17 Aug, 2010 @ 10:25
2 mins read

Putting on the Ritz

Nicola Cowell takes her first ever stroll around Puerto Banus, Europe’s number one haven of ostentatious wealth.

AS you walk along the port at Puerto Banus, you see billboards displaying pictures of the Villa Padierna Spa, now famous as the holiday spot of the Obamas.

And, after spending a day here, it isn´t difficult to see why America’s First Family would choose to holiday in Marbella.

Their cavalcade of cars would not look out of place among the hundreds of luxury yachts, Bentleys and Ferraris you see as you stroll around the harbour.

I, on the other hand, do.

Love it or hate it, Puerto Banus is a haven of ostentatious wealth.

The ritziest of Spain’s marinas, it screams ´money´ from every orifice.

It’s not just the visitors decked top to toe in designer label smutter or the shiny limited-edition sports cars.

A modest weekender yacht worth a mere 800,000 euros docked anywhere else would be impressive, but here it is completely overshadowed by a series of looming luxury liners, owned by the likes of Roman Abramovich and the Saudi Royal Family, who are based here this summer.

The smells of sea air, leather and mojitos each add to the overall haze of glamour.
And nothing goes unnoticed by the hordes of tourists who are distinguishable by the fact that they are all armed with a camera, myself included.

Passing a stereotypical yellow lamborghini, whose owner is no doubt sunbathing atop a yacht somewhere in the port, the security presence here is very obvious.

It’s not surprising given the many millions of euros worth of cars and boats left in their care, not to mention the designer shops lining the promenade.

From Cartier to Roberto Cavalli and Dolce and Gabbana to Jimmy Choo, the portside is reserved for only the most exclusive of shops, interspersed with bustling restaurants and bars including the world famous Sinatra Bar.

It is not uncommon to find yourself sitting next to a high-class hooker

Everything is a sea of white, from the glistening yachts docked against a backdrop of traditionally-spanish white buildings. Pure, you might say.

But, as always, where there is money there is sleaze, and you don´t have to go far from the harbour to see that.

In the back alley just behind the main drag, you will find various sex shops and lap-dancing clubs. And even in some of the bars lining the port it is not uncommon to find yourself sitting next to a high-class hooker.

Back portside there is an air of relaxation about the place, despite the obvious wealth, and it seems surprisingly civilised for a peak season afternoon in August.

Speaking to locals, you are told the best time to take a walk along the harbour is in the morning, when the sea is a millpond and the port itself is tranquil and calm.

But if, like me, you prefer to people-watch, the time to visit is definitely late afternoon or early evening, when the place is bustling with all types of people.

The sound of many different accents and languages being spoken highlights the very international feel of this world famous port, which is also evident from the yachts´ flags proudly waving their country of origin.

“Whereas two years ago most of our buyers were Spanish and English, these days they make up about ten per cent,” says Cristofer Westermark, from Ventura Yachts.

For those with a spare few thousand to spend you might charter a yacht for a day from him, or perhaps from around the corner at Sunseeker, which is a doing a deal for a 53-foot Portofino at just 3,500 euros for a group of up to eight friends.

It is the perfect opportunity to really show off and, according to boss Dominic Byrne, they’ll even come anbd pick you up in a limo as part of the price. “It will be a day you won’t forget,” he promises.

I, unfortunately, was leaving on shanks pony, back to my scruffy, dust-covered Passat, parked ten minutes away to save a big parking bill.

As I left, I bumped into a lottery vendor pounding the streets in search of punters and couldn´t help but wonder, who here would possibly need to buy a ticket? Or, indeed, be caught doing so?

And then I thought, well, with the exception of the yacht owners themselves, more or less everyone.

Jon Clarke (Publisher & Editor)

Jon Clarke is a Londoner who worked at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday as an investigative journalist before moving permanently to Spain in 2003 where he helped set up the Olive Press. He is the author of three books; Costa Killer, Dining Secrets of Andalucia and My Search for Madeleine.

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