From an entrepreneur in Austria to a farmer in Spain
“There has always been an anti-establishment side to me that didn’t want to conform,” says biodynamic farmer Manfred Bodner. “That’s why, from a very early age, I started looking for ways of working for myself, and not for other people.”
Originally from the small ski resort town of Kitzbühel in the Austrian Alps, Bodner lived in Vienna for almost 20 years before moving to Gibraltar in 2003. He had started the online betting company bwin.com in 1999 and soon realized where he ought to be based.
“We needed access to a skilled workforce for bookmaking, and Gibraltar was awash with people,” he explains. “My initial plan was to stay here for six months while getting the business up and running.”
Bodner stayed on as CEO of bwin.com until 2010, by which time his business interests had taken quite a dramatic turn. In 2006, he got involved with La Donaira, a 250-hectare farm situated outside Ronda in the Andalusian mountains, some 100km from Malaga. And since 2010, Bodner has dedicated more and more time to the farm, which he now runs full time.
La Donaira is a biodynamic farm that is operated according to regenerative agriculture techniques. It is home to a small herd of cattle, as well as sheep, chickens, and 60 horses, and it also has two hectares of vegetable gardens and fruit orchards, three hectares of vineyards, olive trees, beehives, and a medicinal herb garden. Aside from farming, La Donaira is a popular center for equestrian tourism.
So how did the Austrian businessman become a Spanish farmer? Bodner admits that he was heavily influenced by his first impressions of the Costa del Sol.
“I arrived in 2003, at the height of the building frenzy, and I didn’t like seeing how the land was being exploited,” he says. “It didn’t fit with my vision of life by the ocean.”
But his opinion of Andalusia eventually changed because of two factors. First, he discovered the unspoiled beaches in the Costa de la Luz and, in particular, Tarifa, on the southernmost tip of Spain, where he learned to kite surf. The second reason was he discovered the interior, where he now lives.
“I love the Costa de la Luz, with its endless white, sandy beaches, and the beautiful hinterland of Andalusia, with its vineyards, incredible nature, and strong equestrian culture, as well as the fascinating Moorish towns such as Granada and Vejer de la Frontera,” Bodner says. “I believe there are huge opportunities to develop sustainable ecotourism in these unspoiled parts of Spain.”
Bodner admits that some of the things he now appreciates most about life in Spain are the same ones that typically irritate people when they first move here.
“If you come from a high-performing northern European background, the mañana attitude to life can be nerve-racking,” he says. “But to me, it’s part of the secret sauce. If you learn to enjoy it and not just put up with it, you will soon find the chilled attitude to life quite therapeutic.
“This part of the world is a unique blend of Arabic, Jewish, and Christian cultures, and somehow together they seem to have realized that efficiency isn’t necessarily the key to happiness,” he continues. “Instead, people here always make time for the basic pleasures of life: a good chat, a little fiesta, a long family meal, or a healthy siesta.”
Manfred Bodner may have moved to Spain for the sake of his business, but as the years went by, his reasons for staying turned out to be quite the opposite.
“I moved here because of a hard, rational business decision, but staying has been driven by all the soft factors that make this part of Europe so special,” he says. “You just have to give yourself enough time to discover them.”
By Isabelle Kliger
Published: April 28, 2016