And the snake comes free...
Nowhere is the Briton who strays abroad made to feel more at home than in Majorca, courtesy of its sizzling full-English breakfasts, fast-flowing lager, karaoke and teetering piles of tabloid papers. Along the popular east coast, the boisterous echoes of Blighty are even more jarring: Union flags flutter from balconies and expat bars, while local waiters fret for their jobs unless their command of Inglès improves rapidamente.
It is, for the hordes who return year after year, a made-to-measure frolic in the sun – easy on the pocket, always predictable, rarely disappointing. Such is the spread of the tourist towel that others who do not wish to run with the bulldog pack and prefer something less ferociously home-fromhome, are often hard-pressed to find satisfaction.
Now comes an alternative, in the shape of the Hideaways Club, a very exclusive, private-residence scheme whose Majorcan properties were launched last month. The club offers a combined package of luxury holidays and property ownership. Members are guaranteed the use of “beautifully furnished, luxurious homes” via a scheme that puts at their disposal holiday jaunts to fully-managed properties in Croatia, Cyprus, the South of France, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland, Turkey and Spain.
The homes – in which members hold shares across the whole portfolio – are (usually) detached, with an average floor space of 2,500 sq ft, three/four bedrooms and bathrooms, private gardens and pool. They each promise to blend the delights of their location with the benefits of contemporary living.
Each home has a value of more than £1 million and – all right, let’s get this over with now – so will you: the Hideaways join-up fee is £207,500, with a further £10,000 charged annually for running costs.
Worth every penny, according to co-founder, chief executive and “serial entrepreneur” Stephen Wise. “It’s an expensive club to join,” he admits. “We are aiming to attract single-digit millionaires – people who want to know what they’re going to get.”
And what will that be? Dutifully, I set forth to be “pampered” in the manner of a club member. First off, the taxi service from Palma Airport has much in its favour: free, on standby at arrival and thereafter steeped in the hushed awe that eastcoast Mallorquinos reserve for their all-too-rare millionaire visitors.
The company’s flagship family villa is Gran Vista (a second, smaller alternative nestles nearby), close to the sleepy village of Calonge and a reassuring mile or so from the heaving holiday-fest of Cala d’Or.
“Ah, Gran Vista,” coos my cabbie reverentially, before speeding me heavenwards in appreciative silence. Half an hour later, there is the comforting crunch of expensive gravel beneath the wheels. I am, at least for a day, home.
I’ve not set foot out of the car before a beaming figure appears at the front door to bid me welcome. This is Matti, my able and charming concierge, charged to oversee dawn-to-dusk happiness for the duration of my stay. You won’t be left floundering in the manner of awkward, perspiring tourists when you fetch up at Gran Vista. Swiftly up the cool, stone steps to the bedroom and its yards of Egyptian cotton, balcony doors flung open, birds twittering exotically, pristine bathroom with sauna, and would I like a drink?
The decor is tasteful – the plastic fruit could go, mind you – rather than opulent. Wisely, Gran Vista is braced for its visiting children. Sofas and chairs, for example, are comfortable, but not so terrifyingly hip that parents need fret about stains, smears or the occasional scuffing. The sitting room offers an improbably large flat-screen TV, DVD selection ( Mary Poppins, I Love Yoga), broadband and hand-picked paperback library (full marks for the William Boyd). There’s a bulging welcome box, too, featuring bottles of wine, ground coffee and a brilliant pyramid of sunkissed (real) Mediterranean fruit.
Outside, bougainvillea tumbles generously from the terrace roof as a breeze whispers through the pines, date palms and oleander. Table tennis and pristine barbecue await in the shade.
And so to the pool. Trunks at the ready, I quickchange for a plunge into refreshing oblivion. “You have the water to yourself,” Matti solemnly assures me. If only. Soon, alongside this heaving white man’s efforts to cool down under the Mediterranean sun, there’s colourful company all too close to hand. A snake.
“Ab-so-lutely harmless,” calls Matti, after I remove myself faster than you can say timeshare for toffs. “I shall have it removed immediately.” Service, of a sort, I suppose.
Speaking of which, there is little the club fails to offer its highbrow guests beyond Gran Vista’s long private drive, albeit at extra cost. Investors are provided with childcare, golf, horse-riding, yacht hire and tickets for concerts and sporting events.
If Hideaways can be said to have pulled off a single smart trick, it is to have tapped into the skills and spirit of the local community. Apart from expat Matti, Sylvia (a mean paella), boat skipper Pedro and masseuse Pia are all on hand to provide optional extras, delivered with grace and panache.
The highlight of my fleeting visit is to jump aboard Pedro’s fishing boat for a tour of the coves up and down the coast, diving into clear water off the back of a boat, in his ebullient company.
Back on shore, it is time for my full-body massage at the hands of Pia, so unshakeably professional that she betrays not a flicker of alarm on finding I have my disposable thong the wrong way round. Relax? Not easy after that…
And suddenly, it’s all over. Little beats a descent into Luton airport for a reacquaintance with reality as, all too soon, Gran Vista slides irrevocably into the past.
Verdict: a proper pampering, all right, but in exchange for such a prodigious outlay, nothing you don’t richly deserve.
High class: GranVista, its grounds and pool (briefly invaded by a snake). A Hideaway highlight is a boat trip with Pedro Cañellas (left)