How Sotogrande was born

31 July 2014

A blown tire in the Rolls Royce belonging to Prince Maximilian and his son, Alfonso de Honenlohe while they were travelling to Seville, led them to Marbella. It was a town with a population of barely 1.000 in which their relative, Ricardo Soriano, Marquis of Ivanreay, already lived at. The Hohenloe family purchased a property worth 180.000 pesetas and turned it into an oasis, laying the groundwork for what would soon become Marbella Club. A similar situation happened in the neighboring town of Sotogrande.

In 1962 Alfredo Melián, Freddy, was commissioned to find land to build an exclusive development by his boss, Colonel Joseph McMicking, USA financier and spy during WWII. A Philippine’s national and owner of Ayala’s Corporation, McMicking, the grandson of a shipping tycoon from Cádiz, wanted to raise a luxury oasis in the Mediterranean region, a haven of tranquility for the “jet-set”. Freddy Melián toured the coast by motorcycle. He even thought of buying the island of Formentera, but chance brought him to a tract of land on the banks of the river Guadiaro, between Málaga and Cádiz. That was the place. “My father toured half of Spain and part of Southern Portugal. But it was in Paniagua’s Farm where he found was they were looking for. There was river water, a stretch of coastline and it was very close to Gibraltar airport” recalls Victoria Melián, Freddy’s daughter. The purchase of this farm was followed by more land purchases. McMicking and his nephews, Jaime and Enrique Zóbel gathered a group of investors, among them Jaime Ortiz Patiño, the king of tin; the diamond dealer, Phillip Oppenheimer and Nestlé’s manager, Helmut Maucher. That’s how Sotogrande was born.

“First, my father built the house and the social club El Cucurucho. Soon after, families started to arrive and the business and the development started taking off”, said Victoria Melián about Sotogrande’s beginnings. Spanish presence was then scarce, unlike nowadays.

A few families like Alvarez Guerra, Benjumea, Garrigues Walker or Vallejo-Nájera, Zobel or Melián, all related to each other used to visit. Half a century later, Sotogrande remains true to its essence, despite belonging to the NH Group. Privacy, calm and discretion are key, in contrast to the ostentation of luxury and vibrant social life that prevails in parts of neighboring Marbella and Puerto Banús where Russians and Arabs display their power unceremoniously.

This luxury development houses five golf courses, including the famous Valderrama Course, eleven polo fields, an equestrian center, a marina, three hotels and about 5.500 homes including villas, cottages and apartments. During the summer months, the floating population reaches 27.000, but only 3000 are registered population in the local census. Counted among them are the best of the aristocracy and finances, representatives from the world of politics and business, and national celebrities.