These 3 New Luxury Hotels in Mallorca Preserve Their Mediterranean History — From Richard Branson’s Medieval Fortress-turned-resort to a Former Olive Farm

It's easier than ever to travel to this Mediterranean hot spot, thanks to an increase in direct flights from the U.S.

Interior of the Grand Hotel Son Net in Mallorca
The Chimney Room at the Grand Hotel Son Net, with views of the lush garden. Photo:

Courtesy of Grand Hotel Son Net

Staying in a medieval tower is excellent for the legs. I realized this soon after I checked in to Son Bunyola Hotel & Villas, the resort opened by Richard Branson last summer in the wild coastal mountains of western Mallorca. The building originally served as a fortress against pirates, and I was staying in its oldest section, the Tower Suite, which dates back to the 13th century. 

The small windows offered tantalizing sea views, so I found myself dashing up and down the polished stone stairs like a medieval foot soldier angling for a better look. On the top floor, I pressed a button to unlock a glass skylight — it whirred open slowly, perhaps like the escape hatch on a Virgin Galactic spaceship — and clambered up to a private roof terrace with commanding views of the Tramuntana Mountains.

Son Bunyola is one of several luxury hotels that have opened in Mallorca within the past year, giving travelers a new reason to explore the popular island. Adding to Mallorca’s popularity, in 2022 United Airlines began offering direct flights from Newark from May to September. While the most visited areas are along the southern coast, near the capital, Palma, the more remote pockets of the island are home to restored historic farm properties. Last summer I spent five days surveying three of the new arrivals. Although it was high season, I wouldn’t have known it from the idyllic pace.

Ornate wallpaper and fabrics are used in the design of a hotel suite at the Grand Hotel Son Net in Mallorca
An art-filled suite at Son Net.

Courtesy of Grand Hotel Son Net

To get to Son Bunyola from the airport, I drove 45 minutes along ever-more-circuitous and hair-raising cliffside roads until I reached a bluff on the western coast. The property, which covers 1,300 acres along a series of hilltops overlooking the Balearic Sea, was in decay when Branson purchased it in 1994. Government rules prevented him from altering the 16th-century structures the way he wanted, so he sold it in 2002. In 2015, Branson rekindled his dream, repurchased Son Bunyola, and finally obtained approval by working with a historian and archaeologist to preserve its integrity.

The medieval tower and the surrounding 16th-century farmhouse have been carved into 27 splendid rooms and suites, many with private terraces and sea views, connected by grand staircases and corridors of polished marble. A two-room spa occupies a former kitchen, with the dome of a massive brick oven forming the ceiling of one of the treatment rooms. In addition, there are three villas, the largest spread across 7,100 square feet. The estate, meanwhile, has been replanted with grapevines and citrus and olive trees.

A hotel terrace with a view in Mallorca
A suite with a sea-view terrace at Son Bunyola.

Courtesy of Son Bunyola Hotel & Villas

Despite the comforts, Son Bunyola still feels tied to the elements. During dinner one night, blasts of wind caused quite a ruckus in the lovely terrace restaurant, Sa Terrassa, knocking over glasses and blowing napkins away. And a hike to the estate’s rocky beach became an adventure in the summer heat, when I took a wrong turn and ended up staggering along the trail like a shipwrecked sailor. But it was worth the effort: being the only person swimming in the crystalline waters of a cliff-lined cove felt like a magical privilege. 

After two nights at Son Bunyola, I drove a half-hour south along a winding road and checked in to the Grand Hotel Son Net. Compared with the dry western coast, the grounds were almost tropically lush and had the air of a lovingly tended botanical garden. 

Son Net’s palatial, ivy-covered mansion exudes a lived-in feeling. From 1672, the mansion was occupied by the aristocratic Net family until it was sold to an American who converted it to a hotel in 1998. In 2020, a new owner, the Spanish art collector and hotelier Javier López Granados, began a meticulous three-year makeover. He handed the creative reins to Lorenzo Castillo, an art historian and interior designer from Madrid, who added wallpaper, silk-covered chairs, and velvet sofas with exuberant flashes of color. There are also nods to Mallorca’s Arab past. 

