Did you know that this pretty little mountain village on the edge of Marbella is rumoured to be the richest in Spain? Welcome to Benahavis, the small village and huge municipality with some of the most luxurious suburbs in Europe.
There was a time, not even that long ago, when the population of Benahavis was serviced by a doctor who would spend the whole day trekking up the hillside from Marbella on a donkey – and the rest of the day back. Back then, as recently as the 1970s, this was a small and typical Andalusian white-plastered village clinging to a hillside in a lovely green valley that seemed so far away from Marbella – itself not much more than a village at the time.
Today a modern road takes you from downtown Marbella to Benahavis in around 20 minutes, entering through wooded groves before the hillsides close in on you and you steer through a beautiful gorge that leads into an equally pleasing green valley. The village is still there, pretty as ever, with rustic and more contemporary villas, townhouses and some apartment complexes extending down the hillside and into the verdant valley.
Secret passages and castles
Today Benahavis is a charming village much loved for its country restaurants and its pretty scenery, but look around and you will spot the remnants of castles and watchtowers on the surrounding hilltops, surveying all of the coast and much of the Western Mediterranean. They, along with secret tunnels and passages big enough to fit horses were dug into the mountains to provide a point from which to launch attacks or flee from the invading marauders that besieged this region for centuries.
It is hard to believe that this was once a land of roving bandits and pirates, from the Spanish Bandoleros who stole from the rich to the North African Barbary Corsairs who pillaged the coast and over the years captured and enslaved hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants. In the second half of the previous century agriculture gave way to tourism, culinary and nature enthusiasts and also property development, as Benahavis became a popular destination to own a property and also to live full time.
Country clubs in former hunting estates
Situated seven kilometres from the coast, Benahavis is a mountainous municipality with a little over 8,000 inhabitants of which little more than 1,000 live in the village itself. With over 145km2 of land, it is nonetheless one of the largest municipalities in the region, encompassing thousands of hectares of mountains, woods, valleys, waterfalls and lakes. In what were once extensive hunting estates, several of the most exclusive country clubs in Europe are now located.
The most select of these is La Zagaleta, where the owners of extensive mansions on large plots of land share a private gated community on 900 hectares of natural wonderland. Enough space for two golf courses, a tennis club, equestrian centre and large tracts of open nature endowed with spectacular views back down the rolling valleys to Marbella and the Mediterranean Sea. Close by are the gated communities of El Madroñal and La Reserva de Alcuzcuz, where country meets chic.
Cosmopolitan jet-set in an Andalusian setting
Here, and in neighbouring residential areas such as Monte Halcones, La Heredia, Los Arqueros and La Quinta, a highly cosmopolitan community of HNW individuals own and reside, including many a famous name and face. The likes of Rod Stewart, Dolf Lundgren, Hugh Grant and many European, Russian and Middle Eastern business tycoons and tech investors have acquired real estate in this part of Marbella, which is also being discovered by North Americans, giving this iconically Mediterranean setting a truly cosmopolitan jet-set feel.