Portrait of a Ghost Town: Condado de Alhama, Spain

Rooms with a view of the golf course.
Vacant rooms with a view of the golf course.

[NOTE: My visit to Condado de Alhama was in 2012, and the photos here were taken at that time. You'll see from the flurry of comments below that present-day Condado property owners are anxious to point out things have changed. In five years, a golf course and infrastructure have been completed, the majority of units were sold, and property values are presumably holding. That's all good news. This post is a snippet of history, then, and an impression of the shifty banking deals that created it in the first place. -KH, March 2017]

After seeing The Big Short this week (a film I highly recommend), I was transported back to the scene of Condado de Alhama in the Murcia region of Spain.

Tom and I did some house sitting in this area of southwest Spain in the spring of 2012. Just off the highway between Mazarrón and the town of Murcia was this gigantic property, mostly constructed but with plenty of land available for expansion. I detoured to take a closer look, and it was downright creepy.

The Condado de Alhama community was planned for up to 100,000 residents. The neighborhoods of condos and townhome-style dwellings were to surround a bustling marketplace and town square, called Al Kasar.  A Jack Nicklaus golf course and resort property (originally called Polaris World until they bailed out) was to provide more value.

Al Kasar marketplace and bustling town center
Al Kasar marketplace and bustling town center

When I visited, I was told there was a population of about 1,000. I doubt it was half that. In one homeowner's for sale listing from 2012, the place was described as having 22 swimming pools and 500 residents.

Today’s research shows that condos can be rented for around US$35-55 per night via AirBnB. If you want to buy, you might find a 3-bedroom piso for 50-60,000 Euros (roughly $55-66,000).

In a Residents' Association newsletter dated last August (2015) rumors that the place was being sold to Chinese investors were quelled. But the update continued:

“The Al  Kasar commercial centre and the old show rooms on the outer road have been transferred to Sareb (the bad bank).
The Condado club has been transferred to Banco Sabadell. The ownership of the golf course has been transferred to banco Sabadell but IRM will continue to manage it. All other assets and unsold plots will be shared between Banco Sabadell and  Banco Popular.”

Lovely.

p.s. The new International Airport has yet to open, and oft-delayed plans for the Paramount Theme Park, according to Murcia Today, are “not yet quite dead.”

We’ll leave it at that, and these photos.

The Island, a village within the Condado de Alhama development
The Island, a village within the Condado de Alhama development
Neighborhood access
Neighborhood access
Infrastructure to nowhere
Infrastructure to nowhere
A monument to banking and mortgages
A monument to banking and mortgages

41 thoughts on “Portrait of a Ghost Town: Condado de Alhama, Spain”

  1. Oh the housing bubble…how very sad (and scary) – I’ll have to see that movie. This reminds me of the empty expat developments in Mexico on the Pacific coast corridor from Rosarito to Ensenada.

    • Thanks for the note, Rebecca. We were staying in a nearby ‘urbanizacion” of mostly British expats. It was much smaller scale than Condado, but it too was left unfinished. Although the development came from international investments, the Spanish banks are left holding the bag, and we know how bad the unemployment situation is in Spain, especially the South. And yes, expats are stuck, too, with unfinished properties, scant services, and upside down mortgages.

    • We’ve just spent a lovely week at the resort, yes very quiet but perfect for a chilled out get away, the place seems to be recovering somewhat. That’s my positive spin anyway ;)

      • Thanks for the update, Kay. I guess you’ve answered my question, that the primary occupants are resort users, not permanent (or even expat) residents. Is that right? It’s time I go back for a follow-up.

  2. Interesting and sad. While economic downtown had an effect, I wonder if the original vision was too “big” to ever be attainable. This reminds me a new housing development I saw in rural Panama this winter. It is probably about 1/4 finished and building continues slowly, but I wonder if it will ever reach what the finished drawing depicts. To me, it seemed a bit too big and a little out of place for the area.

    • Yes, and to be fair, this happened all over the world, from Vegas to Panama to Spain. The recovery in Spain is certainly complicated by the European Union. But on the other hand, the EU has invested a lot in Spain’s patrimony, too, (for example, improving the Camino de Santiago).

  3. So sad….for everyone: the Spanish , the expats, the banks, and locals. Really scary for anyone thinking about buying property in a foreign land. One can only hope outside investors will come in.

