HUGH Grant has holidayed here; Rod Stewart and Cristiano Ronaldo have also contributed to the town hall coffers; Princess Diana took William and Harry here as boys to hide out from the paparazzi on Lady Annabel Goldsmith’s sprawling estate. Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi arms dealer and one-time richest man on the planet also had a huge stake in the area now known as La Zagaleta, Spain’s poshest private estate.
The people who have it all recognise a kindred spirit in Benahavis, the pueblo that has it all – Costa del Sol beach views, wild nature on the doorstep, sun, seclusion and sophisticated nightlife within reach.
Tucked into the southern slopes of the Serrania de Ronda above Marbella, 20km from town as the Porsche flies, it’s no wonder the Benahavis hills boast some of the swankiest homes in Spain. And Covid has barely put a dent in demand. It is still one of the best performing property markets in Spain, as well as one of the wealthiest per capita.
Over 8,500 residents from more than 100 countries of the world have settled here, enjoying panoramic views of Gibraltar, the Mediterranean and North Africa. Yet despite being a playground for the well-heeled, the municipality has the lowest property tax in the country.
Becoming resident Benahavian comes with all kinds of fringe benefits you wouldn’t get anywhere else – including your photograph immortalised for posterity in the town hall records! Registering on the town hall padron gets you free access to language lessons, arts classes and a variety of sports including padel, tennis and basketball. And crime is almost unheard of thanks to the security cameras snapping every car registration that comes through its pearly gates.
And the heavenly parallels don’t end there. Zigzagging up from the coast’s sandy beaches along a gently winding mountain road following the Guadalamina river is like entering a Garden of Eden: every twist and turn reveals another gleaming mansion peeping between the foliage, each more opulent than the last.
More benefits are on their way. The medical centre is set to expand, as are the transport links connecting Benahavis to Marbella, and a new school for 1,000-plus pupils is planned for 2024. Golf fanatics will be thrilled to hear about the development of a spectacular 18-hole golf course, which will see the famous Marbella Club Golf resort doubling in size.
At the heart of the community is the quaint town centre with its retro postcard appeal: sun soaked bars and coffee shops sit alongside bijou art galleries and quotes from Shakespeare, Blake and Sabines resonate in script on the sides of whitewashed buildings.
It’s a reflection of this cosmopolitan community who are over 60 per cent foreigners – generations of Brits, Americans, Asians and Europeans adding to the rich heritage of the town.
“There’s a place for everyone here and we are proud of that,” says local councillor Scott Marshall whose remit is tourism, immigration, communication and local development. “We have a cultural hub here which has its own library and seminar room that can be used for meetings and lessons and upstairs we have photographs of everyone who has lived here over the years. There’s a real sense of community. Families look out for each other.”
Scott’s family are one of the best known in the area through his artist father. One of the very first expats to settle here after emigrating from Scotland more than 50 years ago, David Marshall helped to develop the town centre, setting up an art gallery for his famous sculptures that have adorned many a mansion around Spain since the 1970s.
“When my father first arrived there was almost nothing here. But it has really flourished thanks to his hard work.”
Scott’s knowledge of property in the area is equally unmatched. Born and raised in Benahavis, only leaving it once for a year, he launched his real estate business, PropertieSpain, in 2009.
“It was only after spending a year in Aberdeen that I realised what a great quality of life we have here,” he explains. “So I came straight back out.
“People always talk about Marbella and Estepona, but I think Benahavis is the real hidden gem of the coast,” he says. “The town hall is the wealthiest per inhabitant in the whole of Spain, which means there are all sorts of subsidies here that just don’t exist anywhere else.
“It’s the ideal location. We have great hotels here including Amanhavis and Gran Hotel. The council allows the hotels to access sports facilities free so it’s common to have teams come out here to train and relax.
“It’s a great place to live, not just for a holiday,” Scott continues. “While the coast gets busy, we always have a lot of peace. Benahavis never feels stressful or overrun. You have the sea so close by but you also get the benefits of feeling very safe and secure in the mountains.
“It’s rare to not see sunshine here, but we’re only two hours from Sierra Nevada if you want to see snow and go skiing in the winter. You really get the feel of the seasons with a temperature drop at the end of summer and when we put up the Christmas lights in December, that’s really special.”
Year-round, the town’s alleyways, restaurants, espresso bars and baroque courtyards planted with colourful flowers are always buzzing. You can catch a Babel of languages ringing out across the square, popular with families late into the evenings.
Follow the smell of tapas and enjoy food at popular haunts like Bodeguita El Chico, La Escalera and Los Abanicos. Or for those missing Britain? “You can’t beat the burgers at Legends,” grins Scott.
Walking off the calories isn’t exactly a problem, with padel courts and football pitches free for residents. Golf is also big here, as is hiking into the mountains from town along the well-signposted trails.
“There has been huge investment in sports facilities and miles of walking and cycle tracks,” says Scott. “It’s really a great place if you like to keep fit, particularly when the sun is shining.”
And it almost always is – the Costa del Sol sees an average 320 days of sunshine a year, making it an obvious place to settle, especially for those fed up with lockdown in Britain.
“We’re seeing a lot of people looking for more outdoor space than ever before,” says Scott. “People are really keen to have as much space as possible and are turning away from flats to bigger properties.”
“We’ve agreed to 200 more developments but the focus is on making sure we keep the apartments big and development small.”
Buying into this charmed world comes at a price with a private villa often exceeding €10 million, and properties of €30 million not unheard of, although there are cheaper options.
“The cost of living is low and a two-bed flat would set you back only €140k,” says Scott. “Renting is an option too. A one bed apartment would be around €500 a month, a two bed would be €600-to-€800.”
Nor should Brexit put British buyers off, Scott believes. “We have lots of ‘floating residents’ here, many of whom are from non-EU countries, so we are very familiar with the process of helping people settle in from outside the EU.
“The town hall is definitely here to help,” Scott adds.
“I don’t see Brexit or Covid changing people’s mind about Benahavis. We don’t see big price swings, rather a slow, steady increase, year after year. It never goes out of fashion!”