Country houses for sale

International property: Quinta do Lago vs Sotogrande

On paper, Quinta do Lago in Portugal and Sotogrande in Spain appear remarkably similar: glamorous beachfront communities with golf courses, smart cars and famous residents. Founded within 10 years of each other in the mid 20th century, they now command some of the highest property prices in Europe. Not even financial meltdown in Portugal and Spain can ruffle the palm trees lining their immaculate boulevards.

But as far as homeowners and property experts in each resort are concerned, Quinta do Lago and Sotogrande can’t be compared. ‘Sotogrande is far nicer,’ argues Charlotte Rodriguez-Banks of estate agency Lucas Fox. ‘It’s in Spain rather than Portugal for a start.’ And James Stewart, a Savills associate in Sotogrande, insists the Spanish resort has a more international clientele. In the other corner, Alison Hojbjerg of Quinta Properties leaps to Quinta do Lago’s defense: ‘It has so much more to offer than Sotogrande. It’s smaller, more discreet and totally unspoilt. And it hasn’t suffered from the boom and bust of the Spanish market.’ Christian de Meillac of Knight Frank, who knows both resorts, adds: ‘The truth is that the two places bear similarities yet they appeal to very different people. If you visit both places, you’ll quickly work out which camp you’re in.’

Sotogrande, Andalucia, Spain

Sotogrande, Spain’s most prestigious resort, is almost eight square miles, which makes it bigger than Quinta da Lago and it’s still growing; La Gran Reserva development is the latest major expansion. It also has a renowned-and unique-polo scene. Every August, the world’s most famous players descend for the International Polo Tournament.
The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry have all played matches in the resort. ‘I’m pretty sure you don’t get anything like that in Portugal,’ laughs Camilla Sykes, a polo photographer in Sotogrande. Polo has been played in Sotogrande since Joseph McMicking and his wife, Mercedes Zobel, founded the resort in 1962. They bought five farms along the Mediterranean coast in order to create a discreet, gated community of 800 acres. Golf was always part of the plan: the first course, Real Club de Golf Sotogrande (known by locals as ‘Sotogrande Old’), opened in 1964. Many of the original buyers were families from Madrid, but the resort immediately appealed to British purchasers keen to own a ‘winter’ home by the Mediterranean. Now in its 50th year, the resort looks exactly as its founders intended: there are avenues of palm and confider trees, wide roads, artificial lakes and five golf courses, including Valderrama and San Roque, two of the bestknown clubs in Europe.

Inevitably, many of the homeowners and regular holidaymakers are keen golfers- Colin Montgomerie is known to be fond of the resort-but, according to Miss Sykes, you can live happily in Sotogrande without playing golf. She prefers to take long walks on the beach with her two children, although she admits the sand at Atlantic resorts such as Quinta do Lago is whiter. ‘Sotogrande has darker sand, but if you go to Tarifa 40 minutes away, the beaches are white.’ Mr Stewart, who has lived in Sotogrande for 30 years, agrees that Quinta do Lago possibly has better beaches, but he believes Sotogrande’s sporting scene makes up for its dark sand-there’s a full programme of golf, polo and tennis tournaments each year, as well as regattas. Having enjoyed family holidays in Sotogrande as a child, Miss Sykes moved there permanently seven years ago. ‘I love the tapas culture and the climate,’ she comments.

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‘We do get a couple of really hot days each year, but it only rains a few times over the winter and it never gets very cold.’ She enjoys being part of the international community, but if she wants authentic Spanish culture, she only has to venture to a nearby village or the town of Ronda, where there are ferias and bullfights. ‘I can go on a day trip to Tangiers on the ferry and the Sierra Nevada mountains are two hours away.’ Mr Stewart believes that the area has more culture to offer than its Portuguese counterpart. ‘The nearest culture centre to Quinta do Lago is Lisbon and that isn’t exactly close,’ he says. That said, the Spanish resort is less convenient as a weekend destination; the airport at Gibraltar, 20 minutes away, has only a limited number of flights to and from Britain each week, forcing many homeowners to use the airports at Malaga and Jerez, more than an hour away. ‘That’s not a big problem, however,’ argues Christian de Meillac of Knight Frank. ‘It ensures it has a more relaxed and secluded feel when you arrive.’

The fact that Sotogrande is a gated community should also not be seen as a deterrent, as the gates have no impact on daily life. ‘They’re just there to ensure the residents feel safe; you’re never actually shut in,’ Miss Sykes explains.

Among Sotogrande’s permanent residents are British retirees and couples with children enjoying the tax advantages of working in Gibraltar, a 20-minute drive away. The international school is currently over-subscribed with British children. ‘If your children are young, it’s a perfect place to live,’ says Miss Sykes. ‘But there’s also a fun nightlife for teenagers and young adults.’ Popular Sotogrande nighttime haunts include the Ke Bar at the marina. According to Mr Stewart, increasing numbers of British buyers are looking to invest in Sotogrande, due to the strengthened pound and the 35%-40% drop in prices that has taken place over the past few years. ‘The market has been terrible over the past few years, but prices have bottomed out now-it’s a great time to invest.’

Mr de Meillac agrees that prices have stabilised; he’s already witnessed a number of good transactions this year. Prices, he says, are lower than in Quinta do Lago: buyers should expect to pay about €200,000 for a basic apartment and €750,000 for an upmarket villa with a garden and a pool; a sizeable house with golf course and sea views will cost from €7 million. A five-bedroom property with indoor pool in Kings and Queens, one of Sotogrande’s original developments, is currently on the market for €3,850,000 (Chesterton Humberts: 020- 3040 8210), and a villa with pool in Sotogrande Alto has had its price reduced to €1.85 million (Knight Frank: 020-7629 8171). According to Mr de Meillac, if you’re after a laidback, golfing lifestyle with polo thrown in, then a home in Sotogrande is a great investment but it’s also a cultured choice, adds Miss Sykes. “I love bringing up my children within an international environment in Spain. ‘Why would you want to go to Portugal? Don’t they have terrible food?’

