Foolishly, our hearts sank as we approached the austere-looking walls of Son Brull – it just seemed so far from our mental picture of design-hotel comfort. Little did we realise: the monks who once inhabited this converted 12th-century monastery/farm would be amazed at the heights of relaxation achieved by the sybarites occupying their old home.
The vast wooden olive-oil presses on which the monks once toiled line the walls of a candlelit bar scattered with low-lying Scandinavian chairs. Beyond the courtyard where horses were once kept, an infinity pool gently overflows. Further inside, down stone-cut steps, nestles the quiet haven of the spa and the greenish waters of a connected indoor and outdoor pool. A religious experience, perhaps, but not the kind that the brotherhood had in mind. After the hour-long trip from Palma airport on the twisty roads of Mallorca, Son Brull proved itself to be exactly the oasis we’d dreamed of.
The beaming receptionist, whose black outfit matched the carpeted stairs, took us to our room. A vision of discerning good taste, with little wooden shutters on the tiny windows, and views over the gardens, the room had tons of space for unpacking and general lounging on the Scandinavian oak chairs, as well as a Bang & Olufsen TV. A vast bed with silky cotton sheets, linen throws and white sofas kept the room feeling cool (teamed with top-notch air-conditioning). And in the bathroom with brushed-concrete floor, double sinks, shower room and ‘therapy’ bath with water jets, there were enough bottles of potions for us to have our own in-room spa experience (although there are massages and facials on offer in the sauna rooms here, too).
Just as folk back home would be contemplating crumpets and tea, we were assured that we’d arrived in time for lunch, which is served until 18h30 (don’t you love the Spanish timetable?). Some Spanish guests obviously needed all the time over lunch they could get, we thought, as we watched them neck-deep in glasses of Armagnac with their coffee. Beneath a reed screen that blocked out the overhead sun, we ate pa amb oli (local bread with Serrano ham and Mahón cheese) washed down with cold beers, enjoying the breeze and views of ancient olive trees. Shady areas beckoned for a siesta, scattered with sculptures and scented flower beds planted with giant blue agapanthus, roses and jasmine; it was time to let out a deep breath and ponder if there was any need to leave the hotel at all over the weekend.
There are several secluded spaces at Son Brull that allow you to get away from people, so you never feel crowded, and the walls of the rooms are of a solid mediaeval thickness that leaves you wondering if there’s anyone else staying in the hotel at all. With an all-important breeze and view of the landscape, the cerulean-blue mosaic tiled indoor/outdoor pool is the centre point of the hotel, right next door to the restaurant. In order that you never feel too scrutinised by other guests, there is a raised area with enough double beds covered in vast towels for everyone. White curtains can be drawn around your bed, to blow in the breeze in a tantalising Far Pavilions style, though they are, of course, intended in more of a Balearic, chill-out way. At night, candles are lit around the pool, and more cushions scattered around the decking.
Clearly, some of the guests summon the energy to make the trip to clubs like Abraxas, Virtual Club or Tito’s, and emerge the following afternoon for a bed by the pool. But the majority of residents are plugged into their iPods or novels, sipping cordials in a daze. We had a toddler (a bit of a challenge, with the infinity pool acting like a magnet), although, amazingly, no one batted an eyelid when she shouted at birds and laughed loudly into the quiet. The hotel is really an ideal place for romantic couples – of which there were many – and we grabbed the chance to join their ranks by hiring a babysitter for an entire afternoon.
Apart from seeing and being seen on one of Palma’s hippest of dancefloors, the other temptation to lure you away from the hotel are the beaches. Cala de Sant Vicenç is a short drive from the hotel and is one of the best beaches on the island. We swam in the bay and dozed on the sunloungers, but in such midsummer heat we only lasted a few hours before deciding that the hotel’s cool showers and on-tap waiters were much more appealing than feeling sticky, hot and in need of somewhere to eat.
The hotel’s restaurant is outdoors in good weather (which is most of the time), otherwise meals are served indoors among the huge old olive presses. The evening menu is modern, with plenty of fashionable froth flourishes and adventurous combinations, all very well presented. It is one of the most sought-after restaurants in Mallorca and attracts lots of Spaniards, guaranteeing, in turn, an effervescent atmosphere.
As I tucked into excellent marinated mackerel, chilled almond soup and cottage cheese mousse from the menu degustación, I had to raise a toast to all those abstemious monks who once toiled within these walls. Son Brull is a beautifully converted building, with every comfort refined far beyond the point of necessity: this was a discipline we could happily prescribe ourselves.