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by Zoe Dare Hall, The Daily Telegraph, October 10, 2016
As Ignacio Perez weaves his car around the hillsides of La Zagaleta, the private country club that sprawls across 2,200 acres of mountains and valleys near Marbella, his thoughts turn to his father.
It was his dad, Enrique Perez Flores, who built La Zagaleta. In classic Costa del Sol style, the land previously belonged to the Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, who used the estate as his party house and hunting grounds. He had 200 animals at his disposal there in the Eighties, when he was worth more than £2 billion.
Perez Flores was thought by many to be completely mad when he bought the land in 1991 and began creating what is seen as Europe’s most exclusive estate in terms of privacy, security and luxury. The location felt remote; this was several years before the coast’s motorway had been built, and Malaga airport was largely a domestic hub.
“There was no property here either – just plots, and Khashoggi’s house, which became the country club. It was perceived as a highly speculative project,” says Perez of his father’s ambition.
It was also just when the Costa del Sol was cementing its love of new development, so Perez Flores’s decision to build only 420 homes, rather than the 3,000 he had planning permission for, seemed like financial suicide (though this was a man who had also founded a Swiss bank, so the track record suggested otherwise).
“People thought he was crazy. Or at least they did until they saw La Zagaleta’s first golf course. Then they felt this project was just too big to fail,” says Perez, who is La Zagaleta’s head of business development.
He must surely be feeling a slight sense of déjà vu. While the wounds of Spain’s property crash are still fresh and the Costa del Sol is awash with unsold properties, La Zagaleta’s shareholders recently announced plans to create a second resort, a €200 million (£175 million) project, over the next 10 years.
After searching across the world from Panama to Greece for somewhere to repeat their successful formula, they settled on Sotogrande, a 40‑minute drive south along the coast. There they bought Valderrama, an estate whose “trophy asset”, as Perez describes it, is the world-famous golf course that hosted Europe’s first Ryder Cup outside the UK in 1997.
The new development – working title Valderrama II – will have houses from €5 million to €25 million, a five-star hotel and a new golf course they want to be the best in the world. They are currently calling on golf designers including Gil Hanse, Tom Doak and Ben Crenshaw to come up with ideas.
“It is a big risk for us,” Perez admits, “but it’s an extension of what La Zagaleta already does, so, in that sense, it doesn’t compare with the risk my father took 25 years ago.”
Until now, the site of Valderrama II has been kept under wraps to any press. But Perez takes me on the first tour of what will be home to quite possibly the biggest new luxury development in Spain .
There’s little to see at present but the gently undulating landscape of olive trees and agricultural fields.
“Nothing else around here can be built, so we’ll be a little island,” says Perez. That may be part of the gamble, persuading the super-rich to leave behind Marbella’s glitz in favour of this wilder, untouched part of the coast, which has the vast and empty golden sands of the Costa de la Luz on its doorstep.
Villa Genève is on the La Zagaleta estate and has five bedrooms, an outdoor pool with a waterfall and a heated indoor pool, as well as a sauna and a Turkish bath. There is a five-car garage, lift and a self-watering garden. It is €5.8m with La Zagaleta (0034 687 443 045; lazagaleta.com)
But the area is hardly a total stranger to wealthy buyers. The Sotogrande estate, which is being upgraded by its new owners, has been attracting Spanish old money and well-heeled international buyers for decades.
“Sotogrande has always appealed to the higher end of the market but its appeal has been seasonal,” says Christopher Clover, managing director of Panorama Properties, Savills’s associate in Marbella. “The introduction of the highest-end properties will change this. And both Valderrama and Sotogrande are betting this will be sooner rather than later.”
The area is also being branded as a magnet for those who love polo and showjumping. “One of the many factors attracting people to Sotogrande is its proximity to the real heart of Andalusia, to white villages, towns such as Jerez and Seville. This is horse and bull country,” Clover adds.
For a real taste of what to expect at Valderrama II, you need to return to its prototype, La Zagaleta, assuming they’ll let you in. This was the first estate in Spain to install security on a big scale.
This Andalusian cortijo style-villa in the La Zagaleta Country Club has five bedrooms. It has sweeping views across the golf course and mountains, and was designed by architect Cesar de Leyva. The asking price is €3.95m through Savills (0034 952 863 750; savills.com)
Once inside, it’s all about beautiful houses, discreetly done (as far as mansions costing tens of millions can ever entirely blend in). The 230 houses here are dotted around 32 miles of private roads.
Deer and wild boar wander around, and the street lighting is set at knee height to encourage nocturnal wildlife. There are teams of gardeners constantly at work, although much of the landscape beyond the golf courses and private gardens is wild and natural.
Most buyers here are British, German and Norwegian and they will typically spend up to €50 million building their Andalusian palaces. Some will barely visit, of course, “but we take care of everything every single day, as if the owner is here,” says sales director Maika Diaz Rivero. They are unlikely to sell, either.
“For owners, their house here is like a little jewel and it doesn’t represent a large part of their wealth,” she adds.
When you want to see your neighbours, there’s the country club, which costs €100,000 to join. “Hopefully Valderrama II’s membership fee will be much higher,” says La Zagaleta’s managing director Jacobo Cestino, who thinks the estate’s proximity to Gibraltar airport, a 20-minutes drive away, will be a boon for British buyers.
At La Zagaleta, there’s a concierge service, and the restaurant staff know every family member by name. And there’s the equestrian centre run by Manuel, who has been there for 32 years and looked after Khashoggi’s Arabian stallions.
This brand-new villa in La Zagaleta is set over an acre of land and has views to the Mediterranean Sea. The luxury house, with five bedrooms, underfloor heating and an infinity pool, is within It is €6.75m with Savills (0034 952 863 750; savills.com)
All those elite facilities will be replicated at Valderrama II. But unlike La Zagaleta, where you can buy a plot and build your own, there will be just four or five houses built a year, costing upwards of €5 million. All houses must have tiled roofs and be no more than two storeys above ground, so that nothing detracts too much from the surroundings.
Inside, a typical home opens up into a palatial space that is the height of decadence: 23 ft high ceilings in the living room, an entrance hall that opens up into stepping stones across the pool and, in the basement, a home cinema, staff apartment and garage big enough for a luxury car collection.
“Most buyers are now very into design and technology. It makes them feel younger,” says Diaz Rivero. “They also want the house to be immaculately presented with the best brands in everything. These consumers are very well informed and extremely demanding.”
No doubt buyers at Valderrama II will be similarly exacting. But they probably needn’t worry. At 92 and as honorary chairman, Enrique Perez Flores is still keeping a keen eye on what’s going on. All he needs to do is build La Zagaleta all over again
This article was written by Zoe Dare Hall from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.