Salma Hayek eyes controversial estate for sale in Andalusia

"Last remaining Mediterranean jungle" could become luxury development with aircraft runway for airplanes

Hotel La Almoraima, located inside the Andalusian natural park. / Julián Rojas (EL PAÍS)

The Mexican actress Salma Hayek and her husband, French entrepreneur François-Henri Pinault, are among the reported prospective buyers of a huge estate inside a natural park in Cádiz province that's being put up for sale, property managers confirmed on Thursday.

The couple have already visited the location, known as La Almoraima, which "10 or 12 big foreign investors have shown an interest in," said Isabel Ugalde, director of the group that runs the 14,100-hectare property on behalf of the Spanish state.

But while there is no question about the estate's tremendous beauty and great location — it is nestled inside Los Alcornocales, a natural park filled with cork oak, deer and other wild animals just 70 km from the posh resort of Marbella — it remains to be seen what future owners will be allowed to do with it. That is if it gets sold at all.

La Almoraima is the source of an escalating dispute between the central government, run by the conservative Popular Party (PP), and the regional government of Andalusia, run by the Socialists, over what may be built on the 10 percent of the estate that does not fall within the protected bounds of the Natural Park of Los Alcornocales.

Salma Hayek and François-Henri Pinault. / Rindoff Petroff (Getty Images)

While Madrid wants to allow investors to build an airport, a luxury hotel and two golf courses there, the Andalusian government's environmental department admits it is considering a proposal by green groups to have the entire property declared public domain, which would prevent it from being sold at all. Meanwhile, Andalusia said it will in any case enlarge Los Alcornocales, bringing 100 percent of La Almoraima within its bounds. While this would not prevent the state from selling it, no airports or hotels could be built on it either, making it considerably less attractive to investors keen on turning the place into a massive luxury resort.

Ugalde warned that they will go to court if La Almoraima is declared public domain.

"If they commit the illegal madness of declaring La Almoraima public domain, everything will be delayed, but we are not going to calmly sit by. They cannot declare an estate public domain just to stop a sale," she said. "We will stand up and fight."

But to Andalusia's environment commissioner, María Jesús Serrano, the PP's plans are just another chapter in their history of "speculative transactions."

"We don't really care who the buyers are," she said in reference to rumors about Salma Hayek wanting to buy the place. "We have many spaces for investment. La Almoraima is heritage that was recovered for the public, and which they now want to privatize again. We know that when these mega-complexes are no longer profitable they are outsourced and abandoned."

The Spanish state has run La Almoraima since 1983, when it expropriated it from Rumasa, a business conglomerate on the brink of financial collapse. Since then it has been under the auspices of an incorporated firm that manages a small hotel located on the grounds, inside a converted 17th-century convent. There is also a restaurant, food crops, cork production from the oak trees, hunting expeditions and guided tours of the property, whose landscape is unique to Europe. Fifty-four people work full time, and another 40 part-time, in what the website describes as "the last remaining Mediterranean jungle."

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