By Barbara Barker
April 07, 1980 12:00 PM

One thing I can tell you about the upper class,” whispers Alfonso Hohenlohe. “If you make a place beautiful, beautiful people come to it. They are looking for something romantic. They don’t want to show off. They don’t want to live in castles or yachts anymore. They don’t want to think anymore.”

Hohenlohe ought to know. Born 55 years ago into a royal line traceable to the year 1100 and the Holy Roman Empire, Prince Alfonso caters to Europe’s golden crowd at Club Marbella, his lush resort on Spain’s Costa del Sol.

His guests have been such connoisseurs of comfort as Stavros Niarchos (with wife number five, Tina Livanos Onassis, on their honeymoon), the Duchess of Bedford (she asked for Alfonso’s chocolate mint soufflé recipe), Richard Burton and Suzy Hunt (though she was married to race car driver James Hunt at the time), the Baron Guy de Rothschild and Avon heiress Terry von Pantz. “Very few resorts are as international as Marbella,” boasts Hohenlohe, who speaks six languages. “I sit an Arab sheik next to Guy de Rothschild. They have a ball.”

The Hohenlohe domain follows the sun from his original cluster of bungalows at Marbella to his club at Sharjah, Saudi Arabia, where Hohenlohe imported 28,000 subtropical trees and bushes. A Marbella Club Manila opens next year; another, on the Baja peninsula, is scheduled for 1983.

Hohenlohe also is partner in a planned “10-star” hotel to be built adjacent to the original Marbella Club. The prospectus reads like a Club Med for millionaires or anyone else who can spend $1,000 a day (he estimates there are a half million such customers in the world). The hotel will offer lush vegetation, combined with maximum security (“Terrorism has killed off the way people like Rubirosa and Aly Khan used to live”), a Rolls, Bentley, yacht or riverboat on call, four maids per guest suite, Dom Perignon at breakfast, lunch and dinner and—through it all—a casual atmosphere.

“We try to keep everything simple,” says Prince Alfonso. “I don’t want people to dress so much. Guests in dinner jackets and bow ties, poor things, they’ve come to the wrong place.” Alfonso himself wears “no ties, no socks, no underwear.”

His roots are Bohemian and Spanish. Godson of Spain’s last King Alfonso (the 13th) and baptized in Madrid’s royal palace, Alfonso prepped with Prince Rainier at Switzerland’s tony Rosey School before taking on the unlikely study of agriculture and irrigation at Texas A&M.

Hohenlohe started his resort a quarter century ago with a mere $3,000. But his early success at Marbella was overshadowed by his storybook wedding in 1955 to Princess Ira von Furstenberg, a 15-year-old. The marriage ended in detective novel fashion five years later when Ira ran off with Brazilian playboy “Baby” Pignatari. Hohenlohe defied a court order that he share custody of two sons with Ira, who dispatched a band of private eyes in a futile effort to snatch the kids back. Alfonso finally allowed visitations only after Ira divorced Pignatari.

The two boys have remained with their father (Christoph, 24, handles public relations for Club Marbella and Hubertus, 21, is a college student in Germany). Ira, now living in Germany, is back on good terms with her former husband, and is a frequent visitor to Marbella. Alfonso has been married since 1973 to a onetime British starlet, Jackie Lane. They have a 5-year-old daughter, Ariana.

For all his luxe surroundings, Hohenlohe does not consider himself above hard work. When his hotel workers struck last Easter, El Principe did the cooking himself, though for friends he relies on “inventions” such as cheese and sweet corn soufflé, avocado ice cream and white sangria.

The prince owns a Ferrari but runs around in a six-year-old Cougar convertible—runs around just enough, apparently, to fuel gossip in the Spanish press that his marriage to Jackie is disintegrating. “Stupid,” he scoffs. “If I go out with my grandmother they’ll say I’m having an affair with her.” But, perhaps mindful that Jackie does now choose to live six months a year in London, Alfonso adds, “I’m not an easy person to live with. Unluckily, I have always been a perfectionist.”