Think Spain, think again: discover Deia in Majorca

by simon.nixon

While many people only see Majorca for its sun, sea and crowds, this Balearic island does have its stylish side. Fall in love with the hidden gem that is Deia

Clinging to the side of a steep hill in the Tramuntana mountain range on the north-west coast of Majorca is the breathtakingly beautiful village of Deia. Once a sleepy, forgotten backwater and a hang-out for hippies, it is now home to a vibrant arts community, and those who visit for a week can end up staying a lifetime. I admit that if it wasn't for Deia, I wouldn't have gone back to Majorca – but having discovered it, I now try to go back every year if I can. Many other regulars have been coming back for more than two decades.
It’s just a 40-minute drive from the airport in Palma, but feels a world away from the crowds and the chaos. Surrounded by orange, lemon and olive groves, the village is impossibly picturesque and its narrow alleys of stone houses curl down a lush valley to a shingle beach where the water is clear and warm. It's the village that time forgot.
The place to stay in Deia is the exclusive La Residencia, one of the best known hotels in Majorca and, in my opinion, the best in all of Europe. Carved out of two 16th and 17th-century manor houses, and set against the dramatic backdrop of the mountains, the hotel enjoys panoramic views over the village. It attracts its fair share of celebs – Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta Jones, Bob Geldof, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Branson (who used to own the place) are among the regulars, while Tom Hanks, Sting, Bruce Springsteen and Kate Moss have all signed the visitors book; the late Diana, Princess of Wales also stayed here after her separation from Charles.
But while the hotel oozes glamorous luxury, it’s also friendly and low-key. Everyone dresses down and no-one bats an eyelid at the gathering of famous faces around the pool (who are generally far more preoccupied with contemplating or composing, than flirting with the likes of OK! or Hello! magazine). Orient-Express Hotels bought the property from Richard Branson several years ago, and gave it a million-pound makeover, which included an incredible new spa and eight new ‘Tramuntana’ suites, cut into the hillside behind the hotel. Each of the suites has a private terrace from which you can enjoy sensational views over Deia; some also boast their own plunge pool. But you don't have to splash out to enjoy the experience, as even the smallest rooms are delightful, each lovingly decorated in traditional Majorcan style.
I'm a real foodie and for me Deia is gastronomic heaven. In fact, speak to anyone who's been to Deia and they'll tell you the food is as good as anywhere in mainland Europe, comparable even with the best that Barcelona or the South of France has to offer.
While La Residencia’s Michelin-starred restaurant, El Olivio, offers gracious fine-dining, Deia itself boasts a host of excellent restaurants, and I'd highly recommend the Michelin-starred Es Raco d'es Teix - otherwise known as Josef's. El Olivio's renowned German chef, Josef Sauerschell, left La Residencia to set up the place around six years ago, and now does the cooking while his wife is in charge of front of house. The restaurant is small and booking is essential in high season - especially if you want one of the highly sought-after seats on the terrace to soak up the incredible views over the mountains and village. The food is stunning without being fussy. The fish is fresh from the market in neighbouring Soller; the octopus is incredible, the lobster ravioli sensational, and Andrew Lloyd Webber dubs the prawns ‘the best in the world’.
Another of my favourites is Sebastian's, where the specialities change every day, but include such delicacies as sea bass with truffled cucumber spaghetti, and breast of guinea fowl. The place is absolutely lovely.
If you want to work off your meal, then take a stroll up the hill to marvel at the glorious views and atmospheric 15th century church that sits at the top of the village. Despite the influx of tourists, Deia has not been overdeveloped; there's no high-rise in sight, and still quite a “hippy” feel to the place when you wander through the narrow streets.
One of the village’s most famous residents was the poet and novelist Robert Graves, who wrote most of his important works in these beautiful surrounds. He is now buried in the church at the top of the hill, and his family opened his villa as a museum in 2006. A great way to find out more about him and his fellow bohemians is by taking the Deia artists' tour.
With a little more time to spare, spend a day exploring the north-west of Majorca, around Deia, Soller and Port de Soller. This is the best area for walking and the road from Deia to Soller - a pretty mountain trail with exquisite sea views, past orange and lemon trees and herds of goats - will take you a couple of hours. Alternatively, hop on a bike to explore this rural part of Majorca; La Residencia will furnish you with detailed route notes to keep you on track. When you get to Soller, enjoy a fresh orange juice in one of the main square's pavement cafes and then reward yourself with a delicious seafood lunch in one of the fish restaurants.
This side of Majorca, with its stunning scenery and beautiful villages may surprise you if, in the past, you've only ever seen the island's crowded beach resorts. But once you've arrived in Deia, kicked off your shoes by the pool, done a few long walks, enjoyed a spa treatment or two, and eaten some fantastic food, it won't be long before you're planning your return trip to Majorca.
Josef's - Es Raco d'es Teix: 34 971 639 501
Sebastian's: 34 971 639 417