MALLORCA, Spain—I think it was after my fourth hairpin turn in 10 minutes, which had our rented Volkswagen Golf hugging the dirt shoulder of a one-and-a-half-lane road high above the tranquil Mediterranean to avoid a tour bus the size of a blue whale casually barrelling towards us, when the blood finally flowed back into my white knuckles. A moment later, unclenching my fists from the steering wheel, I thought calmly to myself, B.C.’s Sea to Sky Highway has nothing on Mallorca’s treacherous intestinal tract of mountain roads.
The largest of the Balearic Islands, located off the eastern coast of Spain between its hard-partying siblings Ibiza and more rustic Menorca, Mallorca (or Majorca) combines rugged, often breathtaking geography with the ease and convenience of a land long conquered by everyone from the Romans to the Moors to invading hordes of British and German tourists.
Thankfully, after our tense but scenic drive along the winding northwest coast of the island, we arrived in Deia. With its earth-toned buildings dotting the dramatic hillside of orange and olive groves, it’s no wonder the tiny village wedged into the Tramuntana mountains attracted English novelist and poet Robert Graves, who spent his last 56 years here until his death in 1985. Now it lures the aforementioned tourists and a host of deep-pocketed jet setters and celebrities. At least that’s what we gleaned from the photos of Princess Diana, Bono, Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Batali decorating the foyer of La Residencia. Consisting of four buildings, two of which date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, the posh hotel was once owned by Premier Christy Clark’s Twitter buddy Sir Richard Branson, whose signature teddy bears still hibernate in each of the hotel’s rooms, suites and villas. La Residencia also boasts views of the sea and mountainside, outdoor and indoor swimming pools, private soaking pools, a spa, several restaurants including the award-winning El Olivio and an onsite olive oil press. Looking for a Steinway piano dating back to 1887 or a tennis pro to help you with your top spin? It has those, too. There’s even a sculptor in residence by the name of Juan Waelder, who teaches classes and curates the sculpture garden on the hotel’s lush front lawn.
Wandering through Deia makes for a short but pleasant stroll, with a handful of art galleries and mid-priced dining options along the roadside such as El Barrigon Xelini. Cooling our heels on the restaurant’s leafy patio, we enjoyed an assortment of tapas, including Manchego cheese soaked in olive oil and nature’s gift to civilization, dates wrapped in bacon.
After a deep, meat-induced sleep in one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever snored in and a buffet breakfast of Mediterranean delights at La Residencia’s poolside restaurant Son Fony, we drove back to the island’s capital Palma, rarely leaving second gear.
Seeking a little beach time without the nightclubs and monster hotels of Palma’s waterfront, we headed five miles west to the pine-clad hillside of Illetas, home to Hotel Bon Sol. Family owned and managed since 1953, the former manor house spreads out over several tiers connected by a maze of hallways, staircases and elevators leading to a private cove. Guests can dine on the seaside terrace or in one of the ornate dining rooms. (I think I may have seen a suit of armour.) Dinners include live music, affordable bottles of Cava and attentive servers and kitchen staff who went out of their way to accommodate my girlfriend’s gluten allergy.
While luxurious, Bon Sol is reasonably priced, the staff formal but personable, and the setting is serene but not over-the-top. For nighttime kicks, you’ll have to drive into town or settle for some guy singing Billy Joel’s “I Love You Just the Way You Are” in the resort’s unintentionally kitschy lounge. Maybe it was the Cava talking, but I’m glad we opted for the lounge.
And, for some reason, if you feel the inkling to bust loose from the tropical gardens, secluded cove and emerald waters, be sure to check out the Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro. A five-minute drive away, the gallery and art centre dedicated to the late surrealist painter and sculptor Joan Miro is also the artist’s former home and studio, which remains intact. Feeling more adventurous? Inca is 40 minutes away. Mallorca’s third-largest city is unspectacular in every way except for three things—it’s known as “the city of leather,” which really should be a band name, it hosts one of the island’s biggest markets every Thursday, and it’s where Camper shoes are made and has a Camper factory outlet store, which my girlfriend insisted we visit. The real treat for me, however, was the straight, wide-open highway that took us there. I even got to drive in fourth gear most of the way.
If you go:
Several discount airlines offer flights to Mallorca from all over Europe, including Ryanair, EasyJet and Vueling. You can also take a ferry from Barcelona or Valencia.
For information on La Residencia and Deià, visit hotel-laresidencia.com. For information on Hotel Bon Sol, visit hotelbonsol.es.