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Count Rudi and his wife, Marie Louise of Prussia (left). Josele
Marbella Club goes down memory lane for 70th anniversary
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Marbella Club goes down memory lane for 70th anniversary

The town's most iconic hotel brought together regular aristocratic guests and retired members of staff to look back over seven decades of "a fairy tale"

Davd Lerma

Marbella

Friday, 3 May 2024, 14:34

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"The Marbella Club is more than the sum of its parts, more than just a well-located hotel with a spa, a golf course, a beach club and a famous name. The Marbella Club has charm and character," writes American Nicholas Foulkes in the introduction to the book he published to mark its 60th anniversary, ten years ago. "Such is the strength of that character that it is impossible to voice the name of Marbella without thinking of it," he adds.

At 5.30pm last Saturday Foulkes stood in that very hotel in his impeccable Californian-style suit. Not far away, a Marbella Club employee was calmly emptying a bronze ashtray in the Summer Bar, the charming patio on which film stars, European nobility, Saudi millionaires and all kinds of wealthy and unconventional bohemia have all drunk and chatted together. The story of this place is "like a fairy tale", said Foulkes.

Everyone was waiting for Rudolf Graf von Schönburg, popularly known as Count Rudi, the man behind the distinct style of this hotel that was founded in 1954 by his cousin Alfonso de Hohenlohe. When he appeared, accompanied by his wife Marie Louise of Prussia, guests rushed to greet him.

The next aristocrats to appear at this event to kick off the hotel's 70th anniversary celebrations were Gunilla von Bismarck and her husband, Luis Ortiz, with Julián Porras and Olivia de Borbón.

"This is a home from home. If I start telling stories I'll cry," said De Borbón, taking her turn to speak at this event at which everyone was invited to contribute to the communal nostalgia.

Minutes earlier, the hotel's manager, Juan Carlos Luna, met with some former members of staff (waiters, nightclub managers, etc.), all now retired.

Luna has been working at the Marbella Club for 42 years. "I started out as a bellboy. We have always respected the philosophy of Alfonso [de Hohenlohe], to take care of the staff as well as the guests. This is a hotel with a soul, with a heart," he said.

Luna stressed "the customer service and the simplicity" of this hotel that wanted to pay tribute to its former employees on this anniversary. They told stories, many of them about the outrageous tips they sometimes received. "One day I went home with a thousand pesetas," said Juan, a former head waiter. "My mother asked me if I'd stolen it."

All of the former employees had words for the respectful familiarity they had with the guests. Marie Louise of Prussia even recalled the Marbella Club's first strike in 1979. "It lasted two weeks. It was sad when it finished. We wouldn't be served by the marquises anymore," she recalled.

Count Rudi went back to its beginnings, when there were no cattle farms in Marbella and they had to bring in cows and a butcher.

"I faced a lot of challenges; I even chartered a plane to bring in fresh meat," he said. He also spoke of the importance of the "pommes soufleés", a technique he learned as an employee in a hotel in Switzerland. Thanks to his ideas, the Marbella Club crossed the ways of the illustrious European hotel industry of the time with Mediterranean spontaneity. "I feel very happy to see so many loyal friends here today," he told SUR. "For me, Marbella Club is the centre of the world."

Gunilla von Bismarck, in turn, recalled the wild parties, the staff and Manolo the donkey. Her husband pointed out that it was the Marbella Club that first brought padel tennis from Argentina to Spain. "It was also where they first played five-a-side football, or backgammon, when the game wasn't known in Spain."

There were also words for the telephonist with the "golden voice", as the late Jaime de Mora had called her, who was "the backbone of the Marbella Club". Mari Teléfonos - as she is still known - recalled how Count Rudi interviewed her and how impressed she was by the place. "This is a palace. I can still smell the same scent."

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