Vicki Robinson discovers a luxurious bolthole beloved by the rich and famous on the Spanish sunshine isle of Mallorca.
First impressions are all important – even for the most luxurious of hotels. Your experience on arrival often sets the tone for the entire holiday, making or breaking your much-anticipated trip.
So, what can a place do to make sure it wins over new guests?
Friendly reception staff? Yes, that’s always nice.
A helpful porter, ready to ferry your bags up to your room? Again, a lovely touch.
La Residencia in Mallorca, however, has a very special ace up its sleeve.
For framed in reception, discreetly of course, is a letter from Princess Diana, thanking the hotel’s staff for their “marvellous” efforts during her stay.
Now, whatever your opinion of the monarchy, it’s fair to say Diana knew a thing or two about five star accommodation and service.
So if she took the time to wax lyrical about the delights of her visit, then La Residencia must be something very special indeed, right?
Right – and then some.
It’s no wonder that the Princess – and, along with her, the likes of Tom Hanks, the King of Spain, Bruce Springsteen and Kate Moss – have made tracks to this luxurious bolthole in the picturesque village of Deia.
It’s not just super swish and stylish. It also boasts first class service, some all-important privacy and arguably the best views on the island.
We arrived at La Residencia at lunchtime after a short, easy one hour’s drive from Mallorca’s capital of Palma, which is well-served from Leeds Bradford Airport.
The valet ferries away our hire car in an instant and while we were checked in, we were invited to enjoy a drink on the terrace – taking in our first spectacular views of the Tramuntana mountains and the Mediterranean Sea.
It’s easy to see why the great and the good make their way here every year – with many ultimately making it their full-time home.
Even before the celebrities arrived, however, this unspoiled village, betwixt sea and mountains, was an enclave of artists, writers and other creative types.
Its most famous past resident, perhaps, was the writer Robert Graves, who is buried in the local cemetery and whose home is now open to the public.
Today, Deia still attracts arty types – its windy streets are still dotted with artists’ studios and tiny galleries. In fact, La Residencia has its own artist in residence – and one who will be familiar to YEP readers.
As we’re inspecting the hotel’s own art gallery, we bump into Leeds-born artist and TV presenter Alan Hydes, who has been living and working on the island for several years.
He gives regular painting classes and has been commissioned by the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, another previous guest.
He has a studio at La Residencia packed with his artworks, including one of Yorkshire businessman and philanthropist Paul Sykes. His later works, though, are far more colourful – one is a series of a beautiful woman diving into a deep blue sea – showing he has perhaps also been inspired by the bright Mallorcan landscape.
What brought him here, we enquire? ‘The sunshine, the lifestyle, the mountains, the sea.’ It’s hard to argue with that, really.
Certainly once you’ve stayed at La Residencia you have no desire to go home.
The hotel – which opened in 1984 – has been sympathetically created from a series of manor houses. Many original features remain, including the room where olives were once pressed – the press itself remains in situ.
The hotel was bought by Sir Richard Branson in 1987 and taken over by the Orient-Express group in 2002.
We stayed in one of La Residencia’s three Tramuntana suites, overlooking both the mountains and the sea. It’s stylishly done out with authentic Mallorcan antique furniture and a bathroom as large as a city centre apartment.
The suite has its own terrace, complete with sitting area and a private plunge pool, perfect for cooling off after a day in the Spanish sunshine.
It would be all too easy to spend your entire break ensconced in your room, but there’s plenty else to explore at La Res.
Firstly there’s the pool area (where you are waited on hand and foot), the stunning spa – where you can have sumptuous treatments on an outdoor terrace – or the hotel’s own tennis courts. There’s also ready access and tuition at a number of local golf courses. Once a week, the hotel organises a traditional donkey trek into the mountains. You can also borrow one of the hotel’s two stylish Vespa scooters to whizz up into the mountains or down to the village’s tiny beach.
Then there’s the restaurants. El Olivio occupies what was once the olive press and is renowned as one of the best in the whole of Spain. The less formal Son Moragues, where we dined on our first night, serves delicious, inspired tapas and authentic Mediterranean cuisine. Breakfast, too, served in the sunlit conservatory of Son Fony, really is something to behold. Rather then tell you what was served, it would be easier to describe what was missing – only I can’t think of anything.
Suffice to say, we didn’t go hungry for the rest of the day as we – reluctantly – left the hotel to explore some of the many picturesque delights Mallorca has to offer.
While there is plenty to enjoy in Deia village – including a number of tapas restaurants – just a short hop will take to you Valldemossa and, in the opposite direction, Port de Soller and its nearby beach.
Valldemossa, nestling in the mountains, has the feel of an Alpine village. It is famed for its monastery where the composer Chopin lived in the winter, but there’s plenty more to draw tourists, such as boutique stores – including a chocolate shop from which I defy you to leave empty-handed – and a plethora of quaint bars and restaurants.
Soller, with its mountain backdrop, could be in Switzerland. Its marketplace is lined with cafes and restaurants, while streets leading off the main square teem with small, independent stores, selling everything from antiques to locally-made shoes and clothing. There’s plenty of places to pick up some local pottery to take home as a souvenir and it’s here you can catch the tram to the pristine and family-friendly beach, a few kilometres away.
In Soller you can also catch the old Soller Train – as it’s known locally – a century-old railway route that will take you to the island’s capital Palma in just an hour and through some spectacular scenery.
In cosmopolitan Palma, it’s easy to while away a few hours strolling its pavements lined with cafes and bars and perusing its designer shops. The cathedral – which Gaudi had a hand in restoring – is a must see.
Fine as Palma and the rest of the island is, however, La Residencia remains the star of the show.
Perfection? Pretty much – apart from the fact you cannot stay forever...