Country houses for sale

The changing face of Marbella

Pacaso has recently launched in Europe and is taking the Spanish holiday home market by storm with its luxurious townhouse style villa in the coastal town of Marbella.

There’s no getting away from it: Marbella’s reputation precedes it.

What was once a sleepy little village — after the Second World War, its population had dwindled to just 900 people — has evolved almost constantly since the jet-set began to arrive in the 1950s. Over the years it’s been a haven for everyone from Saudi princes and Spanish millionaires to sports stars and Hollywood royalty: Grace Kelly and Sean Connery were both once regular faces, with the latter owning a home here for many years. George Clooney and Antonio Banderas still do.

Its image in popular culture today, however, isn’t quite as glitzy as those names suggest. There’s always been a seedier side to the place, one way or another. For a long time the darker side of Marbella came from the criminals who called it home (from a notorious arms dealer  to Great Train Robber Charlie Wilson), but more recently it’s reputation (at least in the UK) has been shaped by its links to reality TV shows such as The Only Way Is Essex. Think of ‘Marbs’, and most of us now think of orange tans, big heels, and little white dresses tighter than Georgian corsets.

Much of that still exists in Puerto Banus, but elsewhere this chameleon of a town is changing again, particularly in the wake of Covid. Marbella is firmly aiming upmarket again, trading on its weather and views, as ever, but also focusing on a part of the area that was once at the heart of its appeal: the pockets of the city that still burst with authentic Spanish charm. There are idyllic restaurants by the sea (El Ancla) and more than enough Instagram-able places (Leña by Dani Garcia) and bars within the town (including the stalwart Marbella Club).

Best of all, Marbella Old Town is considered one of the best-preserved old towns in the Andalusia region, where Bougainvillea-lined streets give way to narrow cobbled pathways dotted with cafes and restaurants. One could — and should — spend an afternoon following the meandering streets in search of quiet, idyllic corners.

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Marbella Old Town

Stepping in to help with this shift in emphasis are new restaurants, new hotels, new developments and even — courtesy of a company called Pacaso — a new take on another hoary-old Marbella cliche: the timeshare. This is far removed from the two-weeks-a-year in a studio apartment that you might imagine, for Pacaso has been running shared ownership schemes successfully in the US for a couple of years, having been founded in California in 2020 by tech entrepreneur Austin Allison and former Zillow CEO, Spencer Rascoff.

The archaic concepts of timeshares have been completely reimagined into a different version of what luxury home co-ownership can look like. Pacaso purchases and creates a limited company for each property and handles all sale-related details, managing shares in eighths, with buyers able to purchase anywhere from 1/8 to 1/2 of a home. It’s fair to say things have been going rather well for them: they’ve raised hundreds of millions in financing and hit what venture capitalists call ‘unicorn status’ — a $1 billion valuation — before even opening up in Spain.

Villa Aire, Marbella, being split into shares by Pacaso.

The concept is simple enough: Each share equates to 44 nights’ stay a year, the schedule and organisation of which is managed by the company. Upon sale completion, the co-owners share 100% of the home and Pacaso does not retain any shares; but they do assume the role of property manager, looking after furnishing, bills and maintenance. Each property is fully fitted with everything you could need — from cotton linen bedding to Le Creuset cookware — to make your stay as easy and as comfortable as possible. For those with busy lives who want the convenience of a property where you can ‘show up and relax’, this is the perfect option.

And logistically, a holiday home here makes sense. There are plentiful, inexpensive flights to nearby Malaga, a glorious climate, swish country clubs with endless clay tennis courts, the plunging hills down to the sparkling Mediterranean, and over 20 of the best golf courses in Europe, all framed by the verdant mountains as a backdrop. There’s much more here as a destination than the click-bait catchphrases of TOWIE would have you believe.

Could you buy your own place for the same money? Yes, and you’d have it year-round instead of six and a bit weeks a year — but at this price it’d be nothing like so grand, and you’d have the headaches of managing it. Ultimately, it comes down to what you want from a holiday home. If you look hard enough, there is a corner here to suit everyone — and plenty of sangria to go around.

Villa Aire — 1/8 share for £672,183

So what exactly could you get for your money? At present Pacaso are marketing shares in Villa Aire, a beautifully-presented contemporary villa built in an L-shape and surrounded by a tropical private garden. It’s located in the Aloha community of Nueva Andalucía area, directly north of Puerto Banus, and a 15-20 minute drive from Marbella’s centre.

Framed by banana trees on one end and a feature waterfall at the other, this green oasis is a real sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the city, at the centre of which lies a large glistening pool.

Villa Aire, Marbella

The five-bed property feels like a luxurious townhouse, where calming, organic-inspired interiors meet with floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors, to create a lateral, fluid living space centred around entertaining.

A spiral staircase leads to the roof terrace where you can enjoy  360-degree panoramic views of the sea, mountains and golf courses from bed-sized sunloungers and inside a fully-equipped gym, sauna, massage area and bar/games room completes the lower ground floor space.

The company offers up to 70% in financing and monthly home expenses come to £617 per 1/8 share at this property.

Villa Aire, Marbella