Few famous faces of the modern era have sought out solace and seclusion so assiduously as the woman who (once upon a time) would have been queen.
One of Princess Diana’s favourite spots was behind the vertiginous walls of the Byblos Hotel, secreted away in a sliver of idyllic Andalusian countryside, midway between Malaga and Marbella.
Sister hotel to the Byblos in St Tropez, it blazed a brief hedonistic trail through the tail end of the 20th century. Following a £35 million restoration, a very different iteration of the property has appeared. It has been renamed La Zambra and exudes a zen-like peacefulness. Sunlight and shadows dance off geometric pools and a subtle sprinkling of fountains conjures up a modernist invocation of a Moorish palace.
The acclaimed minimalist Majorca-based, father-and-son design team, Esteva I Esteva, has created a sophisticated contemporary property of 197 spacious rooms looking out over either the Robert Trent Jones-designed golf courses or the Sierra de Mijas.
Three restaurants, overseen by Iker Gonzalez Ayerbe, a former ambassador for Basque gastronomy, deliver modern Iberian cuisine, incorporating exceptional tapas.
Classic: Andrew Harris checks into La Zambra in Andalusia, formerly known as the Byblos Hotel
There are three pools, one for children, also provided for with their own club, a couple of tennis courts, and a padel court.
But for spa junkies, the Mood Spa, at 2,000 sq m, is now the largest on the Costa del Sol and boasts 12 treatment rooms, Turkish baths, saunas and ice showers.
At just 30 minutes from Malaga airport, the property’s location remains one of its stand-out attributes. Within the same amount of time, guests can also be in Malaga’s historic centre marvelling at the city’s amazing 15-year transformation from drug-fuelled dump into charming, culturally infused urban oasis.
‘At just 30 minutes from Malaga airport, the property’s location remains one of its stand-out attributes,’ writes Andrew
The hotel has 197 rooms that look out over either golf courses or the Sierra de Mijas. Pictured is a Junior Suite
Andrew reveals that the hotel’s spa, at 2,000 sq m, is now the largest on the Costa del Sol
The hotel was reportedly one of the late Princess Diana’s favourite spots
With the coast 15 minutes away, the best of all worlds is readily available. As are the mesmerisingly beautiful landscapes of the Andalusian hinterland encircling the property, demanding to be explored. For those who can’t abide being parted from their sunbed for too long, one of the most endearing of Andalusia’s famous hilltop white villages is also 15 minutes away — Mijas Pueblo. The hotel can even organise a quad bike trip.
Fifty years of intense development along the Costa del Sol would appear to have done little to mar this warren of whitewashed alleyways and inviting little eateries. For a more challenging excursion, the Caminito del Rey, dubbed the Walkway of Death, is a terrifying-looking path perched precariously 100 metres up above El Chorro gorge.
It was originally constructed for workers building a dam and remained closed for years. A safer, officially sanctioned pathway opened in 2015.
The hotel can arrange access and the Caminito, for those with a head for heights, is a truly fabulous day out.
While La Zambra is unrecognisable from the old Byblos, those high walls remain. Getting inside might not involve jumping through the security hoops of its jet-set heyday (which didn’t prevent Princess Diana from getting famously papped there), but they once again encompass another altogether different, yet equally opulent, haven from which to both embrace and retreat from the Costa del Sol.
British Airways (britishairways.com) offers a five-night stay at La Zambra from £1,215 per person based on two people sharing junior suite, including flights with British Airways from London to Malaga (lazambrahotel.com).