Personal plunge pool surrounded by mountains
There are moments that one realises that despite one’s extensive travels, despite the rabbit hole of images and inspiration that is Instagram and despite thinking that one can occasionally live vicariously through magazines and friends, there is absolutely nothing that can prepare you for the heady rush of beauty that hits you when you visit Spain—and in this particular case, my recent visit to the island of Mallorca and a town nestled within the foothills of the stunning Serra de Tramuntana mountains [declared a world heritage site] and overlooking the vast and beautiful Balearic Sea [part of the Mediterranean], called Deia.
Driving up north from Palma, with the coastline and sheer drops into the sea to your left, passing small villages nestled in the rocky topography, scrub forests of pine, rosemary, wild olive and palms dominating the view, it is easy to see why this largest of Balearic islands [Ibiza and Formentera being some of the others] has been a wildly popular destination for decades. Many years ago when I first visited Spain, one of the most abiding memories of that trip was the colour and light the entire country seemed bathed in. It was golden, lush, sensual...magical. This time it was all that and more. We passed verdant greens; sparkling blues, fiery scarlet, burnt oranges, and finally drove into Deia with its sea of ochre-coloured buildings, green shutters and the jewel within—the hotel Belmond La Residencia, Deia has a long history of being a refuge for artists from all over the world, but before I dive into that it is worth a pause to mention the rich history of Deia. The name [which is a variation of the word the Muslims called it—Ad Daya, which means village] comes from the Moorish conquest of Mallorca in the 11-13th centuries, and the terraced irrigation system that enabled farming to thrive and the palm trees to flourish to this day was also invented by them. It is quite a sight to see, these terraced acres right in the middle of this little village, a reminder that so much of what came before lives on—if only we let it.
L-R: The magnifcient tramunta mountain range and the village of Diea tucked in the valley, as seen from my hilltop suite. The drive into La residencia with its foral welcome.
Driving into the horticultural delight [apart from its many other delights] that is La Residencia, I am struck by the fragrant wave of roses, hydrangeas, rosemary, lemons and pine. Built in the 16th century, it is a collection of old and new buildings, with the new designed to feel like it has belonged there for centuries. Oddly though, while it consists of two pools, tennis courts, luxurious rooms, four restaurants, acres of olive fields and even a donkey farm, it feels extremely intimate. That is in no small part due to the people who work at the hotel, and to the amazing hand-picked collection of art that belongs to the hotel. This personally curated collection of art [belonging to Cecile and George Sheridan] is a living breathing testament to the fact that Deia was essentially an artist colony since the 1920s, inspiring hundreds of artists to take up residence in Deia for months at a time, with many of them buying homes and living there year round with their families.
My discovery of the hotel begins with a winding walk through the grounds towards my suite perched high up the hillside, passing towering palms and a stunning pool, acres of cypress and olive gardens, up stone pathways cut into the hillside to terraces with striking views, now with the olive groves framing the Med to the right and a sparkling cerulean pool below me, the rooftops of Deia spread out before me, hibiscus and bougainvillea climbing up the old stone walls. And just when I thought it couldn’t get better, we arrive at my glorious room. A private terrace with its own plunge pool leads into a suite with floor to ceiling windows that look out onto the Tramuntana and the town below...a four-poster bed and polished wooden beams plus a bathroom the size of most small apartments are the supporting cast, but the star of the show is the view. From every window of my suite, the majestic mountains were a sight to behold. As the sun rose and set through the course of the day, the Tramuntana revealed different aspects...strong and sharp in the early hours of the day, verdant and softer late afternoon, glowing and golden at sunset. It’s easy to see why artists sought refuge here and created beautiful work inspired by these very mountains, vegetation and sea.
L - R: Views over the mediterranian. A peek out onto the rooftops of Deia from one of the many secret pathways of La residencia
Art is intrinsically connected to La Residencia, in fact it inhabits every corner, every surface, every nook and cranny, and it is what elevates this hotel from a mere plush luxurious property to a destination for an art lover, or anyone who has an interest in history, or cares to just simply let it all soak in and enjoy the human spirit that permeates this wonderful place. The collection originates in the years 1958-60, when George Sheridan moved to Mallorca. George was American by birth and trained as a painter. Moving to Europe on an artistic grant in the late 40s, he lived in Paris, spent time with Matisse, Giacometti, Sartre and travelled all around Europe. In the late ‘50s he visited Mallorca whose beauty he had heard about from various artist friends. The inevitable happened, he fell in love with Deia, bought a house where he spent summers painting. Ultimately, more artists arrived and George founded an art collective [along with his artist friend Bill Walden] which aimed to exhibit and encourage the work of Mallorcan artists in Europe and mainland Spain. He met his second wife Cecile -also an artist in Deia [with whom he founded the George and Cecile Sheridan Collection], had their children there and settled in Deia permanently in the late ‘70s. By then, with his cultural activism, his great generosity and worldwide set of artist friends, this little village had taken on an international reputation with artists creating work inspired by the region.
