Count Rudi started as Assistant Manager on January 1st 1957, with all the energy of youth and his own boundless optimism. “Every week we would have at least three parties, one a treasure hunt, one a fancy dress party on the beach, and so on,” remembers Conde Rudi. There was always something going on.” Among the people who first visited the Marbella Club during Conde Rudi’s first season were such members of the English aristocracy as Lord and Lady Harewood and Lord and Lady Monkton, as well as the thrones of European royalty including ex-king Umberto of Italy.
It is a truth pretty universally acknowledged that by the time a playboy Prince reaches his early thirties he is in need of a Princess, and in 1955 Alfonso found his. Fifteen year-old Ira Furstenberg was not merely a Princess but an heiress, too. According to Alfonso it was love at first site. Billed by London’s Daily Telegraph as the “biggest assembly of central European nobility since the war,” the marriage of Prince Alfonso and Princess Ira in Venice in 1955 was the talk of European society.
While his father Prince Max was content to sit under the pines and eat freshly caught fish and seafood, Young Prince Alfonso had more ambitious plans for his family’s Mediterranean hideaway. Enchanted by the atmosphere and its appeal among relatives and friends, and inspired by motels he’d visited in America, the young Prince decided to fashion the finca into a hotel. The embryo of the Marbella Club, with twenty bedrooms, dining room and bar located in the central part of the old farmhouse, opened in 1954. Its first guests were some French travelers who were on their way from their properties in North Africa to spend a holiday in France. They asked if they could spend the night and wound up staying for three weeks. Life on the Costa del Sol at that time was simple, pleasant, cheap and easy
In the summer of 1967 the Marbella Club 4,000 people were turned away from the hotel. Those lucky enough to charm Conde Rudi into renting them a room enjoyed every minute of their stay; women in their Pucci prints and their caftans, men in open necked shirts, some with medallions, others with cravats, all having the best time imaginable. About the Marbella Club, Town & Country reported “rank upstart of the four-star playgrounds. Liveliest, clubbiest, most historically social. It breaks new ground, dares to be young, decided who’s who by its own lights, then hides behind iron gates to keep teeming crowds at bay.
“Every week we would have at least three parties,” recalls Alfonso, “one a treasure hunt, one a fancy dress party on the beach and so on. As the decade wore on these parties became more and more elaborate.
For one Wild West party, Conde Rudi turned up with a live cow which he preceded to milk, much to the amusement of the guests, and at the back-to-nature party twenty guests sewed themselves together and arrived as an orchard. It was then that the Club swapped its rural, quasi-colonial simplicity for a more sybaritic feel.
“One day it occurred to me to order 40-50 donkeys to take the guests up to a little pine wood above the Marbella Club,” recalls Conde Rudi. We prepared some excellent Sangria (slightly enriched with some Cointreau) and small pieces of typical Andalusian Tortilla to serve to the guests. The donkeys with their guides were lined up in front of the Club along the main road, where in those years hardly any traffic existed, what made the crossing of the road towards the hill-trail safe. It was not a long ride, but long enough to create a happy togetherness and proud feeling of one’s “surprisingly good riding talents”. By the time we reached the improvised party place a jolly lock-fire had been lit and the shoe shine boys from town, all guitar experts, with their gipsy sisters were dancing. They welcomed us to this unusual get-together-party.
“By the early Sixties we had the discotheque down on the beach and people said ‘what a pity that in winter we can't dance’, so in 1962 we built the Champagne Room,” which would become one of the little secret hideaways of the group that would become known as the jet set. The famous picture of Gunther Sachs, Brigitte Bardot and Prince Alfonso reminds Rudi of a particularly memorable evening. “They had dinner and then all ended up in the champagne room dancing flamenco, Alfonso was dancing with Brigitte and Gunther Sachs went down on his knees in front of one of the girls, a real beauty called Chichi, she was from a typical gypsy family and was the brother of one of the shoeshine boys in Marbella. But even though the king and queen of the jet set had a great time, it was all still very simple: “Alfonso and I took it in turns to put the records on, with the help of our then girlfriends, and Alfonso brought the best records from New York or from Mexico, or whenever he come from London.” Conde Rudi
Although still a dictatorship, Spain, or at least its southern coast, was becoming a European summer playground to rival Cote dÁzur and Marbella was emerging as rival to both St Tropez and Monaco: easily as bohemian and relaxed as the former, and yet able to boast a Prince every bit as glamorous. An avalanche of aristocracy, millionaires and stars descended on Marbella. Don Juan de Bourbon, Conde de Barcelona, father of the old King Juan Carlos, moored his yacht off the coast and Spanish high society came to pay court.
