As the train pulled away from station, little did seventeen-year-old Axl Ball know that his life and ours, would change forever.
Engrossed in the freedom of the swinging sixties, rucksack slung over his shoulder, he had just hopped on a train in Barcelona, or perhaps it was Berlin? We can’t be sure.
One thing we are sure off, he had no idea where his next stop would be.
As the train barrelled along, he got chatting to an older gentleman who suggested he might like to call in on his ex-girlfriend, say hello and see how she was faring.
She was living in a fabulous place called Deià, in the bosom of the UNESCO Tramuntana Mountains on the Spanish island of Mallorca. As he had no fixed plans, Axl came to Deià, said hello, rented a room and never left.
That seems to happen quite a lot here.
People visit and never leave.
He went on to build the first iteration of the famous La Residencia Hotel, affectionately known as ‘La Res’.
And so, our lives changed too.
An icon of the global hotel scene was born.
La Res was opened in 1984 bred from two manors and a couple of outhouses. The sixteenth century manors; Son Moragues, the larger of the two with an oil press and olive cellar and Son Canals, the smaller country farmhouse were perfectly placed. There were 23 rooms, no two were alike. Furnishings were handpicked from the estate. This period also signalled the birth of art in the hotel, local artists were kindly given a wall to exhibit their work.
One such artist was Cecilie Sheridan. Cecilie planned on spending a summer in Deià in the sixties too.
This was a time of hedonism, pleasure seeking and escape. There were tortuous mosquitoes and very little running water, but it was mesmerising. On her second day, she followed the path down to Cala Deià, an enchanting rocky cove towered over by 100-foot cliffs. She intended on going for a dip. Instead, she met George, a fellow artist, and her future husband.
She never left.
Cecilie is still an integral part of La Res Belmond family. The Cecilie and George Sheridan Art Collection has over 800 works throughout the hotel. She also exhibits many pieces in the hotel’s Sa Tafonda Art Gallery, organises exhibitions showcasing a new artist every three weeks and runs a weekly walk and talk art tour for hotel guests where she takes them around the village to visit artists houses.
The artist’s village charm remains the same as it did back then.
This quaint village of stone houses topped with red tiled roofs and clustered on the hill known locally as Es Puig, is 35 kilometres from Palma, the capital of Mallorca. Back in the day, scant buses carried adventurers through the mountains. There were no road markings, no directions and certainly no pelotons.
As you follow the road that slithers from Palma, a biblical feel descends. The olive trees and sheep remain, the dusty path has been upgraded with cyclist approved tarmac and the road through Valdamossa is now paved with famous chocolate shops. The breath-taking views of the village swim into what I imagine to be a similar focus, framed on one side by the sparkling turquoise blue waters of the Balearic Sea and on the other, the forest green mountains.
There was a time when sheep grazed the lawn of La Res and three cars passing through the village was an event.
A sudden sharp right leads you to the driveway of the hotel. A modern-day Garden of Eden.
Flowers, trees, and manicured lawns, punctuated by sculptures, are in abundance.
The once two building hotel has been lovingly transformed by Belmond into layers of luxurious terraces, and accommodation, marrying perfectly with the original buildings. An eighteenth century Son Fony building has been joined by Sony Fony II, a new structure that compliments the original craftsmanship of dry-stone walls, harking back to the Arab settlers that descended in 700 BC.
Upon arrival, a glass of Cava delivers a refreshing welcome. Let the bubbles tickle your nose along with the floral scents from the flourishing garden. Flowers and their scent will be a delightful feature of your stay. They are freshly cut often and arranged throughout the hotel and your room, assaulting your senses in the most glorious fashion.
Speaking of fashion, Matthew Williamson, awarding winning designer, bucked the buckets and spade myth of Mallorca and moved here, another visitor that never left. He designed suite number 67. Vivacious, vibrant, and sophisticated, yet still a wonderfully relaxing private space.
That’s the beauty of La Res. Even though you are enveloped in luxury, its homely. As you wonder through the hotel, you will come across open fireplaces, comfy sofas, soothing artwork, cosy rugs, all wrapped in soft lighting.
Diamonds meets sweatpants. And that’s OK.
