Chopstix makes a special European foray this month in homage to the annual reopening of the Belmond La Residencia hotel.
The hillside village of Deia, on the north west coast of Mallorca, embodies “the other side” of the largest of the Balaeriac islands. One that’s altogether more sophisticated and relaxed. Distinctive honey stone buildings with their terracotta roofs and green shutters are staggered in tiered terraces down the hill, punctuated by verdant trees and reached by tiny winding streets. Added to all this is the appealing weather: warm in spring and autumn and balmy in high summer. It’s little wonder that this enchanting enclave with its special energy has become a refuge for artists and the internationally famous. At its heart sits Belmond La Residencia.
The sprawling property is made up of several historic buildings including two 16th century manor houses now conjoined and making up the two main hotel buildings. There’s an olive press room originally belonging to the manor, now a fine dining restaurant, and a watchtower, thought to have been built by Cistercian monks in the 14th century to guard against pirate invasion. This clutch of stone structures was originally turned into a hotel in the mid 1980s and has been owned by the now Belmond group since 2002.
There are just 67 guest rooms and suites at this boutique property and while no two are the same, each has been kept in a traditional Mallorcan style with a nod to rustic chic: all white walls, beamed ceilings and terracotta tiled floors with an abundance of rugs, antiques and artworks. For families and groups of friends or simply for those seeking more privacy, there’s a villa a short walk from the hotel with three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining area and private pool.
La Residencia’s generously sized grounds encompass citrus and olive groves, tiered terraces, traditional dry stone walls and even a sculpture garden. Dotted around the gardens are superb facilities including two outdoor swimming pools, four restaurants, an art gallery, spa and tennis courts. While some guests are keen to hike the surrounding Tramuntana Mountains others are happy never to leave the property.
Artist and art teacher Cecilie Sheridan runs the hotel’s acclaimed art gallery, Sa Tafona, and organises regular exhibitions in the space focusing on Deia based artists. Cecilie lives just in front of the hotel and has lived in Deia for more than 40 years, she has been with the hotel since the beginning. Along with her late husband, George Sheriden, Cecilie has amassed a large collection of paintings from artists based in Deia, many of which hang on the walls of La Residencia. Her own artwork, and those of her husband’s, are among them. Cecilie also leads a weekly art tour of Deia for La Residencia guests. The complimentary Walk and Talk tour starts from the hotel, visiting artists in their studios around Deia. Guests have a chance to speak with the artists such as Arturo Rhodes and David Templeton and view their work, while Cecilie gives an insight into the Deia art scene along the way.
There is a strong link with the art world in Deia and it started not with painters but writers. Robert Graves, the charismatic novelist and poet, was the first to move to the area and his presence drew other artists. Graves is buried in the church yard in Deia, in the shadow of a cypress tree, and his former home Ca N’Alluny is now a museum. Another interesting place to visit in the village is a museum of archeology set up by American anthropologist Jackie Waldren who also lives in Deia.
La Residencia has embraced the art scene of Deia not least with its own art gallery and the original artworks by local artists that adorn the walls throughout the property. The hotel has one of the biggest collections of modern art of any hotel in Europe with some 750 paintings. The collection was started by George Sheriden who was the founder of the art movement in Deia.
On the lawn in front of the hotel is one of Spain’s largest outdoor sculpture gardens, curated by Juan Waelder who is also one of the hotel’s resident artists. Guests also have a chance to interact with the artists through regular master classes held at Belmond La Residencia. There are three resident artists – a painter, sculpter and potter.
The hotel is also home to five donkeys including Alba, who is mascot of the Kid’s Club, Pancho and Luna and Gitanillo and Fosca who were born at the property. The Donkey Trail is a very popular activity with guests. Once a week, guests have the opportunity to take a stroll with three of the donkeys through the olive grove in the grounds of the hotel up to a hillside peak. At the summit there’s the refuge of a stone shepherd’s hut with a wonderful view of the property and the village. General Manager Ulisses Marreiros says it’s his favourite view on the property. A typical Mallorcan lunch is laid out here for guests with food and wine from the island such as local breads, olive oil, tomatoes, cheeses and meats.
The hotel’s two Vespas are also in high demand for touring the surrounding scenic area, designated a Unesco World Heritage site since 2011. Guests ride along the winding roads to the pretty villages of Fornalutx, Soller and Valldemossa – where Chopin lived for many years – and Port de Soller with its attractive marina.