Quinta do Lago, Portugal

Founded as a golf resort by developer André Jordan in the early 1970s, Quinta do Lago is a manicured community of four golf courses and about 800 homes, the majority of which are owned by British people. With 10 flights a day from London to Faro, it’s easy for British second-home owners to come out for weekends, but many choose to make Quinta do Lago their permanent home; not just retirees but expatriate couples with children, keen to benefit from Portugal’s warm climate and favourable tax regime.

Douglas Irvine from Scotland bought a home with his wife seven years ago when he sold his business. ‘We’ve been here ever since and my brother has moved here with his family, too. We all adore it,’ he says. According to Mr Irvine, the Algarve is much less humid than southern Spain. ‘We get the most sunshine hours in the whole of Europe, and we only had only two days of rain this winter.’ The resort benefits from an Atlantic sea breeze, which is akin to air conditioning, he continues, and enjoys spectacular sunsets across the sea. ‘In Spain, the sun often sets behind mountains. Here, the colours over the sea in the evening are magnificent.’

Mr Irvine, who spent holidays in Quinta do Lago as a child, insists that the resort has been developed with immaculate taste. Like Sotogrande, the town has a heavy security presence, but it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. ‘There’s security on every street which is one of the reasons rich buyers invest in the resort,’ he explains.

As a governor of the town’s international school, Mr Irvine is confident that parents moving their families to the Algarve aren’t compromising on education. And, given the resort’s close proximity to an international airport, those parents wishing to send their children to British boarding schools can still do so. It’s a short hop on the plane for the Irvines’ sons, aged 18 and 20, to come home for a weekend from university. ‘I don’t see it as any more hassle than flying to London from Scotland.’

As members of the Quinta do Lago Golf Club, the Irvines have a vibrant social life. ‘We’re inundated with invitations all year round,’ Mr Irvine says. There are also countless activities to entertain their sons: by day, they hang out at the beach and enjoy watersports such as sailing and kite surfing, which is a popular sport in Portugal, and, at night, they head out to Quinta’s bars and nightclubs.

Property prices in the resort have remained strong throughout the economic crisis. Rentals in the August peak can reach more than £6,000 a week, according to Alison Hojbjerg of Quinta Properties, a Savills associate, and the most basic one bedroom apartments cost from €250,000.

The company is currently selling a three bedroom apartment on a golf course, near the beach, for £595,000 (020-7016 3740). A large home with pool and views over a golf course is on the market for £3.3 million (Knight Frank: 020-7629 8171). In the surrounding pine forests substantial homes with pools, spas and gyms sell for more than €15 million.

Since 2001, no new building land has been available in the resort, but earlier this year, 26 plots costing from €2.3 million to €3.5 million were released beside the San Lorenzo golf course (00 351 289 392 754; Two of the plots have already been bought by British buyers.

Quinta do Lago is now at capacity and potential buyers must make do with the trickle of resales that come to the market each year and sellers in the resort are financially secure enough to hold out for their specified price.

Before deciding whether Portugal is less cultured and picturesque than Spain, Miss Hojbjerg encourages buyers to explore the area surrounding Quinta. The adjacent Ria Farmosa nature reserve offers excellent bird-watching opportunities, and it’s worth visiting authentic local towns such as Loulé, which has traditional Portuguse architecture and a lively market.

‘Most people don’t realise that it’s possible to go for an excellent €5 lunch within five minutes of leaving Quinta,’ Miss Hojbjerg adds. ‘The area is so much more diverse and interesting than people give it credit for.’ Both Miss Hojbjerg and Mr Irvine insist stories of ‘terrible’ food are simply myth. Quinta do Lago has a wealth of excellent restaurants along with the two-star Michelin restaurant Vila Joya, a 20-minute drive away. ‘The type of people who come here are extremely picky. If something isn’t up to scratch, it won’t survive,’ states Mr Irvine. James Stewart and Quinta Properties are Savills associates: 020-7016 3740;


Golf courses within the community
Sotogrande Five
Quinta do Lago Three

Other activities

Sotogrande: Tennis, sailing, watersports, walking, bird-watching, polo, riding, paddle

Quinta do Lago: Tennis, sailing, watersports, walking, bird-watching, beach, swimming, cycling, gym, running trails, riding, kite-surfing

Nearest airport
Sotogrande Gibraltar, 20-minute drive or Malaga, 90-minute drive
Quinta do Lago Faro, 15-minute drive

Sotogrande Traditional Andalucían, contemporary, a handful of Moorish-style
homes and a Swiss chalet
Quinta do Lago A mix of traditional, contemporary and Moorish styles

Number of inhabitants
Sotogrande 3,500, rising to 20,000 in August
Quinta do Lago Permanent residents perhaps 300, total capacity 6,500

Average property price
Sotogrande Apartments €380,000, villas €1.4 million
Quinta do Lago Apartments €300.000, villas €2.5 million

Sotogrande Rarely below 10°C in winter, up to 35°C in summer
Quinta do Lago Rarely below 12°C in winter, as high as 30°C in summer

Best restaurants
Sotogrande La Boca, La Quinta and Mara
Quinta do Lago Sao Gabriel and the two- Michel in starred Vila Joya

Most expensive property on the market this spring
Sotogrande €9.5 million
Quinta do Lago €12.5million