Sir Richard Branson had major plans for Majorca.

Orient-Express Hotels and Virgin Hotels signed the deal yesterday, and Orient-Express was one of four parties to have expressed an interest in purchasing the hotel at least two months ago. Last November, President of Orient-Express Hotels, Simon M.C. Sherwood, spent a few days at the hotel, prompting rumours, initially denied by Virgin, that the hotel was for sale. It is believed that La Residencia was sold for an estimated 4'000 million pesetas (approx £15.5 million.) Some local estate agents have said that Orient Express got a real bargain. The Hotel Formentor was on the market for 60 million pounds. Set in 30 acres of olive and citrus groves, the Hotel La Residencia was created from two private 16th and 17th century manor houses - Son Moragues and Son Canals -- and boasts three luxury suites with private swimming pools, one of which proved a huge success with the late Princess of Wales when she spent a long weekend at the hotel in the mid-1990s. Since the hotel opened in 1984 it has received many international awards and accolades. It was recently voted the 13th best leisure hotel by readers of Conde Nast Traveller UK, who also put the hotel at number 93 in the World's Top 100 “Best of the Best” list. It won the Wine Spectator Award for Excellence and was also the El Punto Hotel of the Year in 2001. One of the reasons why Sir Richard is pulling out of Majorca is believed to be pure frustration. His plans to develop the Son Bunyola estate in nearby Banyalbufar were thwarted by a whole series of planning problems. The estate is now also for sale and Branson's dream of transforming it into one of the world's most luxurious hotels are now over. The Virgin Group is also off-loading all its possessions which are neither brand named or essential to the group. However, Virgin sources have stated that Sir Richard has no intention of selling Necker Island, his South African Ulusaba game reserve and his recently, opened hotel in Morocco. As part of yesterday's transaction, Orient-Express Hotels has entered in to a partnership with leading international chef Raymond Blanc by acquiring the equity of Virgin Hotels in the two star Michelin restaurant and 32-room hotel Le Manoir Aus Quat' Saisons in Oxfordshire. The joint venture includes Virgin's shares in le Petit Blanc, four Parisian-style brasseries in Oxford, Cheltenham, Birmingham and Manchester. While the sale of La Residencia is the end of one exciting era, the arrival of Orient-Express is guaranteed to open the door to another high-profile chapter in the hotel and Majorca's history. Orient-Express Hotels is a hotel and leisure company focused on the luxury end of the leisure market and its mere name conjures up an image of splendour, nostalgia and professionalism. In 2000, Orient-Express Hotels had net earnings of $40 million on revenue of $276 million and much of the profits are being invested in expanding the company's property portfolio. Over the past four years, the hotel company has been investing between $50 and $100 million on purchasing two or three properties and it would appear that the company intends to maintain its rate of growth. The company prides itself on employing some of the most experienced and highly-qualified managers in the industry and is more than qualified to pamper to the needs of the Hotel La Residencia's army of illustrious guests. One of the reasons Orient-Express Hotels made a move for La Residencia is that it falls perfectly in to its property portfolio, all of its deluxe hotels are unique and located in areas of outstanding cultural, historic or recreational interest.


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