! Volcanos spurting real lava (not really!). A Power Tower and shit ton more.
Costa Jump - Don't worry, I'm not suggesting you send your toddler bungee jumping (unless they've got you up in the hour of 5 o'clock three times in a row; in which case this is a suitable and fair punishment). No. This is an indoor trampolining park with slam dunk courts. Never heard of slam dunk, then hang out with your kids more.
We loved it down there. I mean, we had the added bonus of staying with Heather (the most caring and kindest lady since Mother Teresa), and Ralph (who is a storyteller better than Hemingway because a) he has lived a hell of a life and b) he is half-Italian, which means he made pizza's thinner than a gnat's knob and tastier than anything that pretender Papa John has done, and he did so while schooling me at backgammon and sneaking Babybel's to our Phoebe #babybelman). We also got to be chauffeured around in a Range Rover that wouldn't look out of place outside Jay-Zed's house in The Hampton's, or Queens for that matter. What's more, we weren't murdered by them. In fact, we're going to their wedding this year. What a book title that would be: Our Murderers Wedding.
In short, we're going back. Oh, hell yes, we're going back. Like I said, partly because we've been invited to a wedding, but also because the place is epic when there are no Brits there to ruin the view or be sick on your towel. So, yeah, if you're not a fan of a marvellously miserable winter in England but also don't have a job because some tosser fired you for no other reason than 'you're not quite the right fit', then why not jump on a £15.99 flight from wherever and enjoy the incredibly cheap paradise that is Marbella out of season.