“If you make a place beautiful, beautiful people come to it. They are looking for something romantic. They don’t want to show off. They don’t want to live in castles or yachts anymore. They don’t want to think anymore.” These are the words of Prince Alfonso Hohenlohe, who was born 55 years ago into a royal line traceable to the year 1100 and the Holy Roman Empire. Prince Alfonso caters to Europe’s golden crowd at Club Marbella, his lush resort on Spain’s Costa del Sol.
Until the 1940s Marbella was nothing but a village of 900 inhabitants on the Spanish coast. That all changed when, according to legend, a German prince’s coal-powered Rolls-Royce broke down there. Prince Alfonso zu Hohenlohe fell in love with the place and decided to stay.Born into one of the oldest noble families in Europe (he was godson to the king of Spain), Hohenlohe was a successful businessman and notorious playboy, fluent in five languages and skilled at sports such as rally-driving and tennis. After his fateful stop in Marbella he decided in 1947 to build a grand private residence there – the Finca Santa Margarita, with traditional whitewashed walls, red-tiled roofs, charming patios and terraces and wonderful, sprawling gardens with fountains, thousands of old trees and manicured lawns. There he played host to a constant flow of glamorous visitors with names such as Bismarck, Metternich and Thyssen, many of whom eventually bought adjacent plots to build their own homes.
But Hohenlohe had even grander plans. In 1954 he sold his own home (to his friends the Rothschilds) and used other parts of the estate to build the famous Marbella Club, which quickly became synonymous with Europe’s mid-century elite “jet set” lifestyle. (Indeed Hohenlohe was often credited with having “invented” the jet set.) Regular guests included the
Soon the former village was a fully fledged international resort, with Hohenlohe still a driving force. As head of the Costa del Sol Promoters’ Co-operative, he successfully lobbied for improvements to roads, airports and water supplies in the region. He continued to run the Marbella club and eventually set up another estate, not far away in the hills near Ronda, where he planted Bordeaux grapes and produced his own award-winning wine under the “Principe Alfonso” label.
By the late 1970s, however, Hohenlohe had become disenchanted with Marbella’s move toward mass tourism and so he sold the club to a consortium of Arab businessmen.