‘SECRETIVE’, ‘exclusive’ and ‘elite’ – words that perfectly describe La Zagaleta, said to be Europe’s most expensive residential estate and country club.
It is home to some of the world’s richest businessmen, oligarchs and celebrities, up in the hills above Benahavis and with all-encompassing views along the Costa del Sol and out to Gibraltar and Africa.
Surrounded by rumours and jealousy – and one of the world’s slickest security operations – Zagaleta has the mysterious allure of a place that is both known, yet completely unknown.
Residents include a range of secretive figures, such as the former mayor of Moscow as well as Orange Telecom founder Hans Snook, ex CEO of Starwood Hotels Jurgen Bartels and Lord Stanley Fink, the former Conservative Party treasurer. Most notoriously Russian President Vladimir Putin is rumoured to own a palace here.
And let’s not forget Athina Onassis, whose family have a home on the exclusive estate, as well as Hugh Grant and Rod Stewart, who have either owned or rented in the leafy enclave.
Another famous visitor was Princess Diana – or at least her actress double Elizabeth Debicki. The spotlight was thrown on La Zagaleta when scenes for the latest series of The Crown were shot there.
The sumptuous villa used has a price tag of €15 million and is just the sort of holiday villa befitting a princess.
It boasts eight bedrooms spread over two wings and a cinema, billiards room, Turkish bath and gym.
Doubling as the estate where the princess escaped the world’s media following her divorce from Prince Charles, it is far closer to the true location than anyone could possibly imagine.
Indeed, Villa Mozart, as it has been named for the series, sits just around a kilometre from the real escape, Torre de Tramores, where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently stayed for a holiday.
The UK – and Spanish – press went to town on Johnson’s break in the villa, with him featuring on front pages pictured painting on the terrace of the fabulous home.
It was to 600-hectare Tramores, owned by Zac Goldsmith, that Diana is understood to have hid out on two occasions in the mid-1990s.
Visiting with her close friend Jemima Goldsmith (then Jemina Khan, married to Pakistan president Imran Khan), she was able to try and get her life back on track away from the prying eyes of lenses.
Her trips to Tramores, which dates back to Moorish times, came close to getting rumbled when she had her sons, princes William and Harry in tow, in 1995 or 1996.
“While they had the entire estate to themselves and had plenty of opportunities to ride and swim, the princes had been, perhaps inevitably, looking for more exciting modern-day pursuits,” said a local source.
“It was agreed they would go and try out the exciting new inland water-skiing lake in nearby San Pedro, where users got towed around, not by boat, but by a cable-ski.”
A novel idea, but it proved to be foolhardy as, within minutes of arriving, they were recognised by fellow visitors, one of whom contacted a local Spanish photographer, who zoomed up with a friend and started to take photos.
“By incredible fortune the princes covered themselves in blankets and were able to get away, driving, not as the paparazzi were expecting towards Marbella, but inland to Benahavis,” revealed the source. “They managed to get away.”
The trail went cold and, despite rumours that they were staying around the village, they were never spotted again that holiday.
“It was a stroke of luck and Diana was able to get her life back on track and discuss her next moves after her divorce with one of her best friends,” added the source.
“They had a great holiday although they did feel a bit holed up even in that big estate,” he continued.
The villas in La Zagaleta vary dramatically, from elegant Moorish designs with sea views to new modern builds surrounded by forest, each complete with pools, gyms and jacuzzis.
But the best views are found at the estate’s helipad, which allows those with the deepest pockets to land at Malaga airport in their private jet, hop on a helicopter and 10 minutes later they are sipping a cocktail by their pool.
And Zagaleta certainly provides the security required to relax and unwind, with armed guards and pack dogs constantly patrolling on and off road.
Every property is also directly linked to central security, meaning touching a panic button delivers the weight of Zagaleta’s forces to your doorstep within seconds.
And it wouldn’t be the Costa del Sol without a stunning, top-of-the-range golf course. Well, Zagaleta has two. And there is no problem getting a tee time, as long as you have a home there, that is.
The clubhouse was originally the home of disgraced former billionaire businessman Adnan Khashoggi, and he clearly had an eye for a good view.
The entrance is studded with his hunting trophies – stag heads – and the communal areas are elegantly furnished.
After his fall from grace for arms dealing, the estate was confiscated and then purchased by its current owners – a Spanish/Swiss consortium – in the mid 1980s.
The development officially began being marketed in 1991 and has been regarded as the height of luxury living ever since.
Currently around 30% of residents are British, 30% German, 15% Scandinavian and 10% Russian.
So far 300 or so homes have been built, but there is room for more than 400, with a new, final zone soon to be zoned at the back, below the Ronda road.
With plots starting at around €3m alone, don’t expect to find anything for sale for less than €10m.
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