Madrid is a model of refinement, with its majestic boulevards, palaces and plazas, its elegant Retiro park and world-class art museums including the Prado and the Reina Sofia, home to Picasso’s Guernica. Yet the Spanish capital remains something of an undiscovered gem compared with the more flamboyant, limelight-stealing Barcelona and, as a consequence, offers considerable untapped potential for investors.
Of Spain’s two biggest cities, Madrid is the stately older sister - though far from sombre with a legendary nightlife and, it’s said, more bars than any other city on earth. While its prime property market fizzes away, post-recession, among wealthy Madrileño families and South American investors, the city’s lack of proximity to the coast has always meant that the bulk of Northern European holiday home buyers feel the pull of the sea instead.
As a result, Madrid’s capital values have remained subdued compared with other great European capitals, but that is starting to change as developers unlock the potential of the city centre’s majestic old buildings, restoring the lustre to their faded grandeur and attracting global luxury brands – including hotels, shops and architects – that will boost Madrid’s status on the world stage.
A sixth of the size of neighbouring Mallorca, Ibiza offers a sense of solitude off the beaten track without you ever being more than half an hour’s drive from the beach or its energetic, tiny, capital, Ibiza Town – a place these days that is as likely to attract big private equity funds (Trilantic Europe are eyeing up the purchase of Pacha nightclub) as backpackers.
It’s this duality – a split identity of sorts – that makes Ibiza so appealing to a wide cross-section of people, from families and their rural retreats, revellers in its super-clubs, and those who like to dip in and out of both lives.
Many buyers who gravitate to Ibiza have a close connection to the water, whether it’s wanting an unterrupted sea view or a place to moor the yacht to take out for leisurely lunches in Formentera. For those who want waterfront property, Es Cubells on the South-Western tip is the Mayfair of Ibiza, its high-end villas leading to cliffs that drop down to deserted bays.
Families often gravitate to the centre of the island around the small town of Santa Gertrudis – home to a sought-after international school and a close-knit expat community. The north of the island, around small towns such as Sant Miquel and Sant Mateu, is becoming an increasingly attractive haven too – a spot to recharge and relax, but no longer cut off thanks to new, improved roads to the south.
Although it is the second largest city in the Malaga province, home to 140,000 people who mainly live in its central core, Marbella is to most overseas visitors all about its beaches - whether you are on a paddleboard, yacht or enjoying world class cuisine overlooking the waves.
Its 17 miles of coastline is nominally divided into 24 beaches, each with a distinct character and each inspiring a deep-set allegiance among visitors and residents, from peaceful Elviria set among dunes and pines to peacockish Puerto Banus, a land of Lamborghinis and designer labels, and everything in between.
Alongside each beach is a residential community – effectively self-sufficient villages - where striking, modern houses sit alongside the traditional Andalucian villas that attracted early waves of buyers a few decades ago. At the heart of each community is the beach bar – cosmopolitan melting pots that range from the authentically Andalucian – packed out by Spanish families at weekends - to the Miami wannabes with their daybeds and DJs.
Marbella is synonymous in many minds with celebrities and pool parties, but you could spend a lifetime there and never see that side of life. There is a Marbella to suit a multitude of tastes, types of buyers and budgets, which is why it attracts such as diversely international crowd. Marbella is all about the outdoor lifestyle and its beautiful setting – both of which are distinctly Californian in essence, but far handier to reach for sun-starved Northern Europeans.
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
In many ways, Palma is the ideal Spanish city – a handsome, historic, cultural capital whose old town is a mini facsimile of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter (including with its own Gaudi landmark, La Seu cathedral). Palma sits within a 15-minute drive of one of Spain’s busiest international airports – a key draw for international buyers who commute frequently and can make Mallorca a part-time office as well as an island escape. And it has the greatest asset a city can possess – the feature that imbues this urban, sun-baked spot with a holiday spirit and welcome breeze: a beach.
Like many Spanish coastal cities, Palma is a prolific hub for yachting and cruise ships, but it has long overlooked the potential of its urban beaches. Neighbouring Portixol, a former fishing village, was the first part of the beachfront to discover a new desirability. Now Can Pastilla, 10 minutes from the city centre, is being reinvented over the next few years as the 5km-long Palma Beach (Playa de Palma) to rival Miami’s South Beach, with marinas, golf and five-star hotels.
A holiday island can’t be all about the beach, however, and Mallorca excels at finding ways to keep the crowds coming all year round. Its year-round flights, plus golf courses, a big cycling scene and developing reputation as a conference destination means the shoulder seasons stay busy.
Malaga was, until recently, a city that few visitors to the Costa del Sol made a detour to explore. It has 3,000 years of history, great beaches and cultural life, but it had the feel of a provincial town that was failing to capitalise on any of it. All that has changed dramatically in the last few years as the Andalucian capital has reinvented itself as a cultural city – a phenomenon known as the “Picasso effect”, with some 28 museums launching in Malaga since 2003, when the Picasso museum first opened in a historic palace in the old town.
Malaga’s waterfront has changed beyond recognition too, now home to Muelle Uno, an attractive stretch of harbour-front shops, restaurants and the striking Centre Pompidou art museum. The smartened up old town is now a buzzing hub for locals and tourists and La Malagueta beach offers instant respite from the city heat. Those in search of large villas, with gardens and pools, stray a little further east to areas such as El Limonar and the former fishing village of Pedregalejo.
Barcelonabegan embracing its waterfront in 1992, when it saw its Olympic transformation, and it hasn’t stopped since. What was an unattractive and largely inaccessible city beach that felt cut off from the rest of the city has become the heart of the action. The W Hotel and the revamp of Port Vell into a super-yacht marina have turned the old fishermen’s district of Barceloneta into a sought-after waterfront area.
Regeneration is afoot throughout the city, from the renovation of Old Town palaces into huge lateral, luxury apartments to the overhaul of Diagonal, where newly-widened pavements on this busy artery have given a major boost to the retail scene and encouraged a new café society.
Such is the demand for property in Barcelona from almost every nationality you can think of that a domino effect, into old, local neighbourhoods outside the city centre, is inevitable. Raval, Gracia, Poble Nou and Poble Sec weren’t once on buyers’ radars but now offer precisely the kind of contemporary, well-priced boutique schemes they want.
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