Housed in its own building, the award winning La Residencia Spa is very much in keeping with the hotel with the same rustic chic feel. Top brands including Aromatherapy Associates, Carole Joy and Natura Bisse from Spain are used and signature treatments incorporate popular ingredients grown in the area. The Almond Delight Facial involves a face massage with warmed almond oil followed by a sweet almond mask; the Olive Activator uses La Residencia’s own olive oil for a lymphatic body massage and the Citrus Siesta includes an olive oil body exfoliation followed by an almond, lemon and orange oil massage.
On top of the many treatments – available inside or on al fresco terraces – there’s also an indoor pool and outdoor hot tub based at the Spa and complimentary yoga and Tai Chi classes are offered once a week. Alternative therapist Anja Burkhard visits the Spa once a month for a week-long stay. Anja’s intriguing speciality is Body Talk. Through hands-on healing, carried out fully-clothed, Anja can diagnose problems in the body and help the body heal itself.
As well as hands-on healing, Anja may use Timewave – a computer programme with its roots in quantum physics. While in her home country of Germany Anja worked in a lab alongside specialists who were researching the effects of space on human body and from there the Timewave programme was born. Even the most cynical of clients have been won over by Anja’s approach and many book their trips to coincide with her stays. In some cases she has cured ailments in just one session.
The children’s club, Smile, was introduced three years ago for four to 12 year olds. Until recently the hotel only allowed children to stay over July and August and the Easter holiday but due to demand that has been lifted and many of the master classes offered to adults are now available for children. These include pottery workshops, cooking classes and tennis coaching. Child-sized bathrobes and slippers are also provided in the guest rooms. Because of the size of its grounds, the hotel is able to have two outdoor swimming pools (as well as an indoor pool) one of which is for adults only and the other designated for families.
Gastronomy is very important for Belmond La Residencia, Chef Guillermo Mendez has been with the hotel for 27 years. Guillermo, a native of nearby Soller, started working in a professional kitchen on Mallorca at the age of 12. He went on to train with Raymond Blanc at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons among other big culinary names in Europe.
Chef Guillermo overseas all the hotel’s restaurants including the romantic, fine dining El Olivio, housed in a former olive press room, the more casual Café Miro which specialises in tapas served on a pretty terrace and Son Fony, where breakfast is served overlooking the swimming pool and out to the mountains.
The cuisine is Mediterranean focused with several Mallorcan influenced signature dishes. Two very popular dishes from the area are a roasted suckling pig cooked for 32 hours at 65 degrees so the skin is crisp and the meat tender; and Gambas de Soller made with prawns from from the Bay of Soller and salt from the south of the island. The dish is served in a pretty box made by one of the hotel’s resident artists.
As well as top international wines, Belmond La Residencia offers a choice from the burgeoning local wine scene. The quality of Mallorcan wineries has improved hugely in recent years led by wineries such as DO Binissalem which uses local grape varieties including the reds Manto negro, callet and gargollasa and the white grapes moll, prensal and perellada. There are now some 80 wineries across the island producing wines from local or, like Pla de Llevant DO, a blend of local and international grapes such as chardonnay with giro blanc or moscatel. La Residencia carries 25 of the best Mallorcan wines across white, red and rose.
The hotel grounds include a 30 acre olive grove of 1,500 olive trees, some more than 500 years old, that is undergoing constant restoration. From the grove, La Residencia produces its own olive oil, pressed by a co-operative in nearby Soller and available in the hotel’s restaurants and shop. The label is designed by local artist Jaime Colorao who won a competition held by the hotel and open to local artists.
There are several other connections La Residencia has forged between its guests and the local residents. One of the hotel’s turn down gifts is salt from Es Trenc in the southeast of the island, another turn down gift is a ‘lucky starfish’ made by Joanna Kuhne, a ceramics artist who lives in the village. Joanna also makes the charger plates used in El Olivo restaurant. Another local lady designs the beautiful glass plates in the restaurants while the popular Gambas de Soller dish is served in a wooden box designed by one of the resident artists.
Most recently the hotel has started to carry artisan knives made by a fourth generation local craftsman. The knives are traditionally used for spreading sobrassada (a soft sausage served at breakfast in Mallorca)onto bread. Of course Belmond can arrange to take guests to see where the knives have been forged on the island for 120 years.