Luxury Retreats market manager Stanislas Helou has traveled all over the world, often bouncing between Geneva, Cannes, New York, Crete, London, and Barcelona. His personal travel motto? Live as the locals do, especially when it comes to food and drink. “I can be happy with a €5 tapas dish from a street vendor in the streets of San Sebastian or a six-course gourmet meal in Paris,” he says. Based in Barcelona, Stan loves that he can jump on a plane and find himself totally immersed in a different culture within 90 minutes. He recently did just that, exploring the upmarket coastal city of Marbella, Spain on the Costa del Sol with eight friends while staying in a luxe villa. Here’s why you’ll want to not only follow in his footsteps but apply his expert tips to your own travels.
LUXURY RETREATS: What experience should a first-time traveler to Spain be sure not to miss?
STANISLAS HELOU: First-time travelers need to get off the beaten path and immerse themselves in local culture. Don’t go to Starbucks for coffee, go to a local café filled with taxi drivers who don’t speak a word of English, and please, please don’t ask for an ‘Americano.’ And don’t ever go to a restaurant on the main touristic road where the menu has pictures. It’s no-go. If a restaurant has pictures in their menu, run, fast! Walk around, and go to one that is loud and filled with Spanish people. Have dinner at 10-10:30 pm like locals do, and don’t ask for the menu. Just have the waiter just surprise you, no questions asked. Eat local. Drink local. Do what locals do.
LR: Tell us about one incredible highlight from your trip to the coastal city of Marbella in Spain’s Costa del Sol region. What did you do, eat, or see?
HELOU: I took my friends to a small, cheap, hidden local restaurant in Marbella’s Old Quarter called Taberna La Niña Del Pisto. The idea was to give my friends from abroad a taste of the local cuisine and ambiance. The food was amazing, and we had Spanish guitar players walking around the tables, singing like there was no tomorrow. We ended up drinking and talking with the restaurant owner about everything: sports, economics, relationships, and politics. And then we helped him close the restaurant…in the typical Spanish way.
LR: While in Marbella, you stayed at El Cano villa. What was your first reaction to the villa, and what made it so special to you?
HELOU: I had a total ‘wow’ reaction to this property (and I’ve seen over 200 different villas around the globe with Luxury Retreats). But it’s not every day that I can stay in a villa with eight close friends. El Cano was so large that we set up a WhatsApp group to contact each other when we couldn’t find each other!
El Cano’s location is unbelievable, with breathtaking views over the golf course. And it couldn’t have been more peaceful. The entire indoors was very spacious, with a large open living room extending into the dining room. It was easy to host dinners or have the typical Spanish siesta-time. And there were also two kitchens. The great thing about that was that on a day when we’d booked a private chef and waiter, they both worked in the outdoor covered kitchen without us bothering them or them bothering us.
We enjoyed the outdoor pool and outdoor jacuzzi practically every day. And the one time during the trip that it was raining cats and dogs, we migrated to the indoor jacuzzi, indoor pool, and sauna and spent over five hours enjoying a spa-like day.
But what I loved the most about the villa was the service provided by the villa manager, Andreea. She was extremely friendly, and came by every morning just to see how things were going and if we need anything.
LR: What made this trip a true Luxury Retreats experience?
HELOU: Definitely the amount and ease of services available. I was able to rent a nice car myself and order car services for my friends, book a private yoga instructor at dawn in the garden, and organize a five-course dinner with a private chef.
LR: If you could bring one thing from your trip home with you, what would it be and why?
HELOU: Olive oil from Antequera, a small town in Andalucia [the same region as Marbella] that is considered to be one of the top three best olive oils in the world.
LR: When you look back on this vacation in 10 years, what will you remember most?
HELOU: My friends from around Europe and the Middle East who joined me, and even without knowing each other, matched perfectly.
LR: Where in the world are you off to next, or where would you like to go?
HELOU: For work, I’ll be going to Ibiza, Spain and Dubai next. For leisure, I’m planning a trip to Provence, France for a long weekend and going to Mykonos, Greece for a wedding.