The 25th Anniversary Ball took place on 5th July 1978. The unusual idea of how to seat everybody that night created a fabulous atmosphere: The young Ladies were asked to put one of their shoes into a big basket, which was then taken back into the cocktail area. Each gentleman was to choose his dinner partner by picking one of those shoes.Between the elegant silk shoes, an old tennis appeared in the basket.
One of the gentlemen, a very popular and smart Italian Prince, was not at all happy about this unusual way of seating the guests. In his deception he picked this tennis shoe considering that the evening was spoiled for him. What a surprise when the Prince searching the owner of the second tennis shoe found that it belong to the most glamorous girl of the celebration that he had dreamed to choose for the evening. This young archduchess turned in love and they got married and had lovely children.
Indeed the summer of 1977 was the summer of youth at the Marbella Club as it was the first season of the Junior Club, which was for children aged five to fifteen. Although not as well equipped as the twenty-first century Kids’ Club, the range of activities offered to young guests was practically limitless. It was in effect almost the same programme that the club offered its older guests: water-skiing, sailing, wind-surfing, tennis, that marvellous Marbella invention paddle tennis, as well as riding, with donkey safaris into the hills behind the club and moonlit cavalcades. And, just as Prince Alfonso used to pick out a particularly beautiful young woman and crown her with a circlet of bougainvillea as Miss Beach Club, 1978 saw the first Miss Junior Marbella Club competition, the victor of which won the right to call herself Miss Marbella Junior Club Queen, and in typical Marbella Club style ‘her runner-up received the accolade of becoming a Princess, Countess or Baroness’
The 1970s saw the complexion of Marbella alter radically. Jose Banus threw a gala to inaugurate his eponymous pleasure port: Puerto Banus. Banus was a visionary property developer who had stated on the road to financial success as a builder of social housing. His dream was to create an idyllic community centered around the sports of yachting and golf, with Puerto Banus as its centerpiece, providing a marina that would rival the likes of Monte Carlo and St. Tropez. Puerto Banus heralded a new era: during the 1970s Marbella was to become the world’s ultimate resort. It was the place to be and the Marbella Club was the place to stay.
Southern Spain has always held an attraction for raffish characters, among them was Don Jaime de Mora y Aragon, a charming aristocrat whose sister happened to be the queen Fabiola of Belgium.
During the eighties he was the most elegant man in Marbella: he walked with a cane, wore a monocle, sported the sort of beard that had been favoured by Napoleon lll of France and had, of course, been to school with Prince Alfonso.
He was present at every Marbella Club party.
The 1980s saw a remarkable growth along the Costa del Sol and the Marbella Club reacted to the seismic social change by becoming simultaneously more overtly glamorous. The hotel was admitted to the association of Leading Hotels of the World. It would also become a member of Relais &Chateaux. Less than thirty years before the Marbella Club had been little more than a clubhouse, its chief attraction a telephone, and now it was taking its place alongside the Plaza Athénée in Paris, Claridge’s, the Savoy and the Connaught in London, and Count Rudi’s alma mater the Vier Jahreszeiten in Hamburg.
The Marbella Club continued to grow, but additions were gradual and in keeping with the relaxed spirit of the place. What Prince Alfonso had founded as an aristocratic wayside inn and club house has matured into a world class resort, offering accommodation to suit the needs and tastes of every visitor, from suites with views out over the sea to Gibraltar, to large private villas with their own pools and staff – all presented with the Marbella Club´s unique signature.
Having heard so much about life on the shores of the Mediterranean from his cousin Soriano, Prince Max decided to take a drive down from his palace to see it for himself. So in 1946, he fired up his charcoal-burning Rolls Royce Phantom and headed for the southern Spain. He wouldn’t have imagined pausing for a picnic in a pine forest on the coast of Southern Spain would lead to the birth of a legend. His son, Prince Alfonso, returned the following year to buy this rural 180,000 square metre enclave. Santa Margarita, the old finca, became the family’s Mediterranean hideaway.
At about this time an eccentric aristocrat and playboy called Ricardo Soriano Marques De Ivanrey, got into conversation with one of Andalusia’s landowners. The landowner rhapsodized about the charms of the Mediterranean life and, something of a romantic; Soriano became hooked on the idea of a place in the sun and, without even visiting the area, bought the finca El Rodeo near Marbella, not far from what today is Puerto Banus.
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