This is the cornerstone of what is the present day collection that consists of over 800 pieces and is still expanding. It was installed in 1984 for the La Residencia when it was founded—the owner Alex Ball wanted to beautify the hotel starting with around 200 pieces; it has grown along with the property. The hotel has supported the art that in turn has filled the hotel with so much spirit, talent and regional flavor that it is hard to separate the two. All the pieces are on display everywhere - in the rooms and suites, common rooms, hallways, staircases and corridors, anywhere one turns there is original art, lovingly curated.
However this love affair with art doesn’t end there! I walk into Café Miro, one of their four restaurants [all of them lovely and different] and am awestruck by the 38 original Miro paintings on the walls. One of my favorite artists, Joan Miro, was from Barcelona but both his wife and mother were from Mallorca. He had a special attachment to the island so it seems fitting that his beautiful paintings adorn the walls. I have never seen anything like it in any hotel in the world, this collection of originals carefully selected and covering every inch of wall space in the restaurant with the light streaming in from the outside, the lovely Mallorcan tile work on the floor complementing these, the pride everyone there takes in having these treasures on the wall...I spent every free moment of my few days there sitting in the café and admiring the work.
L - R: A moment with Miro. In the cafe Miro surrounded by the 38 originals. Suite entry, old panel paintins and rich Malloracan colours adorn the walls.
Which doesn’t mean I didn’t admire all the other riches that are on offer. Stunning views at cocktail hour of the valley, mountains and the sculpture filled gardens from the patio of Café Miro, the most delicious Spanish food and wine [in particular a paté of spicy pork sausage called Sobrasada—which I became obsessed with at every meal], their fine dining restaurant El Olivio which is a romantic and gastronomical treat. Helmed by the excellent chef - Guillermo [who has been here for 25 years], the food at the restaurant is inventive, completely locally sourced and beyond delicious. It also nods to the art that surrounds it. There is so much to do: art classes with the artist in residence—Alan Hydes [formerly a popular TV star who is an excellent portraitist] or sculpture classes with the sculptor in residence—Juan Waelder. Cooking classes with the aforementioned Chef Guillermo, a walking art tour of the town of Deia, an amble through the hotels olive groves accompanied by the resident donkeys [yes, its true!], a Tramuntana mountain trek [this region is a mecca for hikers with well marked trails and easy to difficult hikes— depending on your level of dedication], or a sailing trip through the crystal clear waters of the Med with mountains and hidden coves on one side and the vast beautiful sea ahead.
All this to do and not enough days to do it in...here is a quick snapshot of what I packed in : Went for a boat ride, had lunch at the famous [and fantastic] Sa Fordada restaurant perched high up on the cliffs [accessible mainly by boat] overlooking a formation of rocks and the most incredible views. [It’s tiny so book ahead]. That afternoon I took a long moment by the pool at La Residencia and then in the evening accompanied the donkeys through the olive groves on the Poet’s Walk. Cocktail hour brought me to Café Miro where I spent more time admiring the art and then settled on the patio to watch the sunset through the olive trees. Dinner was at El Olivia where I had booked a later table so as to maximize my day of eating...seven courses, all delicious and local wines...also yummy. The next morning, I awoke with the sunrise to take a long swim and then a long hike to the Cala Deia beach. This can be accessed by car and most would do that...however, I wanted to see the flora and fauna, work off some of that food plus I always feel the best way to see a place is on foot. Set forth—hiked for two hours through pines and rosemary and palms to arrive at the beach, which is a small shingle beach on the cove with rock pools, calm waters, endless blue and stone terraces where many artists bring their easels to paint. My destination was the C’as Patro March [an open air restaurant on the water run by the third generation of a local fishing family]. Freshly caught fish and the Sollergambas [which practically crawls out of the sea and onto my plate—it’s that fresh!] plus a few glasses of a crisp white later I took a car ride back to the hotel. The evening brought a visit to the artists in residence, a tour of the artwork [again!] and a pop into the gal lery on the grounds of the hotel. It has monthly shows by local artists curated by Cecile Sheridan... always a great way to discover talent! Cocktails yet again on the patio of Café Miro...and so it goes. The art, the views, the light, the art...a circle that makes this little town nestled in the Sierra de Tramuntana so very special. I would return in a heartbeat, and probably do exactly the same things again.
Text Rymn Masand