From the front the Bon Sol Hotel in Illetes seems to be quite a modest, but pretty, hotel, but rather like Doctor Who’s Tardis it is much, much bigger on the inside than you could ever tell from its frontage. I discovered this by accident whilst attending a yoga class for the first time at the hotel.
When I was escorted down to an amazing open air studio through a series of lifts and tunnels, emerging from the underground passages into a beautiful verdant garden with a beautiful sea view I knew I had to return and find out more about the building and the people responsible for it.
I got the chance to meet Lorraine and Martin Xamena who own and run the Bon Sol as they take some time out of their morning to meet and talk over a cup of coffee. Martin tells me that he had a beautiful childhood growing up in the Bon Sol, his family’s hotel. Martin’s father, Antonio was a successful tailor in Palma before starting the hotel to give his wife, Roger, some company during the day as she felt lonely without him during the day when he was working in Palma.
The hotel began as a guest house with 14 rooms. As Roger loved having guests the hotel soon began to grow in popularity. In only its second year they had the American actor Errol Flynn stay with them, and he in turn recommended the hotel to many of his friends. Martin recalls being taught the art of sword fighting by Mr Flynn!
The demand to stay in the hotel led to an increase in rooms, first from 42 and then 73 rooms. Back in the 50s the Mallorcan tourist industry was in its infancy, and then in 1957 the island received its first charter flights bringing a younger crowd to visit. “My parents realised that these new guests would want to be beside the sea, so the family bought land by the beach.”
Arriving at the hotel was still an issue though as in those days the roads were rough donkey tracks, “There were more holes than road”, Lorraine laughs, and tells me about how guests would have to mislead the taxi drivers to take them to their final destination “They wouldn’t have wanted to go up these rough roads you see.” The development of the land continued, with the decision taken for lifts and tunnels to be installed to make it easier for their guests to reach the sea front. This was a bold, costly and labour intensive move which took 11 years to complete. But now the Bon Sol has 90 rooms, and 50 beach villas, spread over several levels, and connected by the tunnels and lifts.
Lorraine is in charge of the rooms, the decoration, the details and making sure the reservations are perfect. “I have a list of which rooms which clients like to have, I always ask, how do you like your room, and if they really love it, then I make sure they get the same one on their next visit.” Lorraine tells me that during the pandemic she had a list of female clients who lived on their own that she rang to check up on regularly. “We care very much about our guests, we are a traditional hotel and we will remain traditional with an old fashioned eye for detail.”
She is also the party organiser and delights in throwing special evenings for the guests using the dance floor in the bar as a focal point. Running a hotel isn’t an easy task she says, “Martin wanted me to understand when we married that I wasn’t only marrying him, but the hotel, the staff and of course our guests.” Over the years the couple have been in charge; they have had to work extremely hard to remain successful. “Being a hotel owner means occasionally doing the laundry at 3am to keep the ship sailing”, but these days she has help in the form of her staff and her children.
Their children Alejandro and Natalia work in the hotel and the plan is that they will take over the running of it eventually. “We live in the grounds of the hotel, so does Alejandro, and I see my grandchildren everyday. That is very special for me”, says Lorraine.
Looking around the hotel there is art everywhere. Some of it is from artists who paid Antonio for his tailoring work with pieces of art, and some of it is religious art originally inherited from an uncle who was a priest in Felanitx which has been passed down the family. There is a wide range of sculpture and objets d’art brought from Asia, Europe, and Africa and other international holidays, and lovely portraits of Martin’s mum and dad take pride of place. Everywhere you turn there is art, unique and individual pieces with a story to tell. All you have to do is ask.
Following the example of Martin’s parents, the couple also have a passion for the environment and purchased land in Costa Rica which they use to offset the carbon footprint of the Bon Sol. In order to avoid the use of fossil fuels, combustibles, coal or oil, Antonio installed a heating system that used almond shells; incredibly, this system is still in use today in the 21st Century.
Ahead of its time, in 1968, Hotel Bon Sol became the first in Mallorca to install solar panels to heat the hotel’s hot water and swimming pool. An ingenious system was devised to recycle grey water. The gardens have been an ongoing project for the Xamena family since the beginning and are filled with flowering trees and climbing plants, rubber plants, fruit trees, Oleander, ivy and palms. “We always want our guests to feel like they are at home when they are with us, in our home. It has been this way since my father Antonio and my mother Roger first began in 1953, almost 70 years ago, Lorraine and I are very happy and pleased that we have been able to continue what they started.”
Martin concludes before continuing his rounds of the hotel, checking on the comfort and happiness of his guests. For this son of a tailor and innovator, manners, service and consideration are never going to go out of fashion.
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