Ever since the late King Fahd decided to build a complex of five palaces and a number of mansions on the exclusive Golden Mile during the 1980s, Marbella’s image has been associated with the excesses of the Saudis.
The link between the emirate and the Costa del Sol became particularly evident when Iraq invaded Kuwait
Fahd’s building spree followed a successful visit to the ritzy Incosol Hotel In 1979 when he was still Crown Prince, prompting him to choose this corner of Andalusia over the South of France for his summer residence.
But while his presence and that of his extraordinarily extravagant entourage might have made the biggest splash, his Kuwaiti neighbors had already blazed the trail, investing their petrodollars in property and starting a love affair with Marbella that has lasted 40 years.
Kuwaiti Royals and Kuwaiti businessman have homes not only in Marbella, but also in Fuengirola, Mijas and further south in Sotogrande, in the province of Cádiz. The first of their kinsmen landed here in the mid-1970s and were blown away by the combination of good weather, beautiful then-unspoiled surroundings and a relaxed atmosphere that contrasted with European capitals, such as Paris and London. And with Malaga’s international airport offering frequent flights from such capitals, popping over during their holidays in Europe was never to cause the mildest inconvenience.
The Kuwaiti community now owns more property in Marbella than any other Arabic community
The link between the emirate and the Costa del Sol became particularly evident when Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. Many of the country’s elite was in Marbella at the time and stayed on until the country’s liberation in 1991. The fallout from the Gulf War subsequently stripped many Kuwaitis of their Spanish properties, but it wasn’t long before the relationship was reestablished. The Kuwaiti community now owns more property in Marbella than any other Arabic community, a fact that has only become more striking in recent years, according to the local council.
“They feel very comfortable here,” explains a source with close links to the Kuwaiti community. “They themselves are very hospitable. They like being with their families, they’re discrete and they hate anything that’s ostentatious.”
In a bid to increase people’s understanding of the country’s culture and to strengthen its relationship with Spain, the Kuwaiti community organized the first Festival Kuwait Spain in Marbella this year, filling the Plaza Antonio Banderas in Puerto Banús for three days with music, arts and crafts and cuisine from the emirate.
A good year for Arabic tourism
Saudi King Salman Bin Abdelaziz has a palace in Marbella called Al-Riyah, which is within the luxury compound built by his brother Fahd on the Golden Mile. The king has not been to the Costa Del Sol since the summer of 2011 – this year his summer destination was Tangier, where one of his children was getting married. However, some of the princes and princesses from the Saudi royal family have been in Marbella this summer with their respective retail-mad entourages.
In fact, Gulf tourism was significant in general in 2016, with around 7% of Marbella’s visitors coming from this region, including Qatar, Kuwait and the emirates. The figure in itself is not high, but the purchasing power of these tourists is incredible. They spend eye-watering sums on jewelry, designer clothes, good wines and expensive restaurants. Generally, they arrive after Ramadan, which this year ended at the start of July, and stay until the end of September.
Among those enjoying the festival was one of the first Kuwaitis to turn Marbella into a second home, Salem Al Marzouk, a 75-year-old who comes every summer to a property he bought in 1978 in the exclusive gated community of La Quinta for a family reunion with 18 grandchildren and five children, three of whom own homes close by.
A businessman and road engineer trained in America, Al Marzouk first set eyes on Marbella in 1969 during his honeymoon with his wife, Latifah. “I come here to enjoy myself,” he explains during an August afternoon in his garden that offers spectacular views of the Med. He has also spent 38 years building ties between Kuwait and Spain, for which he was awarded the Order of Civil Merit in 1995 by King Juan Carlos that now occupies a place of distinction in his home.
Al Marzouk likes to stroll around Puerto Banús – a favorite pastime with many in the Arabic community – and relax at the famous bar Victor’s Beach. He also uses his base in the Costa Del Sol as a launchpad for gourmet trips around Spain and visits the vineyards in the north to replenish his wine cellar. Much of his time, however, is spent relaxing at home in a genteel and comfortable mansion that has none of the flash favored by other Gulf residents, particularly the Saudis, who have been known to ask for refurbishments on their hotel rooms. According to one source, “the Kuwaitis have no need to show off their wealth.”
English version by Heather Galloway.