In Menorca, the first ‘private Parador’ opens its doors
In Menorca, the first ‘private Parador’ opens its doors

In 1928, King Alfonso XIII personally supported the opening of a hotel with views of the snow-capped Sierra de Gredos to the west of Madrid. Like his predecessor Francisco Franco decades later, Alfonso recognized the potential of tourism to boost Spain’s wealth and image. (It’s perhaps no coincidence that the new hotel is also located on the king’s favorite hunting grounds.)

The country retreat became a hit, becoming the first of more than 90 hotels owned by the state-owned Paradores group, most of which breathe life into historic buildings. Nearly a century later, another prominent Spaniard (whose wealth was the envy of some kings) is creating a private-sector version of a similar hotel, a historic chain that the Spanish press has dubbed “the Paradores of the 21st century.” .

In 2016, doctor Victor Madera oversaw the sale of Quironsalud, the private hospital empire he built, to a German company for 5.8 billion euros in 2016. Madeira received shares worth 400 million euros in the deal. In fact, before this windfall, Madeira and his wife, María Obdulia Fernández, had been quietly acquiring historic properties in need of restoration for the past 15 years, with a view to Build a series of characteristic accommodation places.

Son Vell, the first hotel in their Vestige chain of hotels, has just opened and is located in the south-west corner of Menorca, Mallorca’s oft-overlooked little sister, just a few miles from the cobbled city of Ciutadella. not far. In mid-August, I was the first reporter to report.

Four Poster Double Lounge Chairs in a lush green garden

Poolside lounge chairs in the garden of Vestige Son Vell © Gabriele Merolli

18th century stately homeor manor, is a honey-colored monument tidalIt is a light-colored sandstone that has been mined from the ground for thousands of years. Under the gabled roof and first-floor loggias, formal gardens draw the eye to the Mediterranean Sea a few hundred yards away.

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“There are a lot of properties in Spain that are in very bad condition,” Maria told me, as she showed me the two eldest of her four daughters: Marta, 25, and Claudia, 23, who are also in Vestige. Work. “If we can buy them, we can give them new life. To me, that’s a very satisfying thing.”

To date, the family’s portfolio includes 25 historical monuments across Spain. They are in various states of restoration and include an abandoned 13th-century castle. The family’s ambitions are so grand, with an undisclosed budget, that they have formed their own architecture firm in Madrid, where more than 40 designers are reimagining the properties as a mix of hotels and rental private residences. More hotels will open in the coming years in Mallorca, as well as in Asturias, Extremadura and San Sebastian on the mainland.

In 1762, aristocratic farmer Josep Vigo Squella bought the 180-acre estate in Son Vell, and his family gradually transformed the main building into the style of an Italian mansion. It was a moth-eaten farmhouse for much of the 20th century until a Madrid-based investment firm bought it in 2006 and later drew up controversial plans to turn it into a 56-room hotel , and four new buildings were added.

A double bed in a traditional room with wooden beams, plaster walls and brick floors
A bedroom in the main house with original terracotta tiles © Gabriele Merolli

Menorca has been spared the development of tourism that has reshaped much of the Spanish coastline. In 1993, UNESCO granted the island Biosphere Reserve status. Planning laws prohibit almost all new significant construction. Hotel developers must use existing resources and focus on conservation and restoration.Previous plans would have made Son Vell the largest farmhouse, or restored farmhouse hotels, can be found all over Menorca. But plans stalled and Madeira made an undeniable offer, placating local skeptics with a more cautious 34-room proposal.

The family began a complete renovation of the home, which previously had only one caretaker. Above an intimate bar and living space, there are now six rooms, up to a spacious luxury suite, clad in thick herringbone terracotta tiles throughout. Walls are finished in exposed stone, white or lime stucco, while bathrooms feature sleek marble vanities.

“The setting is old and restored, but you also feel like you’re in the 21st century,” says María, who oversees Vestige’s interiors, and likes the minimalist luxury of Belgian designer Axel Vervoordt.

My own room was a spacious garden suite in a newer building that formed a sort of modernist hamlet among ancient olive groves, a short walk from the house through a well-kept spin well. Its yoke was probably tied to a coiled donkey. There’s the restored stables, with more rooms, and the Vermell restaurant, where I’ll be later with Maria and her daughters for some delicious red mullet.

