Es­cap­ing the tourist hordes on the Span­ish is­land of Mal­lorca, di­via har­ilela heads for the hills – or, to be more ac­cu­rate, the vil­lage hide­away of writ­ers and artists, Deià

Prestige (Malaysia) - - Contents -

Es­cap­ing the tourist hordes on the Span­ish

is­land of Mal­lorca

I’m walk­ing around the ter­raced Olive groves of the Belmond La Residencia, a ho­tel in the vil­lage of Deià on the Span­ish Balearic is­land of Mal­lorca, when I hear a haunt­ing voice, like a siren’s call, com­ing from be­neath me. I fol­low it, un­til I end up inside the ho­tel’s art gallery watch­ing a woman sing pas­sion­ately while her friend ac­com­pa­nies her on an old Stein­way pi­ano. It’s hard to de­scribe what’s so un­for­get­table about this per­fectly timed yet spon­ta­neous en­counter, but it ab­so­lutely en­cap­su­lates the essence of Deià.

Nes­tled among the moun­tains over­look­ing Mal­lorca’s north­west coast, Deià is far – both in dis­tance and spirit – from the rest of the is­land. For the past half cen­tury, buzzing towns such as Palma and Ma­galuf have ce­mented the isle’s sta­tus as a tourism Mecca, a place in which to en­joy wild bach­e­lor week­ends or in­dulge year-round in paella and cheap beer.

The prom­ise of 320 days (give or take) of sun­shine has en­cour­aged many Bri­tish and Swedish ex­pats to make Mal­lorca their per­ma­nent home, with apart­ment com­plexes, hypermarkets and mo­tor­ways spring­ing up in their wake. All the above are enough to de­ter more sea­soned trav­ellers from vis­it­ing, though the nos­tal­gic still dream of find­ing the Mal­lorca that se­duced writ­ers such as Robert Graves, Kings­ley Amis, Eve­lyn Waugh and Agatha Christie or, a cen­tury ear­lier, pi­anist/com­poser Frédéric Chopin and his lover, the French novelist Amen­tine Lu­cile Aurore Dupin, bet­ter known by her nom de plume Ge­orge Sand. In truth, that Mal­lorca still ex­ists – you just need to know where to find it.

The jour­ney to Deià isn’t ex­actly ar­du­ous. About 20 min­utes into the drive from the air­port, the tourist shops are re­placed by farm­land and glimpses of sheep tak­ing refuge from the heat. Trav­el­ling up the into Serra de Tra­muntana moun­tains, a Unesco World Her­itage Site, the colours be­come more vi­brant and the air feels lighter. The land­scape looks like a film set, with its stone houses with vi­brant green shut­ters, cit­rus and olive groves, lush val­leys and in­ter-con­nected wa­ter­ways (the lat­ter de­vel­oped by the Moors in the 8th cen­tury to chan­nel wa­ter for farm­ing).

Reach­ing Vallde­mossa, an­other moun­tain town where Chopin fa­mously holed up in a church to fin­ish a se­ries of pre­ludes, the road be­comes jammed with tour buses – even now, it feels as if there’s no es­cap­ing tourism. But ev­ery­thing changes when I en­ter the fairy-tale vil­lage of Deià.

On first sight, Deià looks a lit­tle too quiet, which is no sur­prise as the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion num­bers just 800. There are no tourist shops – not even a helado ven­dor. A stroll along its quiet cob­bled path­ways, how­ever, re­veals its hid­den char­ac­ter as an en­clave and spir­i­tual home for artists.

Graves, the Bri­tish poet and writer whose house is pre­served as a mu­seum and is open to the pub­lic, moved to the vil­lage in 1929. To­day an­tique deal­ers sit along­side art gal­leries and stu­dios, which cover ev­ery dis­ci­pline from paint­ing and sculp­ture to tex­tiles and ce­ram­ics.

