European elite and Hollywood stars often frequented the emerging glamorous resort town of Marbella, but when added Middle Eastern royalty such as the King of Saudi Arabia and his entourage began spending part of their summers on Spain’s sunny southern coast, Marbella became a preferred destination for many Middle East buyers and visitors. Sheikhs and other well-heeled visitors from Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East followed, and before long they traded in their suites at the iconic Marbella Club Hotel for private villas and penthouses in the town’s finest addresses.
The Golden Mile was a particular favourite, wedged in as it is between Marbella town and the glamorous nightlife of Puerto Banús. These were heady days, when it would not have been impossible to spot Sean Connery, James Hunt and Adnan Khashoggi in one of the famous marina’s haunts, close to where King Fahd’s luxurious yacht lay at anchor in the harbour. The port could not accommodate his largest yachts, which were diverted to Porto Cervo and the French Riviera, but such was the Saudi royal family’s love of Marbella that King Fahd had a magnificent palace built and a lavish park landscaped on the fringes of the palm-lined Golden Mile.
Others followed, including the colourful businessman Khashoggi, whose private hunting estate was later to become the luxurious country club we now known as La Zagaleta. An exquisite mosque was also built on the Golden Mile, marking this area as a particular favourite of those Middle Easterners who over the years have bought luxurious sea fronting penthouses and built beautiful villas. Successive generations of people from the Middle East have since spent their summers in Marbella, creating a tradition and indeed a link between the regions that remains as strong as ever.
Why Marbella is so popular
Many of the reasons why Marbella is so popular amongst Middle Eastern buyers is that it offers some of the best weather in Europe, with over 300 sunny days a year, but manageable temperatures, a beautiful setting between green mountains and the Mediterranean, and a very high level of luxury services and amenities. The latter includes golf, spa resorts, racquet clubs, fine dining and top brand shopping, but also medical clinics, international schools and every service from private tutoring to chauffeured limousines and yacht and aeroplane chartering.
The marina in Puerto Banús and the international airport at nearby Málaga offer linkages to main destinations in Europe and the Middle East, along with a growing network of private air travel, while the residential areas and properties include everything from beachside to hill club, and from compact modern apartment to palatial mansion. Prices can therefore range from €200,000 up to over €35 million, depending on the budget and preferences, but people from the Middle East also feel a connection to this region because of its long historic ties. Nowhere else in Europe is the culture as close to that of the Middle East, as is seen in the white plaster architecture of the area, many historic monuments and in elements of Andalusian culture and cuisine. Perhaps related to this is the fact that many investors say they feel more welcome and better treated than in other similar resort areas.
What Middle Eastern buyers look for?
Today, Marbella is highly cosmopolitan, with a vibrant upmarket social scene that includes people from across Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Latin America. They are all drawn by the glamour and lifestyle of Marbella but do have specific wants and preferences that can vary by region and country. “From our long experience with clients from the Middle East we know that they prize homes that offer privacy and tranquillity, a prime address close to, but seldom right within Puerto Banús, and sufficient space to accommodate and entertain family and friends,” says Pia Arrieta, Managing Director of DM Properties Knight Frank. “Other amenities appreciated in a property include staff facilities and good housekeeping infrastructure that is modern and functional but out of sight.”
Security and services are also important, especially in the form of luxury apartment complexes with manned security, concierge and in-situ spa, gym and swimming pools. Gated villa communities are also in demand, partly because families want to know their children can play safely in an environment without transit traffic. In terms of architecture the younger generation of entrepreneurs and professionals are keen on sleek modern styles that are currently in vogue, while somewhat older buyers – often government officials and diplomats – still prefer more classical homes with Mediterranean and Arabian design features that include shaded areas, cooling patios and shuttered windows.
“Our Middle Eastern clients tend to know this region well, having visited here many times before. They expect high standards of luxury and services, focusing primarily on villas and penthouses in top locations close to Puerto Banús and the Golden Mile, though increasingly are also open to newer up and coming areas such as Marbella east and the New Golden Mile,” says Pia.
“Most people want holiday homes, with a significant number buying for investment and a smaller number using the property as their main residence. In recent times we have also seen a growth in middle class buyers looking for more affordable apartments, and naturally the Golden Visa offered by the Spanish government is an added form of attraction, but at the heart of the demand for Marbella real estate is a longstanding love affair with the setting, amenities and lifestyle it offers.”