Like or loathe it Marbella is Spain’s most famous resort is set to enjoy another record breaking summer as tourists, celebrities and investors continue to the town. While the political situation in Marbella has changed recently, with a coalition of left wing parties booting out the right wing Partido Popular (and raising a Rainbow Flag above the town hall that upset the conservatives) the combination of a superb microclimate and enviable lifestyle as well as a glitzy dash of designer brands and a constant stream of celebrities, from Hollywood starred A list to reality show Z list, means that Marbella can pretty much ignore the political bunfighting and get on with the serious business of having a good time.
It’s not all tourists and celebs, however. The past12 months has seen the luxury residential property market show real growth. Internationally renowned as a playground for the rich and famous, Marbella boasts literally miles of stunningly beautiful beaches, a favourite spot for golf enthusiasts and has an enviable climate. Property values have historically been very high, and although the recent economic crisis resulted in a realistic realignment in prices, the past few months have seen values begin to rise as international investors have once again begun to look seriously attracted by the country’s low prices, investment opportunities and lifestyle.
International property analysts have highlighted three prime areas for international investment – Madrid, Barcelona and Marbella., Foreign investors have be been attracted to Spain due to the ‘Golden Visa’ scheme – which grants automatic residency to non-EU citizens who invest €500,0000 thousand euros or more in Spanish property. This has has attracted a growing number of residency investors, mainly from the Far East, Middle East and Russia and Marbella Town Hall has been proactive in marketing the town, attending a variety of trade shows and exhibitions in the Middle East, Far East and Russ
But first a little history. Marbella has been a town since the seventh century BC. The Romans were here of course, and called the place ‘Salduba’ (which is also the name of a well known bar at the entrance to Puerto Banus that had been there since roughly the same time). An original Roman bridge still stands surreally in the middle of the Puente Romano Hotel and a few kilometres away is the restored Roman villa at Rio Verde with its beautiful mosaics.
A sleepy town during the period of Al – Andalus, Marbella was retaken my the Christians in 1485. The Plaza de los Naranjos (Orange Square) has been the focal point of the town since then and the Town Hall is still located there. Other historic buildings close by include the Museo de Grabado Español and the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnacion and the old town itself is fantastically atmospheric with its cobbled streets, hidden plazas and great variety of bars, restaurants and boutiques.
The modern history of Marbella started with the chance visit of a German aristocrat. Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe was on his way to visit relatives in Sevilla in the 50s and needed to make a telephone call. He was told that no line would be available for several hours, so decided to take a picnic lunch under the pines close to the Finca Santa Margarita. Alfonso fell in love with the place, brought the land and opened a small lodge style hotel for his friends – The Marbella Club Hotel.
The playboy prince, who dated actresses Ava Gardner and Kim Novak and married several times, soon had both the grand families of Europe and the rich and famous staying at the Marbella Club. Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn (who brought a house in nearby Guadalmina), Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Bridget Bardot, Gunter Sachs and Sean Connery were all regular visitors during the 50s and 60s. “The people I had met in Hollywood, in New York, in Europe, they were the roots, the bridge that brought people to Marbella and who made Marbella famous” explained Alfonso.
He employed his cousin Count Rudi von Schonburg, who is still very much involved in the Marbella Club Hotel as well as flamboyant Spanish aristocrat and friend of painter Salvador Dali, Don Jamie de Mora y Aragon, who played piano for the guests. No ordinary tinkler of the ivories, the monocled and moustachiod Don Jamie was directly decended from 56 king and the brother of the Queen of Belgium.
In 1970 developer Jose Banus opened Puerto Banus with an inauguration attended by
Prince Ranier and Princess Grace of Monaco as guests of honour and a young Julio Iglesias providing the entertainment. Puerto Banus quickly became a jet set destination with F1 World Champion often spotted playing backgammon in Sinatra’s, while Rod Stewart and The Who’s Kenny Jones hit the restaurants. The Saudis also arrived in numbers, with King Fahd building a huge palace while millionaire arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi moored his superyacht ‘Nabila’ in the marina and flew by helicopter to La Zagaletta, his huge private estate.
Although some of the glamour went out of the town after the huge scale corruption of Mayor Jesus Gil and his GIL party, the past decade has seen Marbella back in the spotlight for all the right reasons.
High profile events such as Marbella Luxury Weekend, which showcases top end designer fashions, good and some serious impressive yachts and cars, as well as the summer long Starlite Festival that this year features Lenny Kravitz, Enrique Iglesias and Lionel Richie attract major media coverage, as do the red carpet charity galas held by Antonio Banderas and Eva Longoria, now a regular fixture on every Marbella socialite’s calendar. And US First Lady Michelle Obama’s visit to Marbella a few years ago made the front pages around the world. Marbella Town Hall estimated that her visit generated the equivalent of €800 million in media coverage!
And then there is the TOWIE factor. Hit UK reality TV show ‘The Only Way is Essex’ picked Marbella for a summer special with spectacular results. Puerto Banus was soon overrun by Essex Boys and wannabieWAGs, provided a much needed shot in the arm for Puerto Banus. Restaurants such as La Sala and bars including the famous Linekers are ‘must do’ destinations for the hordes of fans wanting to imitate their idols or bump into a Premiership footballer or two and, though they might not be to everyone’s taste, they certainly bring a dash of colour to Banus!
Written off several times before as being past its sell by date, Marbella continues to attract a steady stream of the rich and famous. As playboy par excellance, the late Sir Dail Llewllyn once told me. “Marbella is like a hostess who, halfway through a party, goes upstairs and puts on a new outfit. The outfit may have changed, but the party continues!”