Saturday, November 25th 2017.

Destinations

Jonathan Ramael
A&A Iberian MICE Forums
MEETINGS ON THE COSTA DEL SOL

 

By Jonathan Ramael

 

From April 2 to 5, BBT Online was invited to cover the first Iberian MICE Forum in Marbella and Malaga. Here, foreign buyers could meet with Spanish suppliers to find just the right hotel or venue for their next event. It is of course hard to really appreciate a region without discovering it in person, so the first two days were spent venturing into Marbella, Ronda and some surprising venues on the countryside. The region has 188km of beaches, 51 golf courses and Malaga is Spain’s second largest cruise destination after Barcelona. It seemed like we wouldn’t run out of sightseeing opportunities soon.

 

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Day One: yachts and flamenco in Marbella

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The Costa del Sol can count on over 300 sunny days a year – hence its name. Too bad for us, we arrived on one of the 40 cloudy ones. Not that it kept our spirits down. Around thirty buyers from Belgium, Holland, Italy, Germany, France, Sweden and the UK first met each other in Marbella’s five star Puente Romano Hotel (http://www.puenteromano.com), an absolutely gorgeous, luxurious place full of lush gardens and ponds, but with the feeling of a little southern village. It’s a member of ‘Leading Hotels in the World’ and it houses all the facilities and more to accommodate your events. A new convention centre with natural light coming in from all sides can host 450 people. The beautiful courtyard (with nightclub and bar) can be used for receptions, parties and the like. The hotel even has its own tennis centre (2000 seats), where a WTA tournament was held during our stay. After checking into our elegant rooms it was time to explore Marbella.

puertoThe old town proved to be a very cozy place, with its narrow streets full of shade, its green plazas and the overload of picturesque little restaurants, churches and chapels. We visited the city hall and the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación, a typical church revealing why this region is so blessed: they have a saint for practically everyone and everything. A few moments later we took the main road to Puerto Banùs, the most prestigious marina of the Mediterranean Sea.  The whole road to the port was riddled with pompous mansions and five star resorts, including a perfect replica of the American White House owned by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. The marina itself housed a collection of massive yachts, exclusive shops, Ferrari’s and Bugatti’s. A place for the rich and famous to show off their wealth while the less fortunate hang around to catch a glimpse of Flamencotheir dreams. An impressive location indeed, but don’t expect it to be a cultural trip.

Tired of all this walking about, it was time for a break. Restaurant La Meridiana del Alabardero’s (http://grupolezama.es/portal/la-meridiana-del-alabardero) colorful garden, was the perfect place to have a drink. Under a charming pergola, entangled with purple wisteria flowers, we laid back and rested our feet for a while. After we returned to the hotel for dinner in its private beach club, we visited the old town again. It seemed to be very vivid at night. We were welcomed by a traditional flamenco band in a small, intimate café. A very entertaining evening of handclapping and foot tapping followed, while buyers got to know each other. It seemed like typical Spanish charm easily beats yachts and prestigious luxury. We went to bed tired but satisfied.

 

Day two: Bull fighting and wine tasting in Ronda

rondaAs we parted for the ancient city of Ronda, the impossible happened: rain in Spain! But since beauty doesn’t wash away with water, our planning didn’t change. Ronda is a medium sized city in a very mountainous region, well known for its iconic bridge spanning a huge canyon dividing the city in two. Because of its height (around 800m above sea level) it’s a much cooler place to spend summer – and you don’t have to worry about mosquito’s as well. Our first stop was the bullring (the oldest and maybe most monumental in Spain). Only two fights a year are held, during the first weekend of September, but the event is nationally renowned and attracts even King Juan Carlos. The arena has room for over 5000 spectators, and standing on its sandy floor you can feel the intensity of the fights through all your senses. Still defying the rain, we visited the city’s new congress centre. It’s located in El Convento de Santo Domingo (http://www.rondapalaciodecongresos.es), an old renaissance style monastery. It has multiple well equipped meeting rooms and can host rondaevents for 10 to 300 people. You can even give your meeting or diner somewhat of a special touch by holding it in the old chapel.

