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Disney in Manilva

Or not, as the case ultimately turned out!

This page last updated 28th August, 2007

For many years now there have been rumours of a theme park to be built in the Manilva area. These rumours have been fuelled by a number of facts and a certain number of myths.

In 2006 Disney announced that they were looking to build an Albergue – a kind of children’s adventure camp in Manilva – which has again fuelled speculation about whether a full-blown theme park is on the cards.

In this section we will try and get to the bottom of this story and chronicle what has led to these rumours and to follow future developments.

Magic Hills

If one thing has muddied the waters as regards a theme park in the area it is the repeated mention of Magic Hills, so let’s get this one out of the way right at the beginning.

Magic Hills is a proposed residential and sporting complex with outline planning proposals for the site, as shown in the drawing, include for the construction of 1 1/2 golf courses, (27 holes), approximately 3.000 dwellings – single family detached villas, terraced houses, Mediterranean villages, and apartments, a golf hotel and golf club, a luxury residential – clinic – hotel, a sailing club ( the site has its own lake ), a riding club and riding school with designated bridle paths of many kilometres, a tennis club, swimming pools, etc,. as well as commercial sites for supermarkets and offices, restaurants, a heliport, a first aid clinic, schools, etc.

I also believe the the extent of the planning was reduced recently to make it accepable to the Junta de Andalucia’s planning department.

But the name “Magic Hills” is unfortunate because so many people assume that it is/will be a theme park as can be seen from the following extracts taken from a couple of websites, and is pretty representative of the way mistakes and misunderstandings can suddenly become fact:

  • 7 Swimming pools
  • Sports Complex (includ. Indoor pool, tennis courts squash courts, gym)
  • Commercial centre (includ. Supermarket, Restaurant, Bar, shops etc.)
  • 24 hour Security, Video porter
  • Garage and Storage
  • Magic Hills Theme park (similar to Euro Disney)
  • Up and coming growth area

and this:

The N340 motorway has now opened up the much less developed Estepona region – past Marbella and down to Gibraltar . What was previously a 4 hour trip can now be comfortably achieved in 55 minutes. The port at Estepona has just been given permission to allow cruise liners bringing more tourism into the area. Magic Hills, a theme park, is proposed to be built at Manilva just outside Estepona. There are 75 flights per day from the UK to Malaga , many operated by the low cost airlines. Gibraltar airport, 20 minutes from Estepona, is now increasingly being used by the low cost airlines providing an attractive alternative to Malaga airport.


“Following the success of the Disneyland park in Anaheim, California, in the United States, plans to build a similar European theme park started out around 1975. Initially, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain were considered as possible locations. Both Great Britain and Italy were quickly dropped from the list however, as they both lacked a sufficiently large expanse of flat land suited for the resort.

The Alicante area in Spain was thought to be good site, as it had a similar climate to that of Florida for most of the year. On the other hand, this area is also considerably affected by the strong Mediterranean Mistral winds. In the end, it was the French location that won out, and a site was picked at Marne-la-Vallee because of its close proximity to Paris and its central location within Western Europe. This location would put the park within 4 hours of driving for 68 million people, and within two hours of flight for a further 300 million or so.”

I have seen references to two Spanish sites being shortlisted for EuroDisney park, now in Paris, and many sources have cited area of Estepona now occupied by Selwo as being the second, I have yet to find firm proof of this.

Disney Golf

The Disney Family Golf Tournament is the first of its kind in Europe and was the beginning of Manilva’s collaboration with the Disney Company.

In total 44 pairs of players from all over Spain competed in this unique event which was held at La Duquesa Golf Club, Manilva on the 4th, 5th and 6th November, 2005.

The competition, which had been organised by the Manilva Tourism Office, along with the Walt Disney Company and sponsored by Evamarina was open to pairs comprising boys or girls aged 7 to 10 years old and their mothers or fathers. All entrants had won major golf championships staged by Spain’s regional golf federations, and are some of the best young golfers in Spain.

Along with the players and officials there were various Walt Disney characters appearing and as well as trophies for the winners, one lucky pair were drawn for a trip to Euro Disney in Paris.

All the contestants’ expenses were met by the organisers and they were accommodated locally in Manilva.

Disney Adventure Camp

This is the development that has really sparked speculation about Disney’s future aspirations in the Manilva area.

In April, 2006, Disney officially declared its wish to build an Albergue, or children’s camp in Manilva to promote sporting, adventure and educational activities for its young guests. An area of 200,000 square metres has been procured for this centre and it has been zoned to allow for this kind of development, but as of this time it is still at the planning stages.

An article appeared in the Sunday Times on Sunday, 16th April which was then quoted either in full or in part in various news sites, papers and magazines. Here is the full text of the article:

DISNEY is drawing up plans for a possible park on the Costa del Sol which could transform the area’s tourist industry.

The company has held talks with Spanish officials about building on farmland near the town of Manilva, southwest of Marbella, although the two sides have given different accounts of the venture.

Disney said it was in negotiation for various new schemes in Manilva, including a summer camp for children, offering the opportunity to improve their sports and languages.