  4. Wow, what a creepy site it looks, especially your photo of that wide, empty street. Big dreams! And I suppose it all seemed realistic before the bubble burst. If they’d sold, as they would have in the years before the crash, it would have made the developers plenty of money! An irreverent thought, on seeing your photo of the pool: the current residents could have one helluva pool party!

    • Considering the site, fairly isolated from any other attractions (though the old town of Alhama de Murcia has some historic interest) it was really hard for me to see the appeal or potential. Yup, enormously freaky.

    • That photo of “a wide empty street”, is actually an unused car park at the back of the resort, as you can see, the lack fence is inside the gated resort.
      This article is Utter Poppycock and outdated and off season which is proven by the colour of the Bermuda style grass which discolours in the winter months and becomes bright green again through the summer and autumn.
      This article couldn’t be more nonsensicle, Corvera airport is defimotely opening, in “Spanish time”, which isn’t at high speed, but will open in time. And the Paramount Park was always a non starter and never gonna happen.
      Whoever has written this is either guessing, or making preposterous figures up in their tiny brain.
      What a Complete Idiot……
      HaHaHa

  5. It’s always amazing to me to see a site like this and imagine how they ever talked the investors into it, but time and time again dollar signs seem a substitute for brains. I haven’t seen The Big short yet, but will on your recommendation. Will (we) ever learn?

    • If anything was clear from the Big Short, the investors didn’t need to be talked into anything. They were all too willing to suck profit whore banks into the scheme. The Spanish banks, backed by German and British banks, were eager. And the Spanish people got left holding the bag. Even worse than in the US.

  6. Although you mention the white elephant airport at Corvera, what you don’t mention are the FOUR motorways within 10 miles of Condado that were built with a lot of Brussels money. Spain is littered with such developments which are a damning comment on the idea of siphoning money from the ‘rich’ countries to ‘develop’ the poorer ones. Without employment, the infrastructures are useless and Spain will struggle to attract residents for developments like Condado. Perhaps Brussels might consider using it to rehome migrants.

  7. The article is a bit outdated now. Condado De Alhama is buzzing in summer and a cozy comfort in winter.
    Very family friendly and all round good folk.

    The whole complex is clean or organized.

  8. What a load of misinformed drivel….. having spent the last 7 years holidaying in condado on what is predominantly a holiday resort I have plenty of photo’s of the resort in full swing!

    Granted the vision is somewhat smaller than first envisaged due to the global financial meltdown it remains a resort with plenty of restaurants, sports club and from what I understand great golf course.

    Many other urbanisations being built in the early 2000’s remain part built and do look like half built building sites, Condado is not one of them. The infrastructure roads are more than required for the size of the final urbanisation due to the reduced overall site but better to be more than required than not there at all.

    Suggest you return during the summer months and enjoy a little Condado community spirit Kristen.

  9. There are NO unfinished properties on Condafo and the resort is actually very well run and patronised with many bars and restaurants, a supermarket, beauty salon, bakery and several other stores all of which seem to thrive. There is s successful golf club and clubhouse and a full time community. The article is somewhat misleading I feel.

  10. So since your report about 100 of the 3300 properties remain unsold. Prices are about €65000 for a 2 bed and €70-75k for a 3 bed. Spain’s GDP lastyear was 3.2% and Murcia region 3.6%. There are approximately 800-1000 permanent residents, mainly Spanish, British and Scandinavian.the resort is well maintained with community fees of €80-100 per month. we have 25 swimming pools, unfortunately not heated.

    22/23 April 2017 we host the Audi Canal plus golf tournament, 300 players and families. We have recently had golf professionals from Zimbabwe and Korea and twice monthly hvae golf pros training from Norway.

    The resort is being repainted at present, we have minimal crime….the odd burglary…but that happens everywhere??