After all of Ronda’s splendor, lunch was more than welcome. So our next stop was the Joaquin Fernandez Winery (http://www.bodegajf.es). This small vineyard of just four hectares produces 50.000 bottles of organic and biological wine each year. The winery is located on a hill with a breathtaking view over the surrounding countryside. After a short tour of the facility and some wine tasting, we learned how to make traditional Spanish tortilla and paella. This would also be our lunch. A pleasant meal was spent with the Belgians nervously sending text messages home to inform themselves about the ongoing Tour of Flanders bicycle race, while the Dutch amused themselves about the unfolding commotion.

monterosA short bus ride brought us to Hotel Los Monteros (http://www.monteros.com), another fine five star venue, where we would spend our second night. It was time for the Iberian Meeting Forum to officially kick off. We were invited for a reception in La Cabane, the hotel’s stylish beach club, offering great views over the Mediterranean and the Spanish coast, with a glimpse of the Moroccan shores barely visible on the horizon. This is where hosted buyers and Spanish suppliers met for the first time. But because there wasn’t really an official introduction, it was a bit of a shame that most of us stayed with the people they already knew best. During the (basic) walking dinner, the sky was finally clearing up. We went to bed with the promise of a hot and sunny day in our heads.

 

Day 3: Meetings, Mijas and old-timers

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And a sunny day it would prove to be! During the morning, the sunlit La Cabane conference room hosted the official one-on-one business meetings between buyers and suppliers. Talks where twenty minutes long and organized in such a way that everyone got the chance to talk to all suppliers, while those without an appointment could relax by the poolside (there were more buyers than suppliers). After the meeting session both groups took off to another Andalucían gem: Mijas, a typical white-washed Spanish village located on a hillside. We visited the Wine Museum (http://www.museovinomalaga.org), where we were welcomed by the flamboyant owner Julián Sanjuán. Delicious wine wineand tasty tapas were presented in generous quantities and the beautifully decorated Museo del Vino proved to be the perfect location for smaller events: 30 people can dine downstairs, 40 upstairs and for walking dinners the garden and the terrace can be used, increasing the total capacity to 120 people. Taking the beauty of the village itself in account as an extra, this was the best of the smaller venues we visited.

Just slightly intoxicated, buyers and suppliers were mixed together in teams for a treasure hunt across the town. Questions needed to be answered to find a lost key and win the game. After the explanation, most of us were running around the streets looking for clues, letting our competitive spirits go wild. We asked local elders, rode the famous town donkeys and eventually gathered again on the main square. Stunned once more by the fabulous views – white homes scattered over the hill on one side, the distant Mediterranean Sea on the other – a winner was bbtdeclared, receiving a cheque feeding 20 poor families for 20 days. But there wasn’t much time to celebrate, since the bus to Malaga waited for us. Our last dinner was served in a surprise venue, and it was an absolute treat. We dined between the fabulous and streamlined old-timer cars of the Malaga Motor Museum (http://www.museoautomovilmalaga.com). Around a hundred beautiful automobiles – some more than a century old – including Elvis’ pink Cadillac – were presented by local beauties. The dinner (easily the best of the entire trip up till now) was just as splendid as the location, and with our stomachs full we returned to our last hotel, the four star Molina Lario (http://www.hotelmolinalario.com) in Malaga’s historical centre. After some drinks on the rooftop overlooking the city, we called it a night and prepared for one last morning of one-on-one business talks.

 

Day four: More meetings and goodbyes

The last day was a short one for your BBT Online correspondent. Because of the available flights some attendants had to depart earlier. It was with pain in my heart that I missed the farewell lunch at Restaurant La Moraga by Michelin star chef Dani Garcia.

All foreign buyers we talked to agreed that the first A&A Iberian Mice Forum was well organized and hosted by a very dedicated (and multilingual) staff. On no occasion one would think this was just the first edition. Some very good ideas were introduced. Buyers and domestic suppliers were mixed together during leisure and teambuilding activities, which makes for a more relaxed atmosphere during the official talks. We all received a small booklet as well, containing names, photo’s and contact info of every participant, which was very useful. The only real point of critique we had was that some more important MICE planners could have been selected as far as foreign buyers are concerned and that some of the Spanish suppliers seemed to employ (charming) students or interim workers to hold the one-on-one talks instead of their executives. A stricter selection on both sides would make future Iberian MICE Forums even better.

Andalucía and the Costa del Sol are of course stunning (and close by) locations, combining natural beauty and old traditions with top venues and state of the art meeting possibilities. We would like to express our gratitude to Ana Candel and Andrés Mérino of A&A Iberian MICE Forums for all their hard and tiring work and to Susana Porras of the Costa del Sol Convention Bureau for guiding us through the towns during the pre-tour.

For more info check: http://www.iberianmiceforums.com.

The next forum will be in Girona, Costa Brava from 3 – 5 September, 2011.

 

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