Not so long ago, a holiday in Mallorca meant cheap sun-and-sangria package deals. Should tourists stray from their beach towels to visit Palma, the capital, they would find themselves wandering through a warren of narrow streets lined with murky and unappealing restaurants. In recent years, this now-magnificent town has gone through a renaissance. Es Baluard, a new museum of modern art, opened in 2004, with works from artists such as Picasso and Miro, and the Old Town itself has been smartly modernised with great new places to eat and drink, and smart designer-clothes shops. The once-gloomy cobbled streets now seem almost magical, revealing at each turn a plaza or palace dating back several centuries, the whole of the ancient quarter overlooked by the city’s imposing Gothic cathedral. Emblematic of all these changes is Puro.
Part of a crop of boutique hotels now sprouting in the Old Town, Puro is striking proof of Palma’s new cosmopolitanism. But initially, it’s a spot that is also easy to miss. Converted from a 14th-century palace hotel in the former fish-market district, its simple stone exterior has hardly changed over the centuries. Step inside and it’s a different story. The hotel is built around a central courtyard of natural white stone decorated with palms and fountains, and there is a sensation of retreat from the sun-baked streets and discovery of the calm, oasis-like interior. Puro’s Swedish owner Mats Wahlstrom spent a few years touring the world by motorbike before building his hotel. He must have been collecting inspiration as he went, because the result is a design that pays homage to Marrakesh, Miami and Bali all at once.
Puro has 26 rooms, most of them overlooking the courtyard. They vary in size and shape, but all share a common sensibility that treads a delicious line between minimalism and opulence. When I checked in, I found myself in a simple white room decorated with cushions and throws embroidered with tiny mirrors, and gold-threaded sari fabrics. On the wall above the bed hung ceremonial hats from made of parrot feathers. Floor-to-ceiling wooden doors hand-carved in Bali separated the bedroom from the bathroom. These slide back to reveal a spacious wet room clad in black slate, almost the size of the bedroom itself. The effect, all told, was dizzying.
For a while I lay on the bed taking in the sensuality of the whole thing, the details and textures and fabrics all vying for my attention. This is not to say Puro is over-styled – rather, that it’s designed to invoke giddy delight. Its rooms are supposed to make your heart beat faster, and only the most hard-bitten and cynical are likely to remain immune to their idiosyncratic charm. There’s even a roof terrace with four-poster beds and a plunge pool where you can sit with a drink in your hand looking out over the terracotta tile rooftops of the Old Town.
Come night-time, Puro seems to buzz with excitement. In a corner of the bar, a DJ plays chilled-out house while stylishly dressed couples order cocktails from all-in-white staff who glide serenely through the crowds. You can still hear the throb of the music at Opio, the hotel restaurant overlooking the bar, whose walls are lined with thousands of small seashells sewn onto hessian strands. Opio serves a fusion of Mediterranean and Asian food with an emphasis on seafood and salad. We discovered dishes like ‘bohemian campfire’ sea bass with cherry tomatoes, spring onions and artichoke and fennel pesto – as elegantly prepared as every other detail of the hotel. And the atmosphere is wonderfully relaxed in the restaurant; so much so, we occasionally wondered whether the waiters had forgotten that we were the ones on holiday.
The day after arriving, we spent the afternoon at the hotel’s sister establishment, the Puro Beach Club, which lies a 15-minute drive down the coast from the centre of Palma. The Beach Club sits on a rocky promontory that juts out to sea. A seawater swimming pool offers views out to the horizon while sailing boats and windsurfers scud across the waves. Like the hotel, the décor at the Beach Club is all-white, and beneath the Mediterranean sun, the effect is dazzling: as if the white parasols around the pool are sails themselves, and the Beach Club is bobbing serenely upon the water. Such thoughts – of drifting on the ocean and sailing through the clouds – are what come to mind after a couple of days at the Puro. How could they not? The hotel is designed for dreamers and urban romantics. And for those of us that would rather choose sensibility over common sense.