History of Sotogrande

Sotogrande is known for its Mediterranean pastels and attractive architecture  © Michelle Chaplow
Sotogrande is known for its Mediterranean pastels and attractive architecture

Sotogrande History

It is hard to imagine how different the land looked back in the early 1960s when Joseph McMicking  (Joseph Rafael McMicking y Ynchausti, 1908-1990), a naturalised American with a Scottish and Philippines family background, had the foresight to create what is now the Sotogrande resort.

McMicking attended Stanford University and was inspired by the Pebble Beach resort in California. He married Mercedes Zobel y Roxas, an heiress belonging to the famed Zobel de Ayala family, and led the post-World War Two development of the new Makati out-of-town business district of Manila. As president of the Ayala development company, he then created the Forbes Park residential villages for the Makiti managers and social elite. McMicking started looking for a suitable site by the Mediterranean for the company to build an exclusive resort. The land had to have one kilometre of coastline, abundant water and easy access to an airport. In 1962 his cousin Freddy Melian planned a trip to Spain to make use of a Swiss Air frequent flyer free ticket. McMicking asked Freddy to travel along the whole of Spain's Mediterranean coast and look for a site, on a motorcycle! Joseph McMicking and his two nephews Jaime and Enrique Zobel soon arrived. McMicking discarded a first option to land on the island of Formentera, and proceeded to purchase Finca Sotogrande. Early plans were made at the only nearby hostelry; Antiqua Venta Toledo in Guadiaro village.

Financiera Sotogrande del Guadiaro, S.A. was incorporated on 19 September 1962. The company initially bought the Cortijo Paniagua (ranch) and by 1964 the formal plan for the 1,800-hectare estate to be called Sotogrande (for short) was approved by the Spanish authorities. Along with his nephews Jaime Zóbel and Enrique Zóbel, he began building the infrastructure. Cortijo los Canos (then also known as Finca de la Campana and today a restaurant outside Pueblo Nuevo) was also purchased and so was Finca Valderrama (where the equestrian centre is now based behind Sotogrande Hotel). Plans to included Finca Guadalquiton (the virgin coastal land that lies between today's Sotogrande and Alcaidesa were abandoned as the Guadalquiton was then military.  Finca El Conchudo  was the fifth finca to make the complete estate, although there were later periferal additions. 

He quickly commissioned Robert Trent Jones (1906–2000), the English–American golf course architect who designed or re-designed over 500 golf courses, to design the Royal Golf Club of Sotogrande in 1963. which allowed the first houses to be built around the course. Madrid architect Luis Gutiérrez (1900-1970) designed the avant guard modernist golf Club House which opened in 1964. On the beach the El Cucurucho the social club. A social club on the beach was constructed, named El Cucurucho (The Cornet) due to the strange architectural shape on its roof. It was refurbished and renamed Trocadero in 2015.

Hostal 'El Leon' which was located adjacent to the old N-340 was totally reformed in 1964 and 19655 to become what is today Hotel Encinar de Sotogrande. Joseph McMicking comissioned Jose Antonio Corrales Gutierrez (1921 - 2020) the prominent Madrid architect famed for his co-design of the avante guard Spanish Pavilion of the 1958 Brussels Expo. The building permision was obtained as Hostal El Leon, however some of the architect's drawings are titled 'Projecto de Parador'. This refers to the roadside location and not the state owned hotel chain.

What is often forgotten is the is the originality of the archiectural design. Single-storey façades woven into the contours of the slope. The building is specially designed to protect the open spaces from the east and west winds. Large windows are also avoided to achieve cool shade in the guest rooms in the summer. One of Corrales' handwritten notes states the wish to construct a small lake down by the stream to help to alleviate the summer heat. The lake was never built but a swimming pool was, and so were two tennis courts. Obviously something of a selling point as when the hotel was opened it was officially called Tennis Hotel Sotogrande. The abandoned tennis courts remain today hidden in the bushes nearby.

