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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- The 1980's
- The 1970's
- The 1960's
- The 1950's
- The 1940's