Text by Giles Brown
It all started back in the early 60s when Catalan construction magnate José Banús Masdeu bought the land that was to become Nueva Andalucía. A good friend of Spain’s leader General Franco, nicknamed “the regime’s builder”, Banús started on the infrastructure and permissions – no mean feat back then – for his dream project, including the marina, in 1962.
At that time Marbella was a fashionable and exclusive retreat for the rich and titled old families of Europe, but Banús envisioned something different: a resort not just for the wealthy few, but for the wealthy many. His new development featured wide roads, spacious villas, immaculately landscaped gardens, and even its own bullring.
The crowning achievement was, of course, Puerto Banús, a yacht harbour on a scale never seen before, with a Mediterranean-style village attached. Needless to say, the project was called “crazy” and “stupid” when the plans were announced.
The architect and designer behind Banús
Banús was of course influenced by the success of Prince Alfonso de Hohenlohe’s Marbella Club that had attracted celebrities such as Bridget Bardot, James Stewart and Audrey Hepburn. In 1966, the Swiss-Russian-Mexican architect and Arnold “Noldi” Schreck, who had been behind the design and construction of Beverly Hills, was visited by Prince Alfonso who wanted him to work on the hotel.
One of Schreck’s first jobs was to meet José Banús and convince him that Puerto Banús was not a suitable place to build huge skyscrapers. The fashionable resort of Torremolinos was about to lose it’s cache of cool chic under a tidal wave of concrete high rise monsters, and the Prince was determined that would not happen in his beloved Marbella.
To reinforce his point, Schreck drew an artist’s vision of Puerto Banús as a sophisticated Andalusian village and marina, and then superimposed stark skyscrapers behind them. This convinced José, and Puerto Banús became the first marina to be constructed by a single architect.
A party to end all parties
Puerto Banús was officially opened in May 1970, and Jose Banús organised a party to celebrate the occasion.
Marbella had never, ever, seen an event like it. The 1,700 guests included Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, future Spanish King Juan Carlos and Princess Sofia of Greece, Liza Minnelli, film director Roman Polanski, the Aga Khan, Playboy owner Hugh Heffner (who flew in on the Playboy Jet), Doctor Christian Barnard (pioneer of the heart transplant) and most of the European Jet Set.
Entertainment was provided by up and coming Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, who was contracted to sing for the guests for the enormous (at the time) sum of 125,000 pesetas.
In all, the party cost Banús eight million pesetas, which included hiring an army of 300 waiters from Seville (as they couldn’t find enough waiters on the Coast) and flying in 50 pounds of Beluga caviar. Safe to say, Puerto Banús had arrived.
A Playground for the Rich and famous
The 70s and 80s underlined Puerto Banús’ reputation as a playground for the rich and famous. Formula 1 world champion and Guadalmina resident James Hunt would often be seen playing backgammon in Sinatra Bar. Sean Connery, whose beachfront villa, Malibu, was less than 10 minute’s walk from Puerto Banús, was also a regular. Saudi billionaire Adnan Khasoggi, along with the Saudi Royal Family, moored their superyachts in Banús, and icon Elizabeth Taylor was one of his guests.
The bars and clubs, some like Sinatra’s, Salduba and golfers’ favourite Patrick’s 19th, are still there, while others such as the great Joe’s Bar, Comedia, Mel’s, Spirit of Ecstasy and Websters – with its legendary lock ins – are long gone.
Fine dining, Banús style
Although not on the cutting edge of the gastronomic scene, many restaurants have become institutions in Puerto Banús, including the ever popular Picasso’s, The Red Pepper – although sadly, owner Chris, who seemingly spent all day seated on the terrace overseeing operations, is no longer with us – and the revamped Da Paulo and Don Leone restaurants. Dalli’s Pasta factory continues to be a favourite for visiting racing drivers and if you are there you have to try their Pasta Connery, named after the greatest Bond of all, who is a friend of the family.
The past 15 years have seen a major change as Puerto Banús became popular with British Stag and Hen parties and clubs and bars such a Linekers and Pangea opened to cater for them. Loud and brash, sometimes to excess, Marbella’s mayor stepped up policing in the marina to clamp down on what a colleague in the Spanish Press referred to as “Marbelluf” behaviour.
Having cleaned up its act somewhat, Puerto Banús is still a haven for the seriously wealthy, as a stroll along the front line with its haute couture boutiques and endless procession of supercars will confirm. Although the coronavirus crisis has put any celebration on hold, at the beginning of the year the authorities held a small and select presentation when, as well as marking 50 years, they also made Lady Kitty Spencer, niece of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, an ‘ambassador’.
So Puerto Banús may be 50, but as they say, 50 is the new 30, and ‘The Port’ shows no sign of slowing down just yet!
Visit https://www.puerto-banus.com/ for more information.