Benahavis is home to some of the world’s wealthiest people, a haven for fine art, fabulous scenery, fantastic golf and first-class cuisine – all within minutes of the Costa del Sol.
By Tom Powell,
IT is the nearest thing to paradise I have ever seen, at least in Europe,” is how Lord Stanley Fink described his home in La Zagaleta, the wildly exclusive country estate that has helped to put Benahavis on the world map.
Coming from the former treasurer of the UK’s Conservative Party, that’s some endorsement! And the British peer gets to be there, ‘virtually’, even when he’s miles away in London. “The screen saver of my computer in London is a picture of the views of the golf course from my house,” he revealed.
Lord Fink is one of 230 privileged buyers who own a home in the billionaires’ enclave, where average house prices hover at over the €10 million mark.
Although the identity of residents is normally shrouded in secrecy, Hugh Grant and Rod Stewart reportedly own homes there, as well as the former mayor of Moscow.
But the rural retreat for the super-rich was thrust into the media spotlight two years ago when the Olive Press first revealed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interest in a 10-bedroom palace being built there. On a tour of the urbanisation earlier this year, the amazing house – which boasts a helipad, spa and gym – was still under construction with dozens of builders’ vans parked around it.
Whether or not the Russian supremo has really bought the property is still open to debate. While some well connected Benahavis property figures still insist it is the case, officially the story is denied.
When coupled with the other celebrated millionaires enclave of nearby El Madronal, it is perhaps no surprise that Benahavis is the wealthiest town, per capita, in Spain… and one of Andalucia’s richest town halls.
But the town’s wealth can equally be measured in other ways: by its stunning scenery, attractive architecture, nine great golf courses – some of the Costa del Sol’s finest fairways to heaven – and the infinite opportunities for fine dining.
Indeed, Benahavis is known as ‘the dining room of the Costa del Sol’, and its Escuela Hosteleria (catering college) is not the only reason!
Enticing restaurants tumble over each other through the charming squares and winding streets of this picturesque mountain village, attracting gourmet diners from miles around. Classy, yet authentic, the village frays at the edges into wild scenery that’s perfect for walking up an appetite.
As former premiership footballer David Bentley told the Olive Press earlier this year: “We moved to Spain for the lifestyle and the Spanish culture, and Benahavis has it all.
“It’s the perfect place to bring up kids as there is so much to do, and we love it all,” said Bentley, who lives with his young family near Los Arqueros Golf and Country Club and owns shares in La Sala restaurant group, which has joints in both Marbella and nearby San Pedro.
“I play golf very often but we also go horse riding and walking, plus being so close to the coast we do a lot of watersports.”
It is the actual arrival into the village that really takes your breath away.
One minute you are on a classic built up stretch of the Costa del Sol and the next driving through a practically virgin valley with breathtaking views of mountains in the distance.
Just a short windy 7km from the coast, Benahavis perches on the southern edge of the Serrania de Ronda.
The Las Angosturas gorge at the village entrance offers an incredible 60 rock climbing routes and is always dotted with daring, roped-up ‘spidermen’.
The Rio Guadalmina, cascading down to the coast, is another invigorating experience if you don’t mind clambering, sliding and, occasionally, swimming through it.
“I never ever tire of the drive into Benahavis through the gorge, and at certain times of day the light is incredible, unlike anything I have seen elsewhere,” said British expat Nicola Mizen of Altavista estate agents, who moved to the village with her husband and daughter eight years ago.
“Best of all, our ‘citizen card’ from the town hall entitles us to lots of facilities for the whole family, such as a free driving range and a wonderful community pool.”
Mountain bikes, mopeds and golf buggies abound, as do expats, but the invasion of the modern world has not spoiled the charm and authenticity.
West of the village, the road rises vertiginously to the crumbling Moorish Montemayor Castle atop Benahavis’ tallest mountain, a strategic vantage point for photographers today as it was for sentries in times gone by.
It is said that underground passageways connected the castle to the coast, which the Arabs used to move soldiers, food and weapons.
Founded at the end of the 11th century, Benahavis also has Arabic origins and takes its name from Havis, a Moorish prince who ruled from the castle (in Arabic, ‘Bin al Havis’ means ‘son of Havis’), making it one of the few Spanish names where the ‘h’ is pronounced.
History notes that, after Montemayor castle was captured by Catholic Monarchs in the 15th century, a 350-year war broke out between Benahavis and Marbella, until the village achieved independent community status.
It may have been a bitter divorce but, today, the glitzy coastal resort and the charming mountain retreat are the ideal two-centre holiday partnership!
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