    Alhama de Murcia is our nearest town 14 kms away and it has recently seen huge investment. Primafrio have built a lorry depot for 1500 lorries. Another frozen foods company has invested 80 million Euro in a frozen foods distribution centre, they supply worldwide! We are awaiting a bio fuels depot to be built and El Pozo, Alhama’s largest employer is also expanding. All these 4 companies need an international airport and soon. Please don’t write the resort off, just yet…..you may well be surprised by the development of the resort and general area!,

  11. Your comments about Condado are miles from the reality there now and you missed the fantastic golf course in the centre of the resort . You really should take a look in the summer, especially August when the resort is rammed with a great mix of Spanish and brits, scandinavians and other Europeans. The properties are pretty much all sold and there’s 9 different restaurants on site too. Not too much like a ghost town then. Thanks

  12. Whilst I agree CONDADO DE ALHAMA is a relatively quiet resort it has its busy period also in the summertime. As an owner, we got a bargain that has plenty of facilities onsite and a real community spirit that belies the ghost town your refer to. Unfortunately, your photos do not do it justice and if your search Youtube you will see plenty of lush gardens and greens with fabulous pools and a safe expense for young family’s to let their children play in safety as its a secure gated community. Furthermore, you are well positioned to explore southern Spain at ease and only 20 mins from the coast and the beautiful mountainous region of the Seirra Espuna mountains. Yes I’ve been sold on my little bit of paradise but it’s not for everyone and it’s not Brits abroad either. My advice ……… don’t judge a book by a few selective photos. Give it a try yourself.

  13. Bit of a sweeping statement based on limited visits…I have two properties on Condado and along with many, many others I am very happy with my purchase. Its a lovely place to stay, quiet in the winter months but a pleasant contract to the summer which gets very busy.

    Condado is kept in very good condition, gardens, pools etc are kept in fantastic order all year round. We have successful bars and restaurants, supermarket and televised golf tournaments now coming to site. We have a summer market, a fiesta and currently campaigning for more services such as a medical centre on site from the taxes we pay to the local council….

    The recession has been dreadfully damaging to everyone but if you looked a little closer you would find that Condado has weathered the storm much better than most. If its not to your taste then fair enough, but I don’t see why you feel the need to be so negative about something you have flippantly researched…

  14. Completely disagree with the article. Sure it’s had a tough time but how about visiting it now? It’s picked up and will continue to do so. It’s one of the most wonderful places I have been to and we go back time and time again and will be buying a property at the resort. There are plenty of local residents, certainly a lot lot more than a thousand.

  15. I absolutely love the place..without doubt the best golf course in Murcia. Virtually all of the shops are now open in Al Kazaar…lovely and peaceful for most of the year and busy and hectic during the peak months…lots of diverse and interesting restaurants on-site and the resort is perfectly situated for the beach or the nearby nature reserve and mountain range with lakes and pine forests.
    The timing of the building of the resort was unfortunate as it happened just prior to a World wide recession and Spain suffered more than most in the EU….don’t let a few bad pictures put you off as most people that go there have some beauties and the 1500 people that live there permanently who are not all Brits love it!

  16. I own on Conadado as do many more people from other countries, UK, German, French, Scandinavians and yes Spanish, maybe you shouldntake a photo of the place in the summer minths and see “how empty it is”

  17. You obviously was transported back in time, as all the photos you have used in this article are all old archived photos.
    Why don’t you try visiting this thriving community.

  18. Try visiting in the summer, it’s bustling and the restaurants in al Kazar are usually full to the brim, the pools are swarming with adults and children alike. The tennis courts are often booked up and the gym full to bursting. The golfers enjoy a lesiurely day playing their favourite sport with friends past and present and the resort is anything but “ghost” town. Outside of school holidays it is quieter but the weather is cooler and has less appeal. Even in the quiet times though it’s a lovely place to be, the community comes together and hosts various activities and clubs including charity events, and everyone looks out for each other. It’s a peaceful retreat with towns like Mazzaron, and Cartagena easily acsessible by road. Not everyone likes the hustle and bustle of Benidorm, some of people prefer condado in the quieter months.

  19. Kristin, this history you present is totally rubbish and so far from the reality as it can come. Well, visiting a Spanish resort or touristic town in February will often give you the impression of being in a “ghost town”. However, claiming that Condado de Alhama has no permanent inhabitants is wrong. Here are lots of ex pats and Spanish families. I do not have exact numbers, but I assume that there are a few hundreds. Additionally we are some long time spenders as well. In total this is a living community also at this time of the year.
    On the other hand in the summer the resort is crowded by holiday makers.
    You claim that the resort was planned for 100.000 apartments, which must be a typing error. The correct number is, as far as I know, 12000. But, due the the financial crisis only 3600 are built. Most of them are now owned by private owners. Of course, a lot of the infrastructure such as two out of three community centres were not built, and one of three golf courses are built. However, here are no unfinished buildings or other infrastructure inside the resort.
    The pictures you have taken outside the resort could have been taken anywhere in the outskirts in Spain and are not representative for Condado de Alhama.
    You claim to have stayed in an unfinished resort. I assume it was Las Terrazas Saurines. Yes it is true that this resort is not complete, and still have half finished buildings. However, that is the only remaining resort from the Polaris World adventure, which is left uncompleted.
    It is a pity that you make a report with the attitude to “talk the place down”. Except from one person leaving comment, none have been here, and their contents are only based on your report and pictures.
    Hopefully you will pay us a visit once more with a new attitude. You are more than welcome.

