What was once the first luxury hotel in the centre of old Marbella has now completed 20% of its ambitious refurbishment project, and is expected to open in March 2023.
31 May 2022. When the Estepa businessman Don José Luque Manzano visited Marbella in 1954 on doctor’s orders, the agri-food business veteran never imagined he’d go on to become one of the pioneers of Spanish tourism, and one of the driving forces behind the Costa del Sol becoming one of the European jet set’s favourite destinations. On that trip, he discovered one of the most beautiful villages in Spain, which has occupied a strategic location on the coast even beyond its seafaring past.
This is evidenced by the Fort of San Luis, built in 1554 by King Charles V of Spain, which the head of the Luque family saw every day as he passed by Elvira Vidal’s guesthouse. Elvira was a Malaga woman who, when widowed, left everything behind to settle in a beautiful neoclassical building designed by the architect Fernando Guerrero Strachan, located on the seafront, which had once been a flour factory. Its garden, surrounded by vineyards, had become a hotbed of intellectuals, artists and bohemians, including Jean Cocteau, Ana Pombo, Edgar Neville and Conchita Montes, among others.
And Luque, said to be “a man who saw the future on the horizon”, knew there was business to be had there. After acquiring the house from its owner for 1.2 million pesetas, he unknowingly founded one of the most emblematic hotel chains in Andalusia.
The first hotel on the Costa del Sol with a lift and rooms with private bathrooms and telephones:
His wife, Doña Isabel García Bardón, who has been president of Fuerte Group Hotels since her husband’s death in 1984, says that “the beginnings were extremely difficult”, but the businessman was determined to turn El Fuerte into the best hotel on the Costa del Sol. And he spared no expense. He invested 12 million pesetas to refurbish its 45 rooms, which were the first in the area to have a private bathroom and telephone, and its facilities, which included a spectacular lift, the first to be built in a hotel on the Costa del Sol, and turned it into one of Marbella’s leading tourist attractions.
Opened in July 1957, it was frequented by celebrities from all over the world: from film-maker Walt Disney and his dog Pluto (1958), to the British actress Diana Dors (1959) and the great Lola Flores (1960s); and more recently, writers including the poet Rafael Alberti (1990), the politicians Adolfo Suárez, Santiago Carrillo and Julio Anguita, and artists such as members of Tricicle and the actors Penélope Cruz and Timothy Dalton, plus many more.
With a 1st A rating, and with prices of 75 pesetas per night, 8 pesetas for breakfast, and 15 pesetas for lunch, El Fuerte made its mark on Marbella society, which now considers it part of its contemporary identity and is why its refurbishment has been so well received.
One of the best five-star hotels on the Costa del Sol:
As El Fuerte Marbella is about to celebrate its 65th anniversary, Doña Isabel García Bardón and all her children are refurbishing it with the same care and enthusiasm as the family patriarch did when he first built it. These are different times, and Marbella is now an established destination that looks to the future with a determination to recover its splendour and continue to leave its mark with a wide range of 5-star hotels.
And it’s in this top league that the new El Fuerte Marbella wants to play. To do so, last January, Fuerte Group Hotels began an ambitious remodelling project, which will involve a 31 million euros investment (with 14 million for building work, 10 million for equipment, and 7 million for other expenses), of which almost 20% has already been completed. The main dismantling and demolition work has already been carried out, and in the coming months the rest of the work will be completed to refurbish the 251 rooms and all its facilities, divided between the Levante building (the original) and the Poniente building, which was built after the death of Don José Luque Manzano but following plans he himself set out.
In this new chapter of its story, El Fuerte Marbella wants to show itself as a reference point for elegance and classicism, but with a timeless style. Its design was conceived by the prestigious Chilean interior designer Jaime Beriestain, known in the tourism sector for having worked on numerous hotels for major international luxury brands, including Hyatt Regency, Marriott, Hilton and Waldorf Astoria.
According to the President of Fuerte Group Hotels, Doña Isabel García Bardón, who recently visited the construction site of El Fuerte Marbella to coincide with the 65th anniversary of its inauguration, “my husband would be very proud to see how this pioneering luxury hotel in Marbella continues to be committed to innovation and distinguishing itself as a leading luxury establishment. While there are now many great hotels in Marbella, El Fuerte will always be unique. And part of its exclusivity is thanks to its privileged location facing the sea, a 5 minute walk from the heart of the then fishing village, which, for me, is still the very essence of the Marbella I fell in love with through his eyes”.