Enrique Zóbel, an avid polo player and the first Filipino president of Manila Polo Club, oversaw the construction of a large polo field in 1965 named La Playa, (next to the beach and Rio  Guadiaro estuary where Sotogrande Playa estate is now) and the first tournament took place in 1967, with the Gold Cup tournament launched in 1971. The second field called Paniagua was inaugurated in 1974. The old Cortijo Paniagua buildings were extended and became a commercial centre.

Additional adjacent inland estates were purchased, El Conchudo, La Higuera de Santa Maria and Cortijo Valderrama  On the latter, another golf course Nuevo Sotogrande was built in 1974 by Robert Trent Jones - considered his masterpiece. In 1981 it was renamed Las Aves, and in 1984 local resident Jaime Ortiz-Patiño bought the course, and some adjacent plots of land, remodelled it and reopened it as Valderrama. It hosted the Volvo Masters from 1986 to 1996 and 2000 to 2008, the 1997 Ryder Cup, the Amex World Golf Championship in 1999 and 2000 and the 2016 Spanish Open. Read history of Valderrama and history of Volvo Masters in Sotogrande.

In Febuary 1969 the Minister of Public Works Federico Silva Muñoz opened 'Puente de San Enrique' and a new stretch of road as part of plan REDIA. This shortened the coast road by 15 minutes cutting out the San Enrique and Guadiaro loop via the remarkable 1926 iron bridge that replaced the ferry. Unfortunately this road development had the effect of splitting the resort into two halves: Alta (high or mountain-side) and Baja (low or sea-side) - the latter is now called Sotogrande Costa. The Cortijo Los Canos land was released from the resort and Pueblo Nuevo began to develop as a village to service the resort. Later that year General Franco closed the border with Gibraltar, the convenient flights from Madrid were cancelled and Malaga airport's 'Terminal One'  did not open until June 1972. This was a quiet period and by 1977 Sotogrande SA was loosing 2m$ a year. 

The International School at Sotogrande (ISS) was founded in 1978 by a group of residents lead by George Moore (1905 - 2000) retired chair of Citigroup bank, who wanted to offer to the local and growing international community, a British-style education with a Spanish influence. It was located at Cortijo Paniagua

In order to re-vitalise Sotogrande, a Marina was planned with apartments intended to open up a different real estate market. However the Guadiaro protected natural area, comprising 27 hectares of marshland on the west bank of the mouth of the Guadiaro River stood in the way. Land on the east side of the Guadiaro River would have to be adquired, so in partnership with Juan Miguel Villar Mir, Puerto de Sotogrande SA was formed. The marina was inaugurated in 1987 with the official name Puerto Deportivo Sotogrande. The Real Club Marítimo hotel was constructed, as well as beachfront apartments and the Octágono beach club. The marina was further extended in the late 1990s and substantial front-line apartments were added in spite of diverted access to the marina for the rest of the estate. 

In 1989 another comercial centre opened; Mar y Sol (on the site of the old Oscar's Discoteque) and in that year Sotogrande became a public company, Sotogrande S.A. Joseph McMicking sadly died one year later on 5 October 1990.

Santa María Polo Club continued to grow from strength to strength. Every year the number of matches and tournaments, and sponsorship, has increased, requiring new investment on infrastructure. In 1985 the polo fields of Río Sotogrande I and II were built after the 'La Playa' field was totally distroyed in a winter storm. Polo was no longer played on the Paniagua fields. In 1992 the fields of Puente de Hierro I and II opened; and in 1995 the Hacienda de San Enrique I and II fields were built. In 2003 two of four new Los Pinos fields were inaugurated, and in 2008 the 2,500 square metre pavillion was opened. the two Rio Sotogrande fields were abandoned.

In 2001 the School moved out of the old Cortijo Paniagua to a new purpose built site in Sotogrande Alta, under a new education foundation lead by Paul Templeton  renamed Sotogrande International School had grown to a serve 500 pupils.  A new Virgin de la Merced church was constructed and relocated out of the old chapel of Cortijo Paniagua (which is surrealy abandoned and reclaimed by nature but not yet demolished). In July 1997, just ahead Ryder Cup, the Guadiaro to Algeciras coastal highway dual-carriageway upgrade was completed, yet to Estepona not, something Jamie Ortiz-Patiño was very critical about. Sotogrande visitors had to wait until 2002 for the AP-7 toll motorway to reduce the drive from Malaga airport down to 1hr 15 mins.