  20. This miss leading report should be removed as it is very far from the reality of the our now thriving community. Shop. Restaurants golf club entertainment all on site.Friendly multi national resort growing in stature and with a different ambiance depending when you go, where your apartment is situated. I have owned from the start and wouldnt move anywhere else as it is safe to walk alone at night, has many activities swimming cycling golf all on site. Out dated miss informed article…

  21. Both my parents and my sister own a holiday home on this complex and have done for the last 9 years and have no regrets. We have also been on holiday here for the past 8 years, and in my opinion rthe resort has gone from strength to strength. It’s got plenty of restaurants and bars should you want to stay on the complex or just a short drive away we have found some wonderful hidden gems. It’s maintained to a high standard, from the gardens to the apartments. My children love this place and we have had some amazing weeks here. It is a holiday complex, the Summer months are buzzing.

  22. Im not sure who wrote this article but its so far from the truth i could not believe it!

    I am the owner of a property management company on the resort and it has many bars and restaurants open all year round with 1000s of visitors each year, all you need to do is google condado de alhama to see the post and photo of the resort now, those photos in this post are of the outer ring road and the land where all the planting is nothing like the inside of the resort at all!

    i will quite happily provide real images of the resort to anyone who is interested, currently there is 5 restaurant open golf club house and condado club all serving food and drink to the residents onside.

    From end of may to october you would be lucky to even get an apartment for a holiday.

  23. Since 2012 quite a number of properties have been sold and Condado De Alhama has become busier so posting pictures from 2012 is really a little pointless. Like myself, a good proportion of owners use their property on Condado de Alhama as a holiday home, so only visiting a few times of the year. Posting pictures of the resort out of season is not portraying the resort correctly. In the summer months, even back in 2012 the resort is very lively with lots going on.

    I noticed someone mentioned that they thought the place looked creepy. I would describe it as a peaceful place where your children are safe to play outdoors, no worries about drive by shootings, being robbed at knife point, drug dealers on every street corner etc… but then this isn’t Florida!

    Kristin Henning, I noticed you thought the place was a ‘monstrosity’, no pictures of the apartments overlooking the beautiful gardens filled with palm trees and a large swimming pool (some are 25m in length), which are all maintained daily because this is an active resort.

  24. we have an apartment there and we love it ,also our daughter has her own apartment there and has worked there for two years and absolutely loves life over there and she certainly has an incredible social life ! , it is beautifully kept and there are some wonderful people living there , like everything people are quick to critisicz but not so quick to comment on the positives maybe you should visit again so your readers can get a true picture of what condado can offer

  25. This article is inaccurate, and is far from our experience. We have been going there for the last two years, and love the place. In fact we can’t wait to visit this July for a gorgeous month! While I appreciate we all have our own opinions, it is sad when posting something that is totally outdated and misleading. Do try visiting again and do a follow up article.

    • Thanks for taking the time, James, to write about the current lively atmosphere at Condado, and to illustrate it with your photos. I’m glad to hear the property has turned around and is being enjoyed by so many.

  26. We’ve just been with the kids and had a great time. Not packed but just right. The centre was buzzing at night and very busy there are plenty of pools around as to not get heaving. Lovely place.

  27. It is interesting to see that the author of the original statement hasn’t bothered to re visit or even remove her statement. Or even post new updated photographs. We bought off plan and though originally we like many saw our investments fall, prices are now creeping up. We never holiday on Condado during school holiday time because its to busy unlike the comments made. The weather is fantastic in May and June and is still good in October so that’s when we fly over.

    • Thanks for the comment, Janet. You’ll see I introduced the story with updated context and I allow comments such as yours to report on present-day status. I could delete the whole thing, but Spain can’t erase the economic turmoil resulting from a wide range of bank deals and projects such as this. It’s largely history now. I’m glad Condado de Alhama recovered and residents are enjoying the property.

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