The new coordinates of luxury: what are the rich looking for in a city

For some experts, luxury has not caught on so much in Barcelona, ​​but in Madrid, however, a kind of golden age is lived

John Manuel Del Olmo

Brand new whites, more elegant than the gray of concrete. Gold trim, distinguished. Diaphanous and harmonious spaces. Carpets. Silent tension between desire for privacy and display. Complexes that combine hotels and boutiques where a silk tie costs 190 euros. All that, and more and more. In 2021, the luxury sector has grown 20% more than in 2020.

According to Idealista, the four provinces that bring together the most luxury homes are Malaga, the Balearic Islands, Madrid and Barcelona. Regarding the latter, the real estate consultant Laborde Marcet has confirmed an increase in rental demands in the most exclusive commercial areas, but they are not the only ones. Specifically, tourism in the Spanish capital is turning towards the jet set: four luxury hotels have been opened, in addition to several renovations.

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Luxury, behind freedom?

According to the geographer and urban planner Antonio Giraldo, an expert who teaches how to look at the city with different eyes, the growth of luxury in the center of Madrid is palpable, especially from 2016. Madrid, that traditional city in which a popular spirit, proudly less elegant than Paris and more welcoming than London or Amsterdam; is now under the scrutiny of big investors. But, from the point of view of urban planning, what is a rich man looking for in a city or a neighborhood? Giraldo believes that a very particular form of freedom: “Being able to do what you want without being bothered too much”.

The Four Seasons chain opened its first hotel in Spain in September, in Canalejas. "Before, this was not a luxury-oriented area, it had several public buildings, but it was not exclusive," admits Giraldo. In addition, the expert points out that the transformation of some neighboring businesses is already underway. In this way, it is expected that the bars and locals of a lifetime that still remain will disappear. The process is known and studied: rent increase, change in economic activity, and postcard ready for the Instagram photo. At least those who can afford it. The brand new Hermès and Cartier stores have been installed in the same Canalejas complex. About 800 meters from there, the Mandarin Oriental Ritz reopened in April after an investment of close to 99 million euros.

Pay 770 euros per night

In addition, it is planned that not far away, next to the Descalzas Monastery, the giant Marriott International will open another luxury hotel that will have 200 rooms, 33 of them suites. That area is another one that is currently not for VIPs at all. In fact, it is a rather dirty square. The Monastery is from the 16th century and, according to Giraldo, constitutes one of the capital's hidden gems in terms of heritage.

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Further north, in the neighborhood of Almagro, the Hotel Santo Mauro has opened its doors, where reserving a room for two people on the third weekend of February (for example), costs 770 euros. “Nor is it a matter of preventing these businesses from coming, of course there have to be five-star hotels. What perhaps should be encouraged more is balance,” says Giraldo.

“It is a model that has wanted to attract”

"It's amazing that they wanted to open everything in the same area: the surroundings of Cibeles and Puerta del Sol," says Giraldo, who considers that this reorientation of tourism may be the spearhead of the elitization of the center. Thus, two dichotomous schemes are erected: cities accessible to the majority, which are not hostile to the citizen (what the architect Izaskun Chinchilla has called The city of care); or productive cities, more focused on being seen than being inhabited, in which there is a lack of health centers or resources as simple as benches to sit on.

“It is a model that the administration has explicitly wanted to attract. They call it 'pole of attraction'”, says Giraldo. The most serious thing, according to the urban planner, is that in the case of Canalejas the building protection laws were changed: before they had the highest and it was lowered almost to the lowest.

Between exposure and intimacy

The Spanish area where luxury first took root was the Costa del Sol, with Marbella as a figurehead of exclusivity. A report by Engels&Völkers pointed out last year that the demand for homes priced between two and three million euros had grown in this region. But there is a difference with respect to what is happening now in the center of Madrid or Barcelona: when Julio Iglesias, Carmen Cervera, Hollywood actors or Saudi leaders go to his residence in Marbella, hardly anyone knows that they have arrived. Their farms are islands. "Marbella has been a fairly discreet destination: there are mansions that suddenly appear, you see photos and you don't believe they are there," says Giraldo.

The city of Malaga is also taking off as a luxury destination. More new-build flats are sold in the Andalusian city than in Barcelona. Attracted by the climate and the proximity of the beaches, foreign citizens (British, but also Russian) pay per square meter at prices never seen there. Antonio Giraldo explains that the City Council exploits the Malaga brand through culture. In this sense, Malaga plays with the trick of its museums: the Russian Museum, the Picasso Museum Malaga, the CAC, the Carmen Thyssen Museum and the Pompidou subsidiary.

"In Barcelona, ​​luxury has not caught on so much"

To say that Madrid now has more projects than Barcelona has become a mantra. This does not mean that economic activity is stopped, but rather that the initiatives are less striking. Giraldo points out that, of course, there are still high-class tourists, but the perception of a global city, more open (both geographically, due to its historical link with the sea and proximity to France, and socially) has been diminished.

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According to the urban planner, the facelift of the Catalan capital came with the 1992 Olympic Games. "This modernization was intended to attract a tourist with a higher purchasing power, but I think that luxury has not caught on so much in Barcelona," argues Giraldo. According to him, in this city the negative consequences of mass tourism are more palpable than in any other in Spain. That would lead one to think that luxury tourism is less harmful, because quality is not synonymous with quantity. However, Giraldo points out that the richest demand other services: for example, that their taxi reaches the very door of the hotel.

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