Marbella has become synonymous with luxury cars and whilst they are paraded and loved in Marbella, their roots can be traced back through the branches of time entwined through old Andalucian olive trees.
One car in particular probably has more roots in Marbella than many of the local families that reside there now, that’s the Rolls Royce, but not just any Rolls Royce. A charcoal-burning Rolls Royce that belonged to Prince Alonso Hohenlohe who is labelled as ‘The Founder’ of Marbella.
Otherwise known as ‘Ole-Ole’ or ‘King of Clubs’ due to the Prince’s thirst and ability for partying.
At the end of the Second-World-War Prince Alfonso’s family, who were once one of the most eminent families in Bavaria, saw their wealth depleted considerably as their estates were suffocated behind the iron curtain. Their financial demise was also added by the Mexican civil war, where they had amassed most of their original fortune, only to see that crumble away in the ruins of war too.
However Alfonso knew how to make money, something he reminded people of this throughout his years.
In 1947 he was sent off by his father to seek wealth again for the family in the form of investments.
As King Alfonso XIII of Spain was Alfonso’s godfather, it is no surprise that the money compass was pointed towards Spain.
As Prince Alfonso cruised in his charcoal-burning Rolls Royce through the then fishing village of Marbella with its 10,000 inhabitants, he fell in love with its charm. There are claims that his Rolls Royce had actually broken down in Marbella on his way from Gibraltar to Malaga, but either way, had he not got out of his Rolls Royce to take in this quaint little village, it may well not be the Marbella it is today.
Alfonso purchased a vine yard and built white-washed houses with palm-filled gardens, whereby he hired cheap labour that was aplenty after the war. So too was it when he built a small hotel in 1954 that he named The Marbella Club. As Spain’s civil war had resulted in further destruction, and with his Prince’s status, he enjoyed the privileges it came with such as being given the seal of approval from Spain’s military leader and Dictator Franco’s on his building permits.
However, Alfonso was a worker and driven to supervise every step of the work, from the landscaped gardens, architecture, to what appeared on the menu for dinner.
Alfonso began to invite the great and the good to come and holiday at his exclusive hotel, most of whom were glad to switch vacations from rainy France to sunny Marbella, and they began to pour in.
The playboy prince, as he admits had vision, and it wasn’t just turning a 16 bedroom hotel into one of the most glamorous places to be in Europe. He went on to create what is known as the Golden Mile in Marbella, adorned with boutique stores such as Gucci and Boss as well now being littered with fine homes, fancy restaurants and splendid hotels where today over 60,000 people are employed in the strip alone.
Although labelled as a playboy, he was a businessman first and foremost and also dedicated his time to campaign for improvements in the areas infrastructure including; roads, water supply, airports, all of which he did successfully, plus his exhibition centre in Costa del Sol further promoted tourism growth. His vision and achievement also extended to cars. He acquired the concession to bring in Volvo cars to Spain, despite people thinking it the move of a mad man. He sparked some further public gossip when in 1955 he married 15-year-old Austrian-Italian Princess Ira Von Furstenberg. They may have been in uproar about the wedding, but over 400 guests attended their sixteen day wedding party, and Alfonso’s family fortune was well and truly replenished from this rewarding marriage.
However she later left him, and as was her taste in men, she ran off with another playboy.
In the 1960’s Alfonso was at the top of his game again in both work and play. ‘Ole-Ole’ was partying with royalty, entertaining the rich and rubbing shoulders with Hollywood greats at his Marbella Club, namely the likes of Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Laurence Olivier and Eva Gardner who he went on to have a relationship with.
The Marbella Club was the place to be and more and more Rolls Royce’s and luxury cars would purr up in its grounds that would open the doors for its elite clientele to be lavished in splendour. None more so would lavish huge amounts of money than Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia, infamous for breaking the bank in Monte Carlo who began visiting Marbella in the 1970’s. Prince Fahd had a fondness for Marbella and it was spend, spend, spend all the way. It is said that his visits would include over 3,000 of his own courtiers, and everyone in Marbella knew when he was in town. His spending sprees also included building a mosque for his entourage and a white palace modelled on The White House.
Prince Fahd spent so much money in Marbella that upon his death in 2005 the local mayor declared 3 day mourning, the locals were indeed very fond of him.
By the late 1990’s construction and tourism in the whole region was booming, and it was a time then that Alfonso sold his shares in the Marbella Club for a quiet life.
He married a Gibraltarian divorcee and slipped away to the mountains of Ronda, settled down and spent his days by his trout lake making his own wine. He passed away in 2003, but his legacy remains and The Marbella Club still draws in the good and great as much as it did across the rocking 50’s and swinging 60’s.
Perhaps it is ironic to think that this flamboyant entrepreneur who had a love of rally driving, found Marbella in a broken down rolls Royce, brought Volvo’s to Spain and married an heiress to Fiat, became and remains the place where the engine of Rolls Royce roar more in their numbers here in Marbella than in most parts of the world.