Contemporary high tech mansion in an exclusive Costa Brava residential development
Contemporary high tech mansion in an exclusive Costa Brava residential development, Five-bedroom villa on the Costa Brava, with views of the bay of Aiguablava, £1.95m,
In a region that asserts its differences from the rest of Spain at every opportunity, there’s a golf resort near Girona that prides itself on being unlike any other.
The PGA Golf Catalunya Resort sits an hour’s drive north of Barcelona and 30-minutes inland from the Costa Brava’s pretty, pocket-sized beach-front towns. Where others at the height of the property crash had to slash prices by up to 60 per cent or give up altogether, PGA has sold 102 properties since 2012 (average price €700,000, though its designer villas run into the millions) and is about to start marketing plots on a new 75-hectare plot that skirts the existing 300 hectares of pristine golf course and wild, beautiful woodland framed by mountains.
Launching property sales in 2009 – possibly the worst moment in Spanish property history – has, to some extent, been part of the reason behind its success. That and being owned by the Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien, who also owns Portugal’s Quinta do Lago resort and had no need for bank borrowing to create his vision at PGA.
“When we began building, there were 800,000 properties unsold in Spain,” says commercial director David Plana. “We had a lot of time to think about it and it made us do things differently.”
One key decision was to make the resort a showcase for contemporary architecture. Bom Sucesso on Portugal’s Silver Coast did something similar, drafting in 23 top names, including David Chipperfield and Pritzker prize-winning Eduardo Souto de Moura, to design innovative holiday homes shaped like fingers, or that you entered from the green roof. And in Spain, PGA’s closest rival in terms of golf-related luxury is probably Finca Cortesin near Estepona on the Costa del Sol, with large luxury villas set around an exquisite “cortijo” hotel.
But PGA has distanced itself entirely from the classic Spanish look, calling in five cutting-edge practices – including Lagula Architects in Barcelona, Richard Hywel Evans from Studio RHE in London and De Blacam and Meagher in Dublin – to each design a type of villa. There are 10 styles in total and they range from the sleek, Californian-style single-storey Sifera from €1.1m, with its trendy wood cladding and olive trees popping up through internal courtyards, to the poster property, the show-off 400m2 La Vinya villa from €2.3m.
The landscape also plays a starring role. Unlike most Spanish golf developments where the properties come first and the golf and infrastructure added later (or not at all in the case of some recession casualties), PGA began with its prestigious Stadium Course, which hosted the Spanish Open last year and is in the running to host the 2022 Ryder Cup.
So there’s a sense that as modern, striking and, in La Vinya’s case, palatial as the properties are, they must sit inconspicuously within the woodland – and their light, bright open-plan design is all about framing the views. Outdoors, there are no fences, which blurs the sense of where the private gardens end and the wilderness begins. “We’re in a natural forest. This is real, not all irrigated and fake,” says commercial director David Plana.
When PGA was in the planning stages, they expected most buyers to be Spanish – or Catalan. But they hadn’t banked on the market crashing and Spaniards being unable to sell their own properties to trade up. Instead, there’s a big international contingent, with 12 nationalities accounting for last year’s 33 sales and people buying as a holiday home.
“No one is buying in Spain for investment. They are buying because they like the place and property,” says Plana. “It can be people’s fifth or sixth home. The number of Spanish millionaires has increased by 24 per cent in the past year too, so we’re seeing more second home buyers from Barcelona and Madrid.”
As is typical – though odd – of golf resorts, however, a third of buyers at PGA don’t even play golf. They choose it for the wild, peaceful setting – maybe it’s the amazing views, or the hushed reverence that you get when golfers are about to take a swing, but it’s a very cathartic place to be. They also like the five-star services such as the residents’ club and concierge.
And though you don’t get much flavour of Spain when you are in the resort, on the doorstep is Girona’s beguiling old town and Barcelona half-an-hour away by fast train. Thanks to Ferran Adria, the region is also becoming ever more prolific in its gastronomic offering (there are 22 Michelin stars within 50km of PGA) and nearby are such prized, genteel beach towns as Llafranc, where even simple seafront houses can cost a few million euros.
Part of the Catalan character is a strong sense of pride and self-assurance – and PGA exhibits that in spades. “We’re not competing with Spain. We’re competing on the world stage,” says David Plana. No doubt the many golf pros who have stood on its famous course will know exactly what he means.