Javier Sansierra, the executive who has been running negotiations with Manilva town hall, denied it planned a full-scale theme park like Disneyland Paris, operated by Euro Disney.

“While I completely agree that a Euro Disney would do well in Spain and personally I believe it should have opened here in the first place, there are no plans to open a second or mini amusement park in Spain for the time being,” he said.

However, officials in Manilva suggested a more ambitious project was being considered. “The discussions are well advanced,” said Lucy Fernandez, a town hall spokeswoman.

“It is at a sensitive stage, so I can’t say too much, but the eventual aim is to open a Euro Disney-type park in four or five years.”

Francisco Alvarez, the local tourism officer, who has been closely involved in the negotiations, said: “We have the space here for Disney and are urbanising a couple of large areas for them. I know the company has acquired at least one estate here and we hope they will begin building soon.”

It is understood that in return for permission to build a new park in the area, Disney could be expected to contribute towards the cost of a new motorway from Seville to the Costa del Sol.

The company had originally planned to open a Disney theme park on the Costa del Sol in the late 1980s. After a long search, it narrowed down its options to a choice between Estepona and Paris.

Although Spain’s climate gave it the edge, the company eventually plumped for Paris, largely because of its better communications. Some executives now admit that the site in Estepona — where a 247-acre safari park has since opened — would have been the better option.

Other large theme parks in Spain have proved successful. These include the highly rated PortAventura near Barcelona, Warner Bros Park in Madrid and Isla Magica in Seville.

Disneyland Paris has been affected by problems ranging from bad weather to cultural differences between the US and France.

Whilst this article had indeed been published in the Sunday Times, with all the credibility that gives the piece, it was written by a freelance journalist, Jon Clarke, based in southern Spain, and had originally been destined for the Mail on Sunday some months earlier but they never printed it. Many local Spanish language publications picked up on the article and printed an almost verbatim translation of the Times article further lending weight to its content.

In response to the frantic interest raised by the article, Manilva Town Hall issued a press release, confirming the negotiations regarding the summer camp, but falling short of any mention of future theme parks, etc. This press release was only in the public domain briefly before it was withdrawn.

Since then the subject has been dormant, apart from the usual rumours, and those with ‘inside information’ who know a guy, who knows a guy… you know how it goes. In fact it is believed (OK, rumoured) that Disney got the hump at the premature release of information and exaggeration of the facts, and closed the negotiations, this school of thought being backed up by the fact that the Disney Family Golf Tournament, the second edition that was due to be held late in 2006, was inexplicably cancelled.

In early 2007, in a bid to put the rumour to rest, I asked Francisco Miguel Alvarez, the then Councillor for Tourism, and who had been involved in the original negotiations, for a definitive answer to the Disney question. He replied that whilst of course no one could say that there would never be a Disney Theme Park here, and that his department is always actively promoting the area and seeking opportunities, there are no plans, agreements, or anything else for that matter, with the Disney Corporation for any developments in the Manilva area at this time. This from the horse’s mouth.

Here we go again!

For a while all was quiet until in July, 2007, we received an email from a mortgage consultant in Estepona the text of which is as follows:

Dear Sir

I would like to draw your attention to this great news. The Costa del Sol has been waiting for confirmation of this complex for some years now.

The Disney complex along with the Estepona Football Village and other large infrastructure projects on the coast, will breathe new life into the Costa del Sol.

Disney have confirmed dates for their new complex. Adam Rollins chief executive of the National Association of Estate Agents quoted:

“We have been asked by one of our members from Albany Real Estate Search LLP for clarification on the Disney project. After consulting the Spanish authorities we now have more clarity for our international agents and for those selling property in Spain. Disney have confirmed that the framework to be able to take the excess numbers of people and in terms of property, hotels, and transport is now underway with the extension of Malaga airport and roads being able to take excess traffic, and the new train link from Fuengirola to La Linea to start soon. Disney expect to start building in July 2008 – to be done in four phases -the first which is a summer camp to open in April 2009, followed by Disney resort rolling out soon over 45 acres. This will be good news for property owners as well as those wanting to purchase a property in a superb climate. Press launch is Jan 08”

Whilst we discarded it as another bit of wishful thinking on the part of certain elements in the property industry, The Town Crier chose to publish.

Unlike the Town Crier, we phoned Adam Rollins at the NAEA in the UK to ask for more information regarding which Spanish Authorities he had been talking to, only to be told that he had no idea about this article, and was totally ignorant of any Disney plans for this area.

After sending a copy of the email to him, he replied that the NAEA were going to investigate this ‘total fabrication’.

As of this moment we await his report and will publish it as soon as we receive it.

An interview with the Mayoress of Manilva, Antonia Muñoz

In an interview published in the August ’07 edition of The Resident, The Mayoress of Manilva, Antonia Muñoz, was asked about the Disney rumours to which she replied:

“Finally there are the constant rumours regarding Disney in Manilva. Some years ago in 1998 or 1999 the Town Council were approached with a proposal for a theme park. As of this moment there are no planning procedures or applications for a theme park, Disney or otherwise. If Disney or anyone else for that matter wishes to come to Manilva we would welcome them with open arms, but I would not deceive anyone by claiming there are currently any plans for a Disney facility of any sort.”