An estate near Marbella for the super-rich proves that size does matter, says Karen Robinson.
Think of Marbella, if you can, as your base camp on southern Spain´s wealth mountain. The resort has established itself as the byword for a sun-soaked, cash-soaked lifestyle of ostentatious luxury: King Fayed´s holiday home, huge yachts in Puerto Banus marina and price tags of 650,000 pounds on a new villa development several blocks from the seafront. Only when you are thoroughly acclimatized is it safe to proceed to the dizzy heights of La Zagaleta.
"I wouldn't live there myself," remarked local developer Pedro Gaviria Socias, "but it´s the best place in Spain for the super-rich."
One of the things money can buy is total privacy - and this 2,000 acre enclave, a few miles inland from Marbella, is cloaked in discretion. The former hunting estate has only two entrances, both manned by armed security guards. Once past their intimidating inspection, you could easily get lost in the countryside.
The aim is to build up to 400 houses, all screened behind trees and with 10-metre green buffer zones between plots. So you need to go up to the helicopter landing pad, to get a good eyeful of the real estate. Marvel at the views of the Mediterranean and the north African coast - but save some awe for the houses. These are no mere villas, they are villas on steroids, uber-villas, massive spreads with guest cottages, courtyards, fountains, terraces, six-car garages, swimming pools, servants quarters .
One single ochre-washed home on a hilltop looks like a tidied-up Tuscan hill village. On another hillside is an extravaganza substantially larger than many a country house hotel; and a full-size construction crane toils away on another site, building the dream mega-home for a young British telecoms czar.
No more information is forthcoming: Ignacio Pérez Díaz, Zagaleta´s sales director, is ultra discreet. The smallest, cheapest plot costs 400,000 pounds (before you even start on the house), so it is a select band who will join the Zagaleta community. The most expensive plot is on the market at 2m pounds, and a Swedish buyer is the current record-holder for the priciest house, a 4m pounds Balinese-style palace.
One hilltop house - 1,000 sq m of it on a plot measuring 9,000 sq m - is being marketed by Hamptons at about 4m pounds. The owner of "Mansion C1-1" is apparently selling because of an unexpected onset of vertigo. Agoraphobia would be equally plausible, you can´t help thinking. The marble-floored living room measures 60ft by 25ft, and six sofas plus armchairs and coffee tables do nothing to shrink the dimensions to a cosy ambience. A table for 12 looks tiny in the imposing dining room, and the kitchen, laundry and utility spaces are of industrial dimensions. The reception rooms open on to a long, shaded terrace that runs most of the 60-metre front elevation. Upstairs is a master suite with his-and-her bedrooms and a double-height study that soars into the beamed roof apex.
Four more bedrooms and bathrooms, a 15-metre swimming pool in the manicured garden, a huge gym/spa bath/sauna area, quarters, courtyard with fountain, terraces and top of the range fixtures and fittings - under floor heating, electric shutters, music systems, Greek marble, German kitchen appliances - are among the selling points.
Another little bonus is that this is one of the few plots on Zagaleta with direct access to the 18-hole golf course. Only members of the Zagaleta club can play on the course, and only property owners can join the club. Its facilities include tennis courts, an equestrian center, an indoor pistol gallery and fishing, plus a clubhouse with pool, bar and restaurant.
The clubhouse used to be the summer residence of a previous owner of the whole Zagaleta estate - one Adnan Khashoggi. Whether the Zagaleta community would welcome the flamboyant businessman is a moot point. Residents have already blackballed one resident on the grounds that they deem his wealth to be from an, ahem, suspect source.
Mansion C1-1 is being marketed by Hamptons International, 020 7493 8787. La Zagaleta is a 40-minute drive from Malaga airport. Daily flights from Heathrow and Gatwick take 2 and a half hours.