If you were looking for empirical evidence that Mallorca has totally reinvented itself, Palma Airport is the place to look. Of the 200 people who were disgorged from an early-morning easyJet flight from Stansted to the island’s airport, a majority were either men on golfing weekends, Boden-catalogue families heading for a pre-half-term sunshine break, or the kind of linen-clad travellers who have Tania Plage kaftans and Vilebrequin trunks stashed in their suitcases and deem the sun-drenched Balearic island one of the Med’s smartest.
A few, however, were the tattoo’ed denizens and skimpy T-shirt wearing hen-party members who have failed to notice that the island’s zeitgeist has changed dramatically.
It is hugely to the credit of those running Mallorcan tourism that the chavvy visitors make up such a small percentage of the total, and then seem to be confined to a tiny handful of resorts. (And please note the now ubiquitous spelling of Mallorca, with that pair of elegant “Ls”, indicative of the smart breed of tourist the island now pulls in, as opposed to the old middle “J” which had such potential for coarsening by estuary English speakers.)
For the most part, the island attracts the first three categories — golfers, middle-class families and well-off couples, glamorously led by the Grazia set such as Michael Douglas, Claudia Schiffer, Boris Becker, Michael Schumacher and King Juan Carlos of Spain — all of whom have homes on the island (and some of whom have yachts moored there, too).
Another indicator of the dizzying rise in the island’s tourism profile in the past 15 years is the growing presence of a slew of glamorous boutique hotels with their airy, minimalist designs and matching levels of luxury and comfort, which have joined the starry long-time treasures such as Orient Express’s La Residencia and the legendary Hotel Formentor. Another positive sign is the colonisation by many of the world’s top hotel brands like Sheraton, Marriott and — just last month — Hilton, with its brand new Sa Torre Mallorca Hotel, built around a traditional farmhouse.
One of the other leading brands to have arrived in the past few years is St Regis, the most up-scale of the Starwood Hotels group, whose St Regis Mardavall was my pick for a long weekend-stay. Perfectly located in dozens of acres of immaculately landscaped gardens which straddle a low promontory just west of Palma, the sprawling, airy, hotel has every comfort a visitor could want.
Rooms are all spacious and ultra-comfortable, and all have a large terrace and a big, elegant bathroom, incorporating large tubs, stand-alone showers, double sinks, separate loo and underfloor heating. Techno-benefits include iPod dock and Bang & Olufsen TV, CD and DVD player. As well as suites with private pool or Jacuzzi, there are also single rooms — good news for the growing band of solo travellers since it does away with a single supplement.
The same level of luxury extends to the big, tranquil pool around which are not only the usual thickly upholstered loungers shaded by big, white umbrellas, but also clusters of squashy cream sofas and pale, muslin-draped hammocks, all so widely spread out that you can be as antisocial as you like, even when the hotel is full.
The hotel has also decided to ensure that parents enjoy their stay by providing plenty to keep kids occupied, including two pools, a thoughtfully equipped kids’ club for ages three to 12 and qualified staff to take care of the kids from breakfast to supper.
For those who appreciate really high quality pampering, the hotel’s exquisite and vast (4,700 square metres) spa, is unmissable. It not only has its own indoor-outdoor pool, an extensive menu of massages and cosmetic treatments (using the highly effective Anne Semonin range from France) and a separate clinic devoted to traditional Chinese medicine, but it also has a sublime Turkish bath.
Breakfast — an impossibly extensive buffet of fresh juices, fresh and dried fruits, hot and cold dishes, deli items, four varieties of Bircher muesli, breads, espresso, capuccino, latte, a dozen varieties of teas and infusions, nine varieties of honey and even more flavours of home-made jams — is served in the Aqua restaurant, with its huge terrace for al fresco mornings.
In fact, there is a general awareness at the Mardavall that sun-starved north Europeans like to spend as much time outside as possible, so the bar and lounges also have wide terraces for lunch, afternoon tea or a sundowner.
Thanks partly to the appalling sterling-euro exchange rate, prices are high everywhere on the island, and the hotel is not cheap for extras. It charges a hefty 8 euro (£6.97) for a 75cl bottle of mineral water and a similar price for an espresso, though generous bar snacks arrive with your order.
Dining out is not cheap either — expect to pay at least £25 a head, for a starter, a pasta and a shared dessert — though standards are high, with smart, beachside and marina-side eateries in every direction. The Mardavall has its own restaurants (with plenty of fish dishes), but Aqua’s set-menu dinner is 69 euro (£60) a head, which makes it a not inexpensive experience. But the hotel is an easy, 15-minute stroll from Porta Portals, the glittering little marina peopled by the jetty set (who include King Juan Carlos whose yacht is moored here). There, along with bijoux boutiques stuffed with Dior, Versace and Roberto Cavalli, Rolex, Cartier, Chopard and Boucheron, are lots of good cafés and restaurants, including Capuccino for casual brunch or lunch and Flanigans for great fish.
If you are going for a week or more, it is a real advantage to hire a car to explore. Spend a day visiting the two mountain villages of Deya on the north-west coast, and Valdemossa, just inland to the south. Made famous by Robert Graves who wrote I, Claudius while living there from 1930, Deya has a rustic church, twisting streets of stone houses, an enchanting cove where you can swim or snorkel and 16 restaurants, including the one-Michelin star Es Racó d’es Teix. Equally picturesque, Valdemossa was the village to which Frederic Chopin and his lover Georges Sand flex in 1838. Stroll and people watch from one of its bars or cafés, and don’t miss the monastery where the couple stayed.
A car is not an advantage if you are visiting Palma, since parking is a nightmare, but do take the bus or a taxi to see the glorious Gothic cathedral, now magnificently landscaped with impressive gardens and fountains, and the streets of the Old Town that surround it. Now elegantly renovated and refurbished, they are stuffed with chains like Zara and Mango, local indie boutiques, cafés and restaurants.
St Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort, Costa d’en Blanes (www.stregis.com/mardavall; 0034 971 629 629), has double rooms from 570¤ (£494) per night, with breakfast. Half-board 52¤ (£45) per person per day. Seven nights in a double room with breakfast, three dinners, Rolls-Royce airport transfers and Anne Semonin facial, from 655¤ (£567) per night. Holiday Autos (www.holidayautos.co.uk)offer one week’s fully inclusive car hire from £86, or day rate from £13. Jewish tours of Mallorca: Milk and Honey Tours (firstname.lastname@example.org).
● Mallorca was home to a sizable Jewish population from the 5th century, and a centre for cartography in which Jews, including Jafuda Cresques, who drew maps said to have been used by Christopher Columbus, played a key role.
● Repression in the 14th and 15th centuries led to forced conversions
● A small Jewish community was founded in Palma in 1971 and has around 100 members. The total number of Jews on Mallorca is estimated at around 300. In 1987, a new synagogue in Calle Monseñor Palmer was inaugurated.