Sotogrande has a certain Joseph McMicking to thank for its existence. A Filipino-American businessman, he was inspired by Pebble Beach and the country club lifestyle.
Sotogrande was conceived and built for those who appreciated discreet luxuries and private surroundings that attracted little attention.
McMicking hankered for an exclusive resort, and in 1962 he acquired five fincas (farms to the English), which in total covered an area of 25 square kilometres. Crucially, the jet set could fly into Gibraltar, a mere 20-minute drive from Sotogrande, or nearby Malaga airport, which is only 70 miles away and offers extensive international links.
The estate ran back from the Mediterranean Sea into the hills. With plentiful water and fertile land, one man’s dream could come to fruition.
Fast forward 60 years and it’s hard to take in the scale of the Sotogrande estate. Within its borders, it includes four world-class golf courses, world-famous Polo grounds, a marina, a beach club, an International School and a luxury 5-star hotel, not forgetting the luxury villas and apartments.
Quite a scene. If you are fortunate enough to call yourself a “Sotograndino”, it affords you a lifestyle that has few comparables in Europe. There are now 7000 private properties in Sotogrande. And just in case you get twitchy about the weather, try 320 days of sunshine per annum.
We were hosted at the SO/ Sotogrande Spa & Golf Resort, which re-opened in 2021 after a 40 million euro refurbishment. The accommodation is sumptuous, with every consideration given. Aside from the rooms, which range from standard to luxury suites, the spa and fitness facilities are also truly first-class.
We were also treated to a visit to the Beach Club at La Reserva Club, which has the curious claim of being nowhere near the sea. As bonkers as it sounds, once you enter the Beach Club, the abundance of sand and water kids you into believing you are, indeed, by the sea.
From a golfing perspective, hotel residents can play seven courses within a fifteen-minute drive, making SO/ Sotogrande Spa & Golf Resort an ideal base for a golfing adventure.
On this trip, we set out to review two of the courses within the Sotogrande estate, namely Almenara and La Reserva Club.
Real Club Valderrama and Real Club Sotogrande also fall within the curtilage of the estate, with tee times available on certain afternoons. Real Club Valderrama may well be on your must-play course, and you will be paying in the region of 600 euros for the privilege, plus caddy.
Our own experience of playing at Real Club Valderrama was simply how difficult it is. It is long and narrow, with tiny, super undulating, slick greens. Look upon it as a once-in-a-lifetime golfing blow-out, and lower your personal golfing expectations.
Back in the real world, Almenara can be walked to from SO/ Sotogrande Spa & Golf Resort, although buggies are necessary. Hats off to the sat nav screens, which now appear to be universally fitted to buggies at top European courses.
Almenara was originally designed by the late Dave Thomas. It was later remodelled and “softened” by Manuel Pinero. You may not know it, but you are benefitting from the experience of two Ryder Cup players.
Some may classify Almenara as a “resort course”, but we would regard that as a derogatory description in this instance. It is defined by its dramatic hilly terrain, tight fairways and large greens, all of which combine to make an entertaining golf course.
The fairways and greens were in excellent condition. It may be the bottom rung of the Sotogrande golfing offerings price-wise, but we very much enjoyed the golfing challenge. It can be enjoyed for less than 100 euros.
La Reserva is the newest of the four courses, having been designed by Cabell B Robinson. Opened in 2003 and running out at a touch over 7300 yards from the tips, this club is an impressive set-up. The golf course is immaculate and well thought out.
Played from the sensible tees, it offers up wide fairways, cavernous bunkers and swift, undulating greens. In terms of difficulty, it’s on a level with Almenara but trumps it in terms of condition.
The clubhouse is palatial, with two restaurants, tennis and paddle courts, the beach club, swimming pool and a stunning Pro shop. Service is right up there. But as with everything in life, it’s reflected in the price. Green fees at La Reserva run to around two hundred euros, with membership between four and five thousand euros.
If you were fortunate enough to be a member of La Reserva, you would need for nothing. Were you to purchase a property in La Reserva, this club would offer you everything you might wish for.
Should you wish to sample SO/ Sotogrande Spa & Golf Resort, Almenara and La Reserva Club, various packages are available which offer great value.
By way of a sporting bonus, we were treated to a day’s spectating and hospitality at the DP World Tour event at Real Club Sotogrande. Europe’s finest did battle over the “Royal” course in extremely windy conditions. Adrian Meronk, the unlucky Ryder Cup absentee, prevailed.
We stood by the first tee, watching low-flying missiles disappearing out of sight. Suitably humbled, our spirits were lifted on the second hole when we witnessed a shanking epidemic. A German professional proved fluent in Anglo-Saxon swearing. What a game.
Our trip also took in La Reserva Club real estate. The latest developments start with the Village Verde, which is a contemporary selection of two hundred and twenty apartments and penthouses. They offer modern open-plan living with large balconies and roof terraces.
The views take in the La Reserva Club, with ownership securing access to the golf, tennis and health facilities. Phase two starts at €850,000.
Golf memberships are available by negotiation at all four clubs, all the way up to Valderrama and Real Club, but they remain private clubs.
The 15, which as the name suggests consists of 15 luxury villas, start at 2.8 million euros. But that’s not all. We also visited The Seven, a group of seven stunning, unique plots of land. Each plot has a concept home ready to be built upon it, designed by seven different eminent international architects.
The beautiful location is secluded and blends seamlessly into its surroundings, while also offering sensational views of the Mediterranean Sea. Prices for each of the plots start at €7,600,000.
We took a peek at the creme de la creme site, situated high in the hills, with an asking price of €22 million finished. There’s a market for everything.
Do you want to live at Sotogrande, or do you want to holiday there? Given the right personal circumstances, Sotogrande has it covered should you wish to relocate. Anyone appears to work from anywhere in today’s world.
The fact that the International School has some 1300 pupils tells a story in itself. In terms of the lifestyle that’s on offer, where do you start? The climate alone allows for year-round outdoor sports, including golf, equestrianism, tennis, water sports etc etc.
Fly to Gibraltar or Malaga (only 70 miles away), stay at SO/ Sotogrande, play La Reserva Club and Almenara, take the steaks at Cancha, sample the seafood at Ke in the marina and view the real estate options. This is the good life.
One thing is for sure - as a holiday destination, a little spell in this part of the Costa del Sol will not disappoint. It has so much to offer. It won’t be inexpensive, but it never was. It prides itself on unostentatious style and discretion.