The cen­tre of Deià’s artis­tic uni­verse can be found in the most un­likely of places – the afore­men­tioned La Residencia ho­tel. Once owned by Richard Bran­son and now run by the deluxe chain Belmond, it’s built around a pair of old manor houses and serves as a liv­ing and breath­ing tes­ta­ment to the vil­lage’s cre­ative roots.

The Amer­i­can artist and avid col­lec­tor Ge­orge Sheri­dan was the first to be ex­hib­ited at the ho­tel’s art gallery, Sa Ta­fona, when it opened in 1984. Over the years he be­came its cu­ra­tor and con­tin­ued to build a col­lec­tion of Span­ish con­tem­po­rary art, much of it sourced lo­cally.

Fol­low­ing his death 10 years ago, his widow Ce­cilie took over as the ho­tel’s cu­ra­tor and she con­tin­ues to hand-pick ev­ery piece of art that adorns the walls of the guest rooms, pub­lic spa­ces and gallery. She also of­fers guests a walk­ing tour of the vil­lage to meet lo­cal artists and visit their stu­dios. The most im­pres­sive se­ries of paint­ings within the ho­tel, how­ever, can be found in the Cafè Miró restau­rant, which gets its name from the 30 Joan Miró works on loan from the artist’s grand­son.

La Residencia does more than just show­case art. Ini­tia­tives such as its artists-in-res­i­dence pro­gramme in­vite painters and sculp­tors to set up a stu­dio at the ho­tel and in­ter­act with guests. Cur­rent res­i­dents in­clude sculp­tor Juan Waelder (who over­sees the sculp­ture gar­den) and Bri­tish por­trait artist Alan Hy­des, among whose clients is Leonardo DiCaprio. The third, US-born ce­ram­i­cist Joanna Kuhne, lives lo­cally. More re­cently they col­lab­o­rated with fash­ion de­signer and part-time res­i­dent Matthew Wil­liamson to rein­vent one of the ho­tel’s top suites (see side­bar).

While it’s hard not to be cap­ti­vated by art in Deià, the food is also to be savoured. Mal­lorca is blessed with fer­tile soil and a mild cli­mate, which means that a bounty of pro­duce is grown on the is­land. El Olivo of­fers fine din­ing us­ing only lo­cal in­gre­di­ents, while El Bar­rigon Xelini has an end­less list of tapas. There’s even the Miche­lin-star Es Racó d’es Teix, which serves tra­di­tional Mal­lor­can cui­sine. Af­ter

dark, guests es­cape to Cafè Sa Fonda, a lively late-night bar favoured by the boho crowd (in­clud­ing, on oc­ca­sion, Kate Moss).

A short hike from the cen­tre of the vil­lage leads you to the stun­ning Cala Deià, a se­cluded cove with crys­tal-clear blue wa­ter. Here you can gorge on fresh seafood at the famed Ca’s Pa­tro March, which was fea­tured in the BBC TV adap­ta­tion of John Le Carré’s novel The Night Man­ager. Even more mem­o­rable is a hike or boat ride to the fam­ily-run Sa Fo­radada where tra­di­tional paella is cooked over an open wood-fired grill. Guests spend all af­ter­noon there drink­ing rosé and soak­ing up the at­mos­phere.

In­deed, the laid-back and bliss­ful sur­round­ings of Deià make it a walker’s or cy­clist’s par­adise. An­cient paths that once linked the quaint vil­lages are now pop­u­lar trails, with many of­fer­ing breath­tak­ing ocean views. They reach as far as the pic­turesque port town of Soller, a hike of around three to four hours, from which an an­cient train will trans­port you to the heart Palma in 40 min­utes (not that you’d es­pe­cially want to leave the peace and quiet).

The time of day when Deià is at its most be­witch­ing, how­ever, is sun­set. Ev­ery evening I’d walk up the ho­tel’s don­key path to a quiet spot with a 180-de­gree view of the houses be­low. The moun­tains by this time are bathed in a soft shade of pink. Mu­sic plays in the back­ground, of­ten by a lo­cal mu­si­cian who’s en­ter­tain­ing guests at the ho­tel bar be­low. And once again that mag­i­cal feel­ing lingers.



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