It has been a haven for the Jet Set, the wannabies, the It girls, and the has beens as well as the brash, blinged, blasted and frequently botoxed, and as it turns 50 today, Puerto Banús shows no signs of slowing down!

The Port’s story began in 1962 when Catalan construction magnate José Banús Masdeu – a good friend of Spain’s leader General Franco – brought the land that was to become Nueva Andalucia.

Marbella was already a fashionable and exclusive retreat for the rich and titled old families of Europe. Banús wanted something different: a resort not for “the wealthy few, but for the wealthy many”. His new development featured wide roads, spacious villas, immaculately landscaped gardens, and even its own bullring.

The crowning achievement was Puerto Banús, a yacht harbour on a scale never seen before, with a Mediterranean-style village attached. Needless to say the project was called “crazy” and “stupid” when the plans were announced, but he enlisted the services of Beverly Hills architect Noldi Schreck.

One of Schreck’s first jobs was to meet José Banús and convince him that Puerto Banús was not a suitable place to build huge skyscrapers. The fashionable resort of Torremolinos was about to lose its cache of cool chic under a tidal wave of concrete high-rise monsters. To reinforce his point, Schreck drew an artist’s vision of Puerto Banús as a sophisticated Andalusian village and marina, and then superimposed stark skyscrapers behind them. This convinced José, and Puerto Banús became the first marina to be constructed by a single architect.

Puerto Banús officially opened on May 17, 1970, and Jose Banús organised a a huge party to celebrate the occasion. Marbella had never had an event like it. The 1,700 guests included Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, future Spanish King Juan Carlos and Princess Sofia of Greece, Liza Minnelli, film director Roman Polanski, the Aga Khan, Playboy owner Hugh Heffner (who flew in on the Playboy Jet) and most of the European Jet Set.
Entertainment was provided by a young Spanish singer called Julio Iglesias, who was contracted to sing for the guests for the enormous (at the time) sum of 125,000 pesetas. In all the party cost Banús eight million pesetas, which included hiring an army of 300 waiters from Seville (as they couldn’t find enough waiters on the Coast) and flying in 50 pounds of Beluga caviar.

A young Julio Iglesias at the opening of Puerto Banús

Safe to say, Puerto Banus had arrived.

The 70s and 80s underlined Puerto Banús’ reputation as a playground for the rich and famous. Formula 1 world champion and Guadalmina resident James Hunt would often be seen playing backgammon in Sinatra Bar. Sean Connery, whose beachfront villa, Malibu, was less than 10 minute’s walk from Puerto Banús, was also a regular. Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi, along with the Saudi Royal Family, moored their superyachts in Banús, and icon Elizabeth Taylor was one of his guests.

80s heyday. Liz Taylor with Adnan Khashoggi, George Hamilton and Don Jamie de Mora y Aragon

The bars and clubs, some like Sinatra’s, Salduba and golfers’ favourite Patrick’s 19th, are still there, while others such as the great Joe’s Bar – where grabbing a space on a sofa was akin finding gold dust – Comedia, Mel’s, Spirit of Ecstasy and Websters – with its legendary lock ins – are long gone.

Although not on the cutting edge of the gastronomic scene, many restaurants have become institutions in Puerto Banus, including the ever popular Picasso’s, The Red Pepper – although owner Chris, who seemingly spent all day seated on the terrace overseeing operations, is no longer with is – and the revamped Da Paulo and Don Leone restaurants. Dalli’s Pasta factory continues to be a favourite for visiting racing drivers and if you are there you have to try their Pasta Connery, named after the greatest Bond of all, who is a friend of the family.

The past 15 years have seen a major change as Puerto Banús became popular with British Stag and Hen parties. Loud and brash, sometimes to excess, Marbella’s mayor stepped up policing in the marina to clamp down on what a colleague in the Spanish Press referred to as “Marbelluf” behaviour.

Having cleaned up its act somewhat, Puerto Banús is still a haven for the seriously wealthy, as a stroll along the front line with its haute couture boutiques and endless procession of supercars will confirm. Although the coronavirus crisis has put any celebration on hold, at the beginning of the year the authorities held a small and select presentation when, as well as marking 50 years, they also made Lady Kitty Spencer, niece of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, an ‘ambassador’.

So Puerto Banús may be 50, but as they say, 50 is the new 30, and ‘The Port’ shows no sign of slowing down just yet!

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