There is a very peaceful air about Sotogrande. Elegant houses sit amid lush green gardens, where there are glimpses of clear blue swimming pools; the tree-lined avenues are quiet and well-maintained; there are gated communities with security guards at the entrances. Everything seems calm, and unhurried. It may be over 50 years since the founders, Joseph Rafael McMicking y Ynchausti, and his wife Mercedes Zobel de Ayala y Roxas, decided they wanted to create an exclusive residential resort of this type, but it still remains very close to their aim of a community based upon friendship.
A private hideaway
The story of Sotogrande began in 1962, when millionaire Joseph McMicking, impressed by the luxury Forbes Park estate in Manila, in the Philippines, thought it would be an interesting idea to build something similar. He commissioned a search for a suitable location, which needed to have unspoiled beaches and access to an airport, and this area of Cadiz province seemed to fit the bill. After coming to see for himself McMicking, with the assistance of his two nephews, Jaime and Enrique Zobel, eventually decided to buy the Finca Paniagua estate in the municipality of San Roque.
This was during the heyday of the ‘jet set’, with royalty, the aristocracy and celebrities from all over the world flocking to southern Spain, especially Marbella, for hedonistic holidays. Sotogrande became a favourite alternative for many politicians and public figures who preferred to keep a low profile, enjoy their privacy and enjoy their leisure time in congenial company.
The McMickings moved to Sotogrande to live, and other residents in the early days included George Moore, the president of the First National City Bank in New York, and some of his friends such as Jackie and Aristotle Onassis, opera singer Maria Callas and politician Spiro Agnew.
The Sotogrande of today retains the same ambience, but of course it is much bigger: it has become the largest privately-owned residential development in Andalucía and it now boasts many superb facilities including a world-class marina, Puerto de Sotogrande, which is lined with restaurants and luxury apartments.
The marina started life as a small sailing club and made a name for itself by hosting the Spanish Championship in the 1980s. Nowadays the Sotogrande Yacht Club, with King Juan Carlos (the present king’s father) as patron, has several hundred members and international events are regularly held at Sotogrande.
Another famous facility in Sotogrande is Valderrama Golf, reputed to be not only the best golf course in Spain but one of the best-known in Europe. It hosted the Ryder Cup in 1997, the first time the competition was ever held in continental Europe, and also has 16 Volvo Masters and two Amex championships, among others, to its name. The Ryder Cup marked a turning point for Valderrama. It was the first time a young Tiger Woods had ever taken part in the championship, and the European team, captained by Seve Ballasteros, won. Since then, golfers have flocked to play on the course which has become part of the history of Spanish golf.
One of Sotogrande’s many charms is that, despite its undisputed exclusivity, it has a real community atmosphere and offers something for everybody. New developments of pretty terraced and semi-detached houses have also been built in keeping with the surroundings and it has become an ideal place for families to live and holiday. There are shops and restaurants, an international school, a church, and facilities such as a pharmacy and hairdressing salons.
With all this close at hand, it would be tempting never to leave the area, but in fact the municipality of San Roque also has plenty to offer. The town itself is traditional and picturesque, and the annual fair in August is well worth a visit. There is also a theatre in the main square.
For history buffs, it is interesting to visit the archaeological site of Carteia, which dates back to the 7th century BC and includes remains from the Phoenician, Carthaginian, Roman, Visigothic, Byzantine, Moorish and Christian eras. Carteia was the most important town in what is now the Campo de Gibraltar area, and became the first Free Latin Colony outside of present-day Italy in 171 BC.
The San Roque Tourist Board organises guided tours in Spanish, English or Italian for groups of ten or more (smaller groups can join others to make up the numbers).
For those who prefer modern-day attractions, the San Roque area also has other golf courses, sports and equestrian facilities, a casino, and some interesting shopping opportunities.
Sotogrande is also well-located in terms of communications, being only a short drive to the motorway which means Marbella and Puerto Banús can be reached in about half an hour. Gibraltar is close at hand, and beautiful inland villages such as Castellar and Jimena de la Frontera are also within about half an hour’s drive and the spectacular beaches near Tarifa, the windsurfing and kitesurfing capital of Europe on the Costa de la Luz, are about an hour and a half away.