A group of people sit at a long table in a courtyard, waiters in long aprons
Diners on the terrace of Sa Clarisa, one of Son Vell’s two restaurants © Gabriele Merolli

A former teacher, Maria met Madeira in her native Asturias, when he was still in medical school. When he got into hospital administration and business, they started collecting antique furniture. After moving to London and sending their daughter to an international school, they found further inspiration in their country home in England.

By restoring the Palacio de Figueras, a dilapidated Asturian complex on Spain’s northern coast, currently leased by Vestige, the family has grown to become guardians of Spanish heritage. The family has since heard news of other endangered properties. “In the UK, everyone takes pride in their heritage just to visit a country house two hours away,” Marta said. “We really don’t have that mentality.”

The refreshed venue is arguably the star of Son Vell, and the antique pool is one of the loveliest pools I’ve ever dipped in. Set like a jewel among lawns, date palms and red canova roses, it is perfectly proportioned and has the shape of a classical stadium, and Vitruvius himself might be content to recline on one of the luxurious cottages dotting the lawn , with Italian spray.

Before breakfast one day, I borrowed a bike and rode to Cala de Son Vell, a notch in the Camí de Cavalls, a 115-mile coastal trail that circles the island. I continue east to Platja de Son Saura, a stretch of sparkling white sand, and after a swim, return for an omelet cooked with Sobrassada, a revered Balearic spiced sausage.

Son Vell isn’t the only upscale farmstead here. The French Experiment Group converted another handsome estate on the south coast in 2018, while the nearby Toralbench Hotel and Winery set the standard for rustic luxury in 2013. Hauser & Wirth opens in 2021 on an island close to the island. Mahón, the capital of Menorca, further enhances its appeal as a trendy destination, as well as an antidote to the rowdy parts of Ibiza or Mallorca.

There are two wicker chairs and a table by the big window

Son Vell’s Terrace Suite is a place to relax © Gabriele Merolli

Interior View of Vermell Restaurant

Vermell, the hotel’s more formal restaurant © Gabriele Merolli

The other guests at the Son Vell during my stay were mainly couples in their 40s, including a Dutch fragrance executive and a British architect who had moved in with his French-American wife who ran a high-end vintage fashion website Spent 17 nights with their two year old son. On my last day, a Brazilian actor and influencer with 20 million followers on Instagram arrives. A Texan family and a Victoria’s Secret model are looking for a wedding venue, one of dozens of early requests to “buy out” the entire hotel.

As tempting as it is to linger by the pool or beach, Menorca has a lot more to discover. I toured with Marcel Piqueras, a 29-year-old guide and aspiring archaeologist. He drove me to the rougher, wilder North in an old, convertible Land Rover. On the plateau, along an unmarked, rugged dirt road, he showed me the nearly 4,000-year-old prehistoric settlement of Son Mercer de Baix, where a stone house shaped like an upside-down ship still stands. High in the Son Fideu gorge, Piklas whistled to elicit a response from the hovering vultures, our only companions.

The settlement is one of dozens applying to have the entire island listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also includes a T-shaped tower built of rock by the prehistoric Taraoti civilization. Pickles said the money from the winning bid would be used to carry out new excavations. “We know there are some towers here and houses around them, but no one has looked for them yet,” he said.

Aerial view of white sandy bay, blue sea and boats
A few hundred meters from the hotel is the typical white sandy beach of Menorca

We continue north to Fornells, a charming fishing port and resort for Spanish second home owners. Vestige plans to open another hotel nearby next year. Guests love Sa Llagosta, where I watched people go by as chef and patron David de Coca served me a delicious appetizer of anchovies with pickles, followed by lobster.

The Menorcan pride in their heritage is evident in recent buildings.Hundreds of 19th-century igloos tent, or stone storm shelters for livestock, dot the fields. Vestige failed to obtain planning permission to convert a room close to the swimming pool into a spa. (The spa will open in two years at a nearby farm building).

I am most fascinated by the farm and garden gates all over Menorca. They are hewn from rough, wind-bent wild olive tree wood, further shaped by artisans known as “olive trees.” arades. The rustic elegance of the doors gives a Menorcan feel. “It’s very real to me that people know how to protect the island,” Maria told me as we sat down for dinner by the ancient well.

It’s this dedication, both inside and outside of Son Vell’s dry stone walls, that elevates the place more than any small fortune. Maria herself was not able to relax and enjoy it. “Maybe next year I’ll be able to do that,” she said, staring at the lawn. By then, she may face competition of her own as the family’s new empire grows.

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Simon Usborne as guest of Vestige Son Vell (Relic Collection Network). Double room rates from €603 per night (including breakfast) in September and from €337 per night in October

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