Southern Spain’s Marbella Club has retained the exclusive fun-in-the-sun vibe that’s attracted European nobles and Hollywood royalty like Sean Connery and Liza Minnelli
For our first lifestyle story, we spotlight a cherished restaurant, hotel or landmark that’s changed remarkably little over the years. This week, we visit Marbella Club in Southern Spain.
Just after World War II, Madrid-born Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe-Langenburg, whose family was long on titles but short of cash, convinced his parents to buy a 50,000 square-meter seaside plot near Marbella, a tiny fishing village on the southern coast of Spain. Soon Hollywood friends and European nobles abandoned the French Riviera to savor the simple charms of Prince Alfonso’s totally off-the-radar personal hideaway. By 1954, the Marbella Club Hotel was born when Alfonso redeveloped 18 rooms of his family estate and two villas, all tucked beneath a canopy of pines—essentially creating a motel based on the indoor-outdoor living of whitewashed Spanish farmhouses. The prince’s vision of barefoot luxury included a beach club with a pool, a Mexican palapa-shaded restaurant with a famously abundant seafood buffet and a pier stretching into the Med. Evenings were more dressed-up with drinks in the Champagne Room and dinners in the Grill. Guests included Audrey Hepburn, Sean Connery, the Aga Khan, Liza Minnelli and countless crowned heads. Flamenco performances and costume parties lasted ‘til dawn. “Our guests were not tourists but travelers,” said Rudolf Graf von Schönburg—known as Count Rudi—the Marbella’s general manager from 1961 to 1983.
Like the modern city it spawned and the entire Costa del Sol lifestyle that followed, the Marbella Club has experienced growing pains. Though it now encompasses 130 units including 17 villas, it retains its fun-in-the-sun beach club vibe by day and dinners at the Grill remain a special occasion. Waiters still wear white jackets and bow ties—even at the poolside lounges, which seems both ridiculous and just right—and loyal legions of second-, third-, and fourth-generation guests return annually. At the center of the property, Prince Alfonso’s private villa is now a sprawling kids club with a pool, jungle gym, dance sessions, cooking classes (Marbella Club chocolate mousse is on the syllabus), an aromatherapy lab and a computer room. Whereas the hotel’s past emphasized endless good times, today the Marbella invites guests to pursue optimal well-being with a medically staffed holistic wellness center, free daily outdoor yoga sessions, a gym with training staff and a Thalasso spa on the beach. In the Covid era, the hotel became an oasis for long stays—in early March only one villa was unoccupied. In addition to a new patio restaurant, there’s new décor in the Champagne room—now called Rudi’s. Nearing his 90th birthday, Count Rudi himself still roams the property.
How to find the ultimate Marbella Club Hotel souvenirs in an online auction later this month
Nostalgia hounds or anyone hoping to secure a tidbit of the Marbella Club allure will have the chance to bid when furniture and decorative objects from two of the hotel’s most iconic spaces – Villa del Mar and the Champagne Room – go on the online block April 21 and 22 (setdart.com). Among the treasures from the Villa: a Louis XV clock with gilt-bronze and tortoiseshell adornments and a suite of dining chairs. But the auction lots associated with the Champagne Room, a renowned celebrity haunt, are expected to draw the most attention. Among them are a circular sofa, meant to evoke the palatial parties of Versailles, as well as the 19th-century English piano played by celebrated musicians and composers, including Leonard Bernstein during his various summer stays at the hotel..