The eyes of the world being focused on Valderrama in 1997 coincided with the start of the Costa del Sol's development boom. During the next 10 years a large number of development projects were initiated, while individual villas were also constructed on the many available plots available. Another three golf courses were constructed: La Reserva de Sotogrande, La Cañada and Almenara. The latter included a hotel and spa and an associated real estate development by NH Hoteles.  Obviously impressed with Sotogrande, in 2006 the NH group made a formal takeover "share swap" bid for the 21 per cent of shares that it did not already own in Sotogrande S.A. The company was subsequently de-listed from the Madrid and Barcelona stock exchange. 

Sadly, Jamie Ortiz-Patiño died in a Málaga hospital on 3 January 2013, aged 82. A memorial service held at the Iglesia de la Merced church in Sotogrande was attended by family, press, Valderrama grounds staff and golfer Miguel Ángel Jiménez

Luxury living in Sotogrande ©Michelle Chaplow
Luxury living in Sotogrande

In October 2014 two US venture capital companies, Cerberus Capital Management and Orion Capital, bought 97 per cent of Sotogrande S.A. from NH Hotels for  €225 million. 

In December 2015, it was announced that the Valderrama Group (part Patiño family owning developments within Sotogrande including the land which is leased to the members Valderrama Golf Club, and land outside Sotogrande in Castellar) had been bought by La Zagaleta Limited (owner of the ultra-exclusive La Zagaleta residential estate in Benahavís) for €40 million. They plan to develop a "Valderrama 2" golf, hotel and residential complex in the nearby Castellar municipality.  La Zagaleta subsequently sold the Valderama Golf Club land to the member's Valderrama Golf Club who had claimed first refusal rights.   

In 2016 the infrastructure works began on the last remaining sector at La Reserva where the sixth golf course will be located. The innovative Beach at la Reserva was opened in July 2018 and has proved very popular both for Sotogrande residents and non residents. So much theat that the Beach at La Reserva now stays open well into October.

20km to the north of Sotogrande in Castella municipal district is La Almoraima, at 14,000 hectares one of the largest estates in Spain and a interesting place to visit on a 4x4 (or horse or mountain bike tour. It was firmly in the media spotlight  in March 2014 when Mexican actress Salma Hayek and husband visited by helicopter. The Spanish Government reluctantly confirmed that they were preparing documents for a sale. The Junta de Andalucia expediently increased the size of the Parque Natural Los Acornocales to 100% of the La Almoraima estate to thwart any development. A year later in May 2015 the Spanish government announced that it had told the 12 interested buyers that the La Almoriama estate was now not for sale.  Two years later when the full details of the the extension to the  Parque Natural Los Acornocales were published in the BOJA  (decree 150/2017) it not only included the remaining 10% of La Almoraima but also an extension down to the coast at Finca Guadalquiton which lies between the Sotogrande and La Alcaidesa developments.  This now ensures that the land to the west of Sotogrande will never be built on. It is said that McMicking was not interested in Guadalquiton as it lacked sufficient water.   

Orion Capital Managers, LLP's European Real Estate Fund IV acquired the remaining 50% of Luxembourg-based private equity investment firm Sotogrande Luxco from an affiliate of US-based private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, L.P., making Orion the sole shareholder of Sotogrande Luxco. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Orion now owns 99% of Sotogrande SA. As of December 29, 2017, Sotogrande, S.A. became officially a private company.

In August 2021 The Almenara hotel, which was totally refurbished over two years, reopened as SO/ Sotogrande. This is a long term management contract with Accor Hotel Group. At about the same time Orion anounced that having invested 40m€ in the reconstruction it was interested in selling the actual hotel buildings to an investor. Source

In 2022 the real estate market was particularly boyant, especially in the luxury sector. New Villas in La Reserva's own developement 'El Mirador de Sotogrande' complex have sold for between 8m€ and 14m€. The Sotogrande record sale price of 7m€ in 2008 stood for ten years. There are others villas in Sotogrande now on the market up to 21m€.