Mary Gostelow discovers Mallorca’s art scene

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Belmond La Residencia (in the artists’ colony village of Deia, Mallorca) literally, as well as artistically, just grew. At the end of the last century, entrepreneur Axel Ball took two of Deia’s adjacent ancient manor houses, Son Canals and Son Moragues (both at least 200 years old), and turned them into a 12-room hotel. But, as so often happens, Ball needed cash and his wife Christie’s former husband, Richard Branson, helped out (so, financially at least, Branson did formerly own La Residencia). In 2002, however, it was bought by what is now Belmond. Since then it has – well – grown. It has expanded to 12 hectares of terraces, olive and citrus trees, working gardens – and a 73-room hotel. As with some other Mallorca properties, it is near vertical in some places.

Guests quickly develop their own routines here and they often like the place so much they come back again and again (40 per cent overall guests are repeats). So the daily schedule could be to laze by pools – the upper outdoor pool is adult-only and the indoor pool is welcome at the extremities of the annual season, which runs from fourth week of March to mid-November. The sensible visit the spa, say for a superb Aromatherapy Associates muscle massage from Alexandra: the Technogym, which is 24/7, cleverly has photos of actual scenes behind ‘windows’, so you think you are looking out. And everyone, it seems, gathers on the terrace for a sunset gin and tonic.

Here, explains GM Ulisses Marreiros – who personally came to pick me up in a 1961 open-topped Porsche (and he even had a brand-new Hermès scarf to wear, Dolce Vita-style, to stop my hair blowing) – it is not only gin but tonic that is offered in plenty of variety. My blue-hued cocktail, in a C&S goblet, was a local Mare gin, the bottle here in this centre of style, brought to the table, and poured in front of me with a blue Nordic tonic and rosemary from the organic garden here. They carry local products with pride. Some foods are on Villeroy & Boch china, others on hand-decorated ceramics by Joanna, an American who has her studio in Deia, three minutes’ walk from the hotel. During my too-short stay I adored, among many other dishes, Soller prawns, simply grilled, and Mallorcan suckling pig with divine crackling, and a lemon sorbet over which olive oil from local trees was poured.

Every room is different and the latest to be unveiled, for the 2017 season, included #82 – the Galera Suite. This was, admittedly, 148 rough-stone mule-steps up from main reception, going past both outdoor pools enroute, but I could have taken two elevators, and the staff – the guys in fetching olive-coloured striped loose trousers, taupe cummerbunds and white shirts – nipped up and down with suitcases, room service and requested English newspapers as though they do it all the time, which of course they do. Designed by Michele Bonan, it certainly has the sense of place which today’s high spending but value conscious travellers want from luxury hotels and resorts. Tiled floors and patterned tiles on bathroom walls, local modern oil paintings (behind one the safe was hidden), and a simple eight-light Scandinavian-type chandelier in the sitting room were all complemented by the view out to my private plunge pool. This place is never-ending experiences.

Yes, Belmond La Residencia has all the usual Mallorcan activities: hiking, biking, sailing and studying history. Coming up later this month is a one-off package, from 22-27 October 2017, Memoir Writing with Allegra Huston, the biological daughter of John Julius Norwich who was brought up by her adopted father, John Huston (her siblings include Artemis Cooper and Anjelica Huston). At least once a month there are BodyTalk global healing sessions with forever-young German Anja Burkhard, who uses BodyTalk Association methods and an astronauts’ TimeWaver machine. At any time, just immerse yourself, says the gal, in what is going on here, on-site. There is both an on-site artist in residence, who will take commissions or teach, and there is the occasional sculptor here, too.

There are, in fact, 46 sculptures by such names as Miró, scattered around the grounds – I walked extensively, past two good-quality tennis courts and two permanent roofed-over ping-pong tables (there was not time, alas, to take donkey rides with picnics carried along too). I loved the scarlet metal sculpture that looks like a giant arrow soaring upwards. I love some of the gnarled bases of centuries-old olive trees: this year there will be a good harvest, to produce even more of the excellent oil that is offered at all meals, in the evening-only courtyard El Olivio, next to an old olive press, or in the all-day Son Moragues, specialising in tapas, or the delightful pool-side Grill, where the salad buffet is a must. Breakfast, by the way, is in its own setting, Son Fony. Look across from there at some olive trees with labels showing they are sponsored by hotel guests.

I could have taken a bicycle, a Scott of course – only the best, for GM Ulisses Marreiros. I could have done so many things. I did have an amazing art walk, another complimentary offer. Cecilie Sheridan, who came here on holiday from UK in 1964, knows all the 50 or so artists who call Deia home. We went to her own home, lined with her own angle-intensive works (she uses bold blocks of colour, but never any green). We walked and talked, visiting Leila Ward, whose large oils of local olive trees and fluffy sheep are addictive, and we climbed about a hundred steps to see Arturo Rhodes. Yes, said Cecile, he even has to carry his gas containers up there. The outside of his house is, not surprisingly, a museum of past-their-sell-by-date items not carried down. Inside is a treasure trove of paintings, standing ten-deep against walls. I was fascinated by his 3D sequence of ‘bookshelves’.

Arturo Rhodes and Leila Ward were among the local Deia community and hotel guests at the hotel on Tuesday 26 October 2017, for the biennial €1000 George Sheridan Art Prize, in memory of Cecilie Sheridan’s late husband. Five professionals from all over Spain, led by Cecilie Sheridan, assess local artists’ entries for theme, composition and execution. The 2017 theme was The Kiss in Art and it was won by Alice Meyer Wallace, coincidentally currently exhibiting in the hotel’s art gallery. (I found out later that Alice Meyer Wallace similarly came to Deia on a short trip back in 1965 and it was poet Robert Graves, no less, who persuaded her to stay). Deia is still a centre of artists but sadly the new generation cannot afford to live here as landlords prefer putting apartments in Airbnb, but the recent arrival of designer Matthew Williamson should now propel Deia into a fashion oasis. Williamson has already decorated Nama bar, in town, and it is rumoured that he will do a Belmond La Residencia suite for the 2018 season. This is a hotel that never stands still.

Mary Gostelow travels over 300 days a year, doing one-night stands in top hotels around the world. Read her daily travelogue, www.girlahead.com

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