How does Marbella compare with the Rivieras?

Louise Swan, December 2016 | Local News and Information

The concept of owning a place in the sun is not new; indeed it goes back to long before tourism or second homes as we know them now. Wealthy Roman families had to maintain a residence in Rome, but many also had summer villas in areas that became some of the world’s very first resort destinations. These include the Neapolitan bay, the isle of Capri and the famous Amalfi coastline – idyllic Mediterranean spots whose appeal returned when Europe emerged out of medieval times and into the Renaissance.

Something akin to tourism first emerged in the 18th century, when well-heeled young aristocrats from Northern Europe and the Americas explored the cultural variety of the old continent, often in search of raucous adventure as much as they sought culture and art. The focus of this Grand Tour was at first classical Italy and Greece, but as the 19th century wore on it shifted in large part to Spain, whose exoticism beguiled the impressionable young dandies to such an extent that some were compelled to write and compose great works of art in their own right.

Lord Byron, Washington Irving and Rainer Maria Rilke were all moved to poetry and prose, while Bizet and Ravel captured the spirit of Andalucía – the most exotic of all of Spain’s regions – in music. Others revelled in the adventure of mountain crossings where the precipitous mountain roads and Bandolero highwaymen posed equal peril. By the time elegant society was taking the winter sun in seaside resorts such as Biarritz, Nice, Venice and Málaga, Spain was very strongly on the traveller’s wish list.

The pull of the sun

Such growing fame was only enhanced by the adventures and writing of Orson Welles, Ernest Hemingway and James Michener, who conjured up the exotic appeal of the country to the hungry imagination of a new generation. The fact that they did so in the middle of the 20th century was all the more relevant, for by the 1960s a new phenomenon was unleashed that would change our concept of the world forever.

Tourism began in small increments, borne out of the glamour provided by jet-set travellers who flocked to beauty spots on the French and Italian rivieras. The relaying of their stylish exploits in film and tabloids created a sense of privilege and romance that remains etched on the collective psyche to this today, for it is the driving force that drew tourists first to bucket and spade seaside resorts and ultimately to the hedonistic glamour spots of the rivieras, Mallorca, Ibiza and the Spanish costas.

In the classic summer holiday stakes Spain soon emerged as the unchallenged leader, but in the luxury destination segment the competition was more evenly spread. Gradually the French and Italian rivieras, Mallorca, Ibiza, Marbella and the Costa Smeralda on Sardinia’s northern coastline emerged as the main Mediterranean luxury destinations, each imbued with its own particular charm and appeal.

The Rivieras

Perhaps the most classical of all, the so-called rivieras are the direct descendants of aristocratic privilege and elegance, tracing their origins back to the days when the cream of Europe spent winter and spring sojourns here to escape the cold and damp of the North. The most famous of all is the French Riviera – or Côte d’Azur – which extends roughly from the naval port of Toulon to the Italian border, covering well over 100 kilometres of Mediterranean coastline.

Known for its beauty, elegance, opulence and classic status appeal, this region includes such famous resort towns as Hyères, Saint-Tropez, Saint-Raphaël, Frejus, Cannes, Antibes, Menton and the exorbitantly expensive tax-free principality of Monaco before you reach Ventimiglia on what then becomes the Italian Riviera. It is a beautiful coastline of turquoise coves and pine-covered cliffs dotted with highly exclusive resort towns, but you pay for the privilege. It is no coincidence that the French Riviera is known as a millionaire’s playground, for properties in the prime locations range from in excess of €60 million accompanied by high French taxes and maintenance costs.

The area is served by an excellent infrastructure, but new development is in places limited by stringent environmental restrictions, while others become congested during the summer months. Though it is undoubtedly a glamorous destination, the Côte d’Azur scores lower than many of its main competitors on value for money and climate, with a temperature range that is cooler and less reliable than the main resort spots.

Costa Smeralda

Another top end enclave is the Costa Smeralda, or Emerald Coast, on Sardinia’s northern shoreline. The wild natural scenery of clear blue bays, low-lying cliffs and little islets first attracted an international jet set when the Aga Khan and other highfliers built their holiday villas there in the 1960s and 70s. Before long the demand was such that a highly exclusive resort developed around the luxury marina of Porto Cervo, yet strict environmental restrictions and the desire to keep it select have limited growth and hence the scale of the coast as a destination.

While this further enhances its upper end status it also makes the little island paradise highly expensive to get to and own or rent property in. Property values range between €800,000 and well above €20 million. Moreover, the Costa Smeralda is essentially a holiday destination with a strong seasonal ebb and flow, and therefore does not have the scope of services required for comfortable year-round living.

Balearic Islands

Thanks to their beautiful coastal scenery Mallorca and Ibiza have long been favourites of well-heeled travellers, with the former developing upmarket resort and residential enclaves that are particularly popular with a German and American clientele, and the latter earning itself a reputation for being Europe’s capital of summer cool. Ibiza is known for its club scene, yes, but has also maintained a hippy chic style that successfully caters to a specific affluent niche market.

As elsewhere, limited land and development potential result in high prices, with property in luxury locations ranging between €300,000 and €20 million plus in a climate that is only marginally warmer than the French Riviera. While Mallorca does provide a greater range of year-round facilities than its smaller neighbour Ibiza, it is considerably more limited in that sense than the Côte d’Azur and the Mediterranean’s other great luxury destination, Marbella.


Situated on the south coast of the Spanish mainland, close to where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet, Marbella is the jewel in the crown of the Costa del Sol. Though the town enjoys international status, it is in reality at the heart of an exclusive residential and tourist area that also includes Benahavis, Estepona and Sotogrande. Here you will find a wide choice of luxurious residential zones in prime beachside, frontline golf, leafy residential and country club settings.

Often dubbed the ‘California of Europe’, this region has the climate, space, facilities and year-round momentum to make it not just a perfect summertime playground but also a privileged place in which to live or visit regularly. Marbella’s appeal is built around the enviable lifestyle it offers within a beautiful natural setting in what is Europe’s most benign microclimate, but it is also hard to beat when it comes to schooling, medical amenities, sports facilities, a vibrant cosmopolitan community and everything ranging from fine dining and top brand shopping to spas, culture and café society. Moreover, the sunniest glamour spot in Europe also offers better value than many of its peers, with a broad range of first-class properties available from €200,000 for an attractive two-bedroom apartment to in excess of €30 million for the stunning prestige mansions currently being built and renovated by an international elite that is falling in love all over again with Europe’s most accessible and dynamic luxury resort area.

Callum Swan Realty is a specialist in luxury real estate in Marbella. Our reputation, market knowledge and properties are second to none, so please contact us if you are looking for quality villas, penthouses and apartments in Marbella.

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