Alfonso of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, who died of prostate cancer at the age of 79, was the prince whose dynamism turned the Spanish fishing town of Marbella into a world-famous resort. Hohenlohe came, on his father’s side, from a family whose history went back to the sixth century and they were Princes of Württemberg in Germany until Napoleon’s invasion. His mother Mercy was a Marchioness, granddaughter of a Basque adventurer who had made his fortune in Mexico. King Alfonso XIII of Spain was his godfather at a baptism in the Royal Palace.
The Hohenlohe prince, however, lived in a century when his family’s hereditary wealth dried up. his mother lost property in the Mexican revolution; And after the fall of the Third Reich, property in Germany and Czechoslovakia disappeared behind the Iron Curtain. Alfonso grew up with private tutors in Bohemia and Spain, becoming fluent in German, Spanish, French, and English.
luckily for the hohenlohes, franco did not fall when hitler did. Alfonso’s father, Max, sent him to Andalusia in 1947 to look for property to revive the family fortune. In his coal-fired Rolls Royce, he stopped for a seaside picnic in picturesque Marbella. charmed by its beauty, he bought a vineyard ruined by phylloxera for 150,000 pesetas.
unlike its neighbor torremolinos, littered with gray high-rise blocks (now in ruins) along the front, hohenlohe and his friends developed marbella with low, whitewashed andalusian houses and gardens full of palm trees. In the early 1950s he had a 16-room hotel built and began inviting the wealthy and wealthy, who happily moved from rainy Biarritz on France’s Atlantic coast to a town free of heating bills. Labor was also almost free, since Spain in the years after the civil war was completely devastated and people in the countryside were starving.
hohenlohe liked to see himself as a businessman, first developing marbella, then with the volkswagen dealership in mexico and then with volvo one in spain. he knew how to make money with smarts and style. “People have always called me crazy,” he said proudly in a recent interview. “first through marbella, then taking volkswagen to mexico when it was full of yankee cars, then i came back when spain had no commercial agreements with sweden”. he boasted: “I always knew how to look forward.”
Family fortunes seemed well restored with Alfonso’s 1955 marriage to 15-year-old Ira von Fürstenberg, the heiress trustee. this sent a shiver of scandal through high society, but did not stop 400 from attending a 16-day wedding party. After all, the devout Catholic Alfonso had obtained a papal dispensation for the marriage. five years later, he needed a new divorce waiver, as anger left him for another notorious 1950s playboy, “baby” pignatari.
The 1960s saw hohenlohe at the height of his fame, with hollywood stars, arab sheikhs and dethroned european royalty – like the duke of windsor – rubbing shoulders at his marbella club, the last word in chic and with its own helipad . Dubbed the “King of Clubs” or the “Little Prince,” Hohenlohe graced the gossip columns: Ava Gardner and Kim Novak were among his many girlfriends. he was known locally as olé-olé, referring to his hard-to-pronounce, party-loving last name.
After having to settle $1 million on British star Jackie Lane following a brief marriage in the 1970s, he decided to avoid further wedding vows. in 1991, however, after a facelift, she married for a third time. With Marilys, a divorced Gibraltarian, several years of seclusion and apparent happiness came in a farm she bought in the hills near Ronda, with a trout lake, partridge forest and a huge library.
Here he also successfully grew Bordeaux grapes and marketed the wine. I could quote Rilke: “I have searched everywhere for my dream city and I have finally found it in Ronda”. Hohenlohe had sold his business interests in Marbella in 1978: mass tourism had toned down the city. the resort was sliding downhill to the nightmare parodied in jg ballard’s cocaine nights.
hohenlohe was proud to be a prince and enjoyed the privileges this brought him in Franco’s Spain, where his projects were immune from building permits or labor laws. At the same time, he insisted that he had worked hard: “Thanks to my initiative, Marbella’s Golden Mile alone now provides 60,000 jobs.”
Short, with a mischievous smile and an elegant mustache, Hohenlohe was at his best a celebrated bon vivant, dancer until dawn, rally driver, hunter and sportsman. “I have lived in castles, Venetian palaces and in the best hotels in the world. I have looked into the eyes of the most beautiful women,” he said. The life of this charmer with a certain self-awareness, even irony, ended sadly, as Marilys passed away suddenly in the year 2000, the same year he was diagnosed with cancer.
hohenlohe is survived by his four children: christopher and hubertus, with his first wife, ira; Arian, with his second wife, Jackie; and desirée, with the swiss model heidi balzar.
· prince alphonse of hohenlohe-langenburg, playboy and businessman, born 28 may 1924; died on December 21, 2003