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.
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 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.” (...) “The Kuwaitis have no need to show off their wealth.”
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.