Far from the crowded beaches and hubbub of mainstream Mallorca lies the village of Deja and one of Europe’s most exclusive boutique resorts
Mallorca may seem an unlikely destination for a luxury break to those of us based in the Algarve, but with direct flights from Faro, the island does offer a tempting alternative to other destinations. Receiving more than 9.5 million tourists per year, Mallorca’s image has suffered from the ravages of mass tourism, but there are plenty of reasons why the island also attracts a mix of trend-setters and foodies, not to mention the rich and famous. The capital city of Palma da Mallorca is in itself a great city break destination with a buzzing restaurant scene, chic design hotels and cool shopping. In fact, some people are now calling it the new Barcelona. But it’s around a 40-minute drive north of the capital, on the mountainous north-west coast, where the most exclusive retreats lie.
On the mountain road that leads to Deja, our driver from the La Residencia hotel who had picked us up at the airport pointed out a few of the most notable villas dotting the mountainside, rolling off A-list celebrity names like Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Andrew Lloyd Webber. However, the celebrity status of this mountain retreat is nothing new; it was the English poet and novelist Robert Graves who first put Deja on the map when he moved here in 1932 and helped to earn the village a reputation as a colony of foreign artists and celebrities.
La Residencia, once the Mallorca retreat of Sir Richard Branson, was converted from two manor houses into one of the Virgin Group’s first über-exclusive resort properties and is still as popular as ever with celebrities. Guests last year included Tom Hanks, Kate Moss and Pierce Brosnan, to name but a few. In 2002, the hotel was acquired by Orient Express Hotels (now rebranded as Belmond Hotels), a group that gathers together some of the world’s most famous heritage hotels like the Cipriani in Venice, Reid’s Palace in Madeira and the Copacabana Palace in Rio, along with the legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train and a collection of cruise liners.
It’s fair to say that this is a hotel group that knows about luxury, and having stayed at a few of their properties myself over the years, it was interesting to see some of the hallmark features of other Belmond properties such as a pop-up TV concealed in a smart wooden cabinet at the foot of our four-poster bed. The view from our room, one of the Tramuntana Suites that are built into the mountainside above the two main manor houses, was stunning; a panorama taking in the whole village of Deja nestled in the mountain valley to our left and down to the Mediterranean to our right.
The sea, although close to Deja, is a 45minute walk down the mountain to a pebble beach. We walked down and enjoyed a swim, but, unlike some other more hardy guests, called the hotel reception to send a cab and collect us. Many of the hotel guests spend their days out walking, others cycling and a popular outing is a trip up the mountain with the hotel’s own donkey and a guide for a true bird’s eye view. Other guests are there for the art, either for classes with La Residencia’s resident artists or to view the ongoing exhibitions of sculptures and paintings.
Art is around every corner at La Residencia, not least in the kitchens. The hotel’s gourmet restaurant El Olivo had a Michelin star until a few years when the concept changed from creative/contemporary dining to good honest food, albeit served with great panache. The formal dining room, converted from the old olive press, is home to chef Guillermo Méndez, a local Mallorcan with an obsessive passion for the island’s ingredients. One evening we ate rack of Mallorcan lamb, some of the most fragrant and delicious lamb I have tried anywhere.
Another night we started with his signature dish of wild Soller prawns followed by a house speciality that does not appear on the menu and has to be pre-ordered; salt-baked chicken served with black truffle jus. Cooked in the same way as salt-baked fish, the chicken is coated in rock salt and baked, sealing in all the flavours the salt crust broken at the table to reveal a moist and steaming chicken, reared by a local farmer, of course. The food and service were exemplary both at El Olivo and at the less formal Café Miró next door, where we enjoyed an excellent paella one evening.
We spent three nights at La Residencia in late September, arriving on a Friday evening from Faro in time for dinner and returning home on a convenient morning flight on Monday. On the Saturday we had glorious sunshine, but we woke up to pouring rain on the Sunday which was fortunately the day we were booked into the spa. It was a day of total relaxation, with the rain, if anything, contributing to the blissful experience of being skilfully massaged, and generally doing nothing other than soaking in the outdoor Jacuzzi as the rain lashed down the mountain and working up an appetite in the pool for the feast that awaited us at El Olivo.