For the first time in at least a decade, Sir Richard Branson has this week spoken exclusively to the Majorca Daily Bulletin about his love for Mallorca, Deia and his plans for his new small luxury hotel project on his Son Bunyola estate in Banyalbufar estate which nestles between the coast and the Tramuntana mountains in the north of the island.
Sir Richard’s love affair with the island stretches back some 60 years and, after having sold Son Bunyola and his world famous hotel La Residencia in Deia in 2002 after a conflict of interests with the local authorities over his plans for Son Bunyola, he was able to buy the estate in Son Bunyola back in 2015.
Last month, the Mayor of Banyalbufar, Mateu Ferrà, granted Sir Richard permission to develop the 15th century manor house on the 680 acre-plus Son Bunyola estate into a small luxury hotel with 29 bedrooms.
For Sir Richard, this is a dream come true and work on restoring the manor house to its former glory is due to begin in earnest this spring with the hotel opening in 2023.
The Son Bunyola estate is part of a World Heritage Site and is home to many olive and almond trees as well as grape vines and citrus fruit trees. Ever since Sir Richard re-purchased the estate, he has been lovingly restoring the rural landscape, such as the dry stone walls and all of the flora and fauna while laying the grounds for the development of the final piece to the jigsaw, the manor house hotel.
When Sir Richard sold the two landmark properties in Mallorca, the island lost a major asset.
After he first bought La Residencia in 1987, he transformed the hotel into one of the must luxurious and popular in the world and it was a mecca for the rich and famous, not to mention royalty, such as the late Lady Diana, the Emperors of Japan and the Spanish royal family, leading lights from the worlds of art, culture and music and leading politicians, and guests from all over the world who, to this day, return to the hotel every year. And now, Sir Richard intends to return the Branson touch to Mallorca at a time when the island needs a welcome boost as it emerges from the pandemic.
For Banyalbufar it will mean major investment, scores of new jobs and place the idyllic village on the global map and help Mallorca showcase the beauty of the Tramuntana.
Sir Richard Branson has fought for more than 20 years to get the Son Bunyola project off the ground and today he opens up his heart about his and his family’s love for Deia, Mallorca and Son Bunyola.
Q.— How, when and why did you first come to Mallorca?
A. — Mallorca has long held a very special place in my heart, I first visited it when I was a child, so my love affair spans more than 60 years now! I have taken much delight over the years in bringing my own children and now their young families to Mallorca too – who in turn now have their own love for the island. My son Sam even named his own daughter, Eva-Deia, after the beautiful village of Deia.
Q.— What was it that captivated you about Mallorca, in particular Deia?
A. — The northwest coast of Mallorca in particular has always been a location that I have great fondness for. When I first visited Deia, I couldn’t help but resist its charm. It’s where I developed my very first hotel, La Residencia, back in 1987 with Kristin and Axel. The region has some of the most historical and picturesque towns on the island. I feel grounded in nature and the Tramuntana mountain range has such breathtaking scenery and I love swimming in the crystal-clear sea in the summer.
Q.— The Son Bunyola project has had its ups and downs, why did you jump at having a second chance and revive the project?
A. — It has always been incredibly important to us that where possible we maintain the heritage of the Finca and the estate. So, whilst it may have taken slightly longer than we originally hoped and planned, it’s important to get it right and we have welcomed the feedback and alterations from the local government. I’m not somebody who likes to give up. When we purchased Son Bunyola, it was always our hope to develop the Finca. Fortunately, we were given the opportunity to re-purchase it again in 2015.
Q.— How important is getting the all-clear for the Son Bunyola project, which you once told me would become the most luxurious hotel in the Mediterranean, to you?
A. — The three beautiful villas we have on our Son Bunyola estate form an instrumental part of our Virgin Limited Edition collection. The Finca is an absolutely stunning historic building dating back to the 1800s that is central to the estate, and it is just waiting to be brought back to life. The fact that we can now do this and still retain 100% of the Finca is something I am really excited about.
The question of most luxurious hotel in the Mediterranean will always be one for debate, but to me it will always be Son Bunyola. What’s more important here than defining luxury is that we can showcase the incredible history of this UNESCO World Heritage Site through a beautiful small luxury hotel, which will be at the heart of the Son Bunyola estate. Of course, the real luxury then comes in spending time with family and friends in comfort, which I hope many of our guests will enjoy.
Q.— What would you like Son Bunyola to represent and provide for Mallorca?
A. — We are already so fortunate that Son Bunyola is located in one of the most historic areas of Mallorca. The unspoilt nature and historic buildings, some that date back to the 15th century, cannot be seen just anywhere and I’m positive that our guests will come, not just to enjoy our hospitality or villas but to relax, unwind and absorb the natural surroundings and the unique setting that is very much part of the rich history of Majorca.
Q.— How is the recovery going following the tornado that passed through Son Bunyola last year?
A. — Unfortunately, some of our villas sustained some damage as a result of the tornado last year and we were forced to close early for the season. The team at Son Bunyola have worked incredibly hard to restore the villas and I am delighted that these are now finished and will be fully operational for the season ahead. Sadly, the tornado did cause some significant devastation to many trees and vegetation throughout the estate. However, the team have already set about re-planting some of those trees around the villas with further planting planned to improve the estate. This may take several years as we remain fully committed to preserving an integral part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Q.— The pandemic has not been easy for anyone, in Spain we talk of there being a ‘before and after’ to events. What have you realised we were doing wrong before the pandemic and what do you think we need to rectify post-pandemic and Covid?
A. — I think the pandemic has shown us all that we can achieve so much more through unity and collaboration than through division. There will always be challenges ahead, but hopefully we can come together to find answers and solutions.
Q.— The Balearics in general have become much more environmentally aware, do you think more effort should be placed on sustainable tourism as opposed to mass tourism?
A. — Virgin Limited Edition is committed to sustainability and is sensitive to the impact our properties have on local communities and the environment.
At our property in Morocco, Kasbah Tamadot, we employ 99% Berber staff from the surrounding villages and my dear mother Eve helped us create the Eve Branson Foundation as a way to empower local women and teach them a craft. In the British Virgin Islands we have installed giant wind turbines and solar panels on Necker Island to enable us to run up to 100% renewable energy.
We have built schools, have initiatives in place to protect wildlife, launched dedicated charities and are constantly aiming to reduce the amount of waste we use and save water wherever we can.
Son Bunyola is no different and we remain fully committed to preserving the rich heritage of this estate, recruiting locally where possible and ensuring sustainability and purpose is fundamental to everything we do.
Q.— What is your favourite dish in Mallorca?
A. — It won’t surprise you to know that my favourite local dish is the classic Spanish favourite, paella.
However, there is something quite special about having it cooked by the delightful Maria and her family at Can Paco in Banyalbufar and I always make time for a visit when I am in Mallorca.
Finally, I would just like to say I am completely and utterly in love with Son Bunyola. The beautiful three-mile coastline that is part of it, the towering cliffs above, the breathtaking scenery and, yes, I really do believe that we can turn the Finca into a property that will be considered one of the best in the world and that Mallorca will be proud of. I’m looking forward to spending time with my family there, enjoying the scenery, the wonderful walks, the incredible biking, the tennis … I could go on and on! I have fought for more than 20 years to get this project off the ground and am incredibly excited to have the wonderful team bring it to life over the next couple of years.