When I’m writing about travel for an online platform – like this one you are reading right now – I always try to make copy as “evergreen” as possible. But when I don’t know if the place I just left will be opening again tomorrow, that’s hard. And while I’m loathe to incorporate anything about The Virus in a story about what I think the best hotels in Palma are, the elephant is so big in the room that my face is pressed against the window and the glass is about to break. So here we are.
I want to get married again, just to have a reception here, with the finest croquettes and cubes of tortilla on the planet being distributed to my guests via giant silver platters, held aloft by hot Majorcan waiters
Yes, I went to Majorca. Which is where half of London goes every August, packing out beach clubs, villas and swanky hotels from Deià to Santanyí and all the way around again. But I went in September, when everyone had either scarpered back on flights that came with a ruinous price surge to escape quarantine restrictions back in the UK, or had cancelled plans entirely. At the time of writing, Majorca is quiet but definitely not dead. Like much of London and New York, a lot of the island won’t survive the year. But the lack of crowds and cooler weather are two good reasons to visit right now, if your point of origin is one that doesn’t stop you going (sorry America). Bargains offer a strong third reason. A fourth, should you need it: The old town of Palma has been stately and radiant for centuries, and nothing is going to change that.
The Sant Francesc Hotel Singular (pictured top) and nearby Can Bordoy Grand House & Garden will definitely both survive. These are the best of the best in Palma. Both are contemporary hotels that have repurposed palatial homes, retaining period details with inner courtyards and tremendous room proportions. Can Bordoy has an appealing, gently bohemian Chateau Marmont feel to it. The service is less jovial and more discreet than at the Sant Francesc. Both have rooftop pools, and both demonstrate with élan how luxury in Majorca is knocked out at a level that towers above mainland Spain. It’s hard to find fault with either hotels. These are urban resorts offering the kind of quality of experience you’d expect to pay at least three times their current rate in London or Paris.
The Can Bordoy has suspended its valet parking due to… you know what. The Sant Francesc still offers it. Thank god. Driving in the old town of Palma is a bewildering game of one-way cat and mouse. Can Bordoy currently suggest you take yourself to one of their nearby underground car parking spots. Give it a go and you’ll almost definitely be in the wrong place. After my trauma, I urge you to set fire to your hire car and abandon it on a hill somewhere, and get taxis everywhere. Or walk. Every restaurant and bar you want to go to is less than 10 minutes away on foot.
There is little to suggest from the outside of Can Bordoy that it is as grand as it is. The walk to its doors involves narrow, cobbled, fairy tale alleyways that twist and turn. Then: BOOM – you’re in a theatrical extravaganza of sweeping velvet drapes and mirrored ceilings with a grand main staircase that wraps up and around to a glass bottom pool on the roof. Waiting for my room key, I sat in the garden – the largest of its kind in the old town – and drank cava while listening to birdsong. The colourful and tropical-contemporary outdoor furniture is a lovely riposte to the classical bones of what must have been a pretty great place to live in the 15th century. There are lovely spots with tables and chairs tucked away, and an outdoor heated pool that is shielded from the view of outdoor diners. This is a place where you sigh – in a good way – and say “life is good”.
The overall look of Can Bordoy incorporates bits of south American modernism (lots of split cane furniture), purposely worn antique rugs reminiscent of a lot of those New York hotels that are trying to do the Russell Sage-crazy-old-British-auntie-who-drinks-a-lot-of-sherry look, and black and white tiled hallway floors. Those vast theatrical velvet curtains are everywhere – screening off your bathroom and TV in your bedroom, and wrapping some of the corridors and lift doors. The whole place has great presence, like the set for the best Peter Greenaway film never made. It’s a place to hunker down for several days without leaving, meandering from spa to rooftop to garden, or mixing a martini from the bespoke wooden cocktail cabinet in your room and lounging around in a bed that has controls to make it softer or harder. Dinner at Botànic is a welcome contrast from the tapas that dominate the dining rooms of most of the old town: pork carpaccio comes on a bed of zucchini “pasta” with pesto; a lush buttery rib-eye sits next to polenta, creamed baby corn and apple. Everything about Can Bordoy is sexy. Sexy, sexy, sexy.
The Sant Francesc Hotel Singular has the kind of interior that I aspire to but am too chaotic to ever achieve. Everything is so meticulous, it feels like it was unwrapped yesterday. Like the Can Bordoy, the building itself blends into the overall grandeur of the old town architecture, but when you are inside and looking out it feels fabulously unique. I want to get married again, just to have a reception here, with the finest croquettes and cubes of tortilla on the planet being distributed to my guests via giant silver platters, held aloft by hot Majorcan waiters.
My perspective may be skewed because I’ve been starved of luxury and travel since February, but I’d go so far as saying that the Sant Francesc is one of my ten favourite hotels in the world. Apart from slightly fiddly light switches in my suite, it represents perfection. Having a row of full-sized Heeley fragrances in my bathroom to use during my stay is one of my favourite hotel things ever. They didn’t have the churchy Cardinal in the selection (which I have at home), so I drenched myself repeatedly in the neroli-joy of Saint Clement’s instead. Good times.
Every aspect of the design at the Sant Francesc is impressive, but none of it is showy or superfluous. While in bed, I took countless pictures of the soaring ornate ceiling, with its hand painted macaron-pink-and-green detailing. At breakfast I found myself photographing the cutlery. The hotel is a big mood board.
The largely monochrome art at the hotel makes for an impressive collection. I was particularly taken by the aggressive but beautiful black and white works by Jordi Alcaraz. There’s no pop nonsense here. Someone with a great eye has put this together. The rooftop pool deck, meanwhile, has one of the best views of any hotel anywhere, overlooking the 13th century Gothic Basilica de Sant Francesc. After dark this view has a kind of Dario Argento vibe: The statue of 18th century priest Junipero Serra outside the church has been in shadow since June, after being defaced with red painting spelling out “RACIST”. Another statue of the colonialist friar bit the dust during BLM protests in L.A. this summer. Judging by his pose, with one hand on the shoulder of a naked prepubescent boy, he was also someone who would have needed his hard drive examining if he was around today. History is a story that may not be rewritten, but must be reappraised. And this year we have a lot of time to look back.
The old town of Palma continues to change, even though most of its visual detail is protected as Balearic heritage treasure. Restaurants, bars and hotels here are going to disappear, or change. But its two best hotels feel like a place to take a breath and pause. It’s important to remember that life can still be much better than just okay, and Palma is somewhere to reflect. C
Can Bordoy Grand House & Garden, Carrer del Forn de la Glòria, 14, 07012 Palma, Illes Balears, Spain
+34 871 87 12 02; canbordoy.com
Sant Francesc Hotel Singular, Plaça de Sant Francesc, 5, 07001 Palma, Illes Balears, Spain
+34 971 49 50 00; hotelsantfrancesc.com