View from the Sa Terrassa restaurant in Mallorca
Son Bunyola's Sa Terrassa restaurant.

Courtesy of Son Bunyola Hotel & Villas

Walking into the soaring lobby felt like entering a Gothic cathedral. It has an ornately carved wooden ceiling and walls draped with sumptuous tapestries and darkened oil paintings. I scarcely knew where to rest my eyes as sunshine ricocheted through stained-glass windows onto 18th-century frescoes, blue-and-white-tiled floors, Turkish carpets, and Syrian mother-of-pearl chests. The original rooms, which have four-poster beds, are an Aladdin’s Cave of antiques; mine had its own patio and a swimming pool surrounded by topiary.

After a refreshing dip, I headed along a verdant path to Mar&Duix, the outdoor restaurant, half expecting to run into a Spanish grandee on his way back from falconry practice. Instead I was joined for dinner by my friend Claire O’Keefe, a photographer and stylist from Mallorca who lives in Valldemossa, a mountaintop village about a half-hour’s drive away. She heartily approved of Son Net as a stylish and small-scale alternative to the sprawling all-inclusive beach hotels that encrust the southern coast. Indeed, the beaches have become so saturated that in 2022 the provincial government imposed a four-year moratorium on the construction of new hotels. 

“The thing we Mallorquíns like is that these small inns are salvaging pre-existing structures that would otherwise fall into ruin and vanish,” O’Keefe said over organic bread made from Xeixa wheat, a native flour, served with tomatoes, smoked cod, and tumbet, a Mallorcan version of ratatouille. “They’re defending our history.” 

An airy cream colored hotel lobby at The Lodge Mallorca
The lobby at the Lodge Mallorca.

Courtesy of The Lodge Mallorca

What other fragments of Mallorca’s ancestry lay hidden behind the fences of the hinterland, I wondered. From Son Net, I drove an hour east to my final stop, the Lodge Mallorca, which is set on a 340-acre former olive farm in the foothills of the Tramuntana. This time, an electronic gate opened onto a long dirt road through lavender fields worked by farmhands in broad-brimmed straw hats. The buildings on the estate — the main house is more than 500 years old — have been reimagined as a 24-suite boutique hotel done in soothing earth tones with stone, wood, and unbleached linen. The lobby is dominated by a vintage olive press made of limestone that is about the size of a 10-person hot tub. Some rooms occupy renovated stables and granaries and have expansive glass doors leading to sunny porches. 

At first, the lodge felt a little isolated, but then I realized its location was actually a perfect jumping-off point for exploring this corner of the island. It was only a half hour’s drive to Cape Formentor, a dramatic promontory at Mallorca’s northernmost point. From a headland patrolled by wild goats, I gazed out at cliffs that looked as if they had been carved by gods. At dusk, the nearby beach was all but empty. That will change this summer, when a Four Seasons will open at the former Hotel Formentor, a 1929 grande dame where Winston Churchill and assorted British royals once stayed. 

I drove back to the lodge in time for dinner at its chic Singular Restaurant, where I was joined by two friends who had just arrived from New York, a native Mallorquín and his artist wife. Run by Ramón Freixa, whose namesake restaurant in Madrid has two Michelin stars, Singular specializes in cocina del fuego (“kitchen of fire”) and serves local fish and meats prepared over an open flame. After an appetizer of sobrasada, a Mallorcan spreadable sausage, we had grilled red prawns from the northern coast and roast suckling-lamb cutlets from a neighboring farm. A tangy red from a nearby vineyard accompanied the meal. The grape variety Gorgollassa, the sommelier informed us, grows only on this tiny island — one more quirky touch in Mallorca’s marvelous eccentricity. 

A version of this story first appeared in the May 2024 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline "To the Manor Born."

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