All that appears missing are the dogs asleep by the hearth.
But La Res doesn’t have dogs, it has donkeys.
You will find Fosco, Cuddles and Chico roaming with the 30 sheep on the hillside. Amble through the pomegranate laced walkways and past the spa. By the way, the spa has an indoor heated pool, sauna, and hot tub. Pop back later for the citrus siesta, an almond, lemon, and orange oil massage.
Push through the wooden gate and along Poets Walk, an homage to the many poets that frequented or lived in Deià. Now, listen carefully for the donkeys braying or their bells ringing. If you are lucky, they will be nearby, and you can gently stroke their noses.
Feeding them is forbidden. They are on a special restricted diet. Just as well we aren’t, as restricting intake at El Olivo restaurant would be a crime. More on that later.
Take a minute to rest and drink in the view of the yacht laden sparkling bay below.
After the donkey treasure hunt, retreat for a relaxing spell by the pool.
There are 17 pools, two of them public, offering a waiter service, vitamin spray, bottles of water and a smoothy shot.
Vistas and vitamins. What more could you want?
It is almost impossible to drag yourself from your poolside haven. Almost, the rooms are worth it. Trust me.
A sublimely rustic haven with cool white walls and dark wooden beamed ceilings awaits. Uplighters with faux candle lights set the mood. Terracotta tiled floors with sumptuous green furnishings bring the outside in. Oh and of course, the artwork, vibrant pieces that compliment not only the room but the view.
Which is a masterpiece.
Take a pew on your balcony, taste the fragrant Pan de Higo con Almendras or small fruit wheels made from figs and almonds from Valdemossa, nibble on the selection of local cheese and ham, washed down with a delicious flute of Cava.
Through the archway rests your four-poster bed and the marble bathroom. Which is laden with not one but two luxury brands, Aqua di Parma, and Molten Brown all for your indulgence.
As the sun begins to set, the best place to be is sipping an aperitif at Café Miró, gazing at the 33 paintings by the immensely talented Joan Miró, the Catalan painter, sculptor, and ceramist. Or simply basking in the breeze of its balcony every evening from seven.
The Negroni Mallorcan style is a must.
Dinner in El Olivo is an extravaganza. The original olive press has been transformed into a twinkling paradise inside and out. The olive trees that frame the courtyard are smothered in sparkling lights. Flowers infuse the air.
Attention to detail is paramount. Luciana, the waitress, explains that the unique plates are handmade by Mirencho, a Mallorcan ceramist. The olive oil is made onsite, and the Sullevica beer, of which there are 6 different types, is from Soller a nearby village.
In keeping with tradition, wine is poured from a Porrón, a glass wine pitcher originally from Catalonia. Thankfully straight into a glass rather than into your mouth. Red wine would be a beast to remove from clothing splashed by an amateur Porrón imbiber.
Chose freely from the tasting menu, five or seven plates or design your own feast. Perhaps begin with Soller prawns, followed by roasted piglet, or monkfish. Finish with Mallorcan Memories, petite bites of dessert heaven. Just when you thought the final course had been served, delectable petits fours show up. Marvellous.
If you have enough room for breakfast, it can be enjoyed on the terrace overlooking one of the pools. A guitarist plays softly as you decide between apple juice or Grey Goose vodka. The recipe for a Bloody Mary is also helpfully mounted beside the mixers.
There is to plenty to keep you occupied at La Res if you need to be. Tennis, cookery, pottery, and art classes, but the jewel in the crown must be the island boat trips. Be sure to bring the Belmond beach bag from your room.
From the Port of Soller, Roberto the skipper powers the Heather Grace to a bath water warm inlet where you can swim, paddleboard or just lie back and enjoy views of Deià from an entirely different angle.
Deià, and La Res were, and still are a magnet for artists, writers, musicians, and poets.
Now though, a melange of other visitors also come. The word has gotten out.
Life takes us down many paths, for poet and author Robert Graves that path was also Deià, where he found perfect tranquillity.
A visit to La Residencia will allow you to find yours.
Be prepared to never leave.
Le Residencia, A Belmond Hotel, Mallorca reopens on 18 March 2022
For more information visit Le Residencia, A Belmond Hotel, Mallorca