Sir Richard Branson’s love affair with Majorca, which was marred with disputes with the local authorities over his plans for the Son Bunyola estate, never really ended and proof of this is that at the end of 2015 he repurchased the sprawling Son Bunyola estate perched on the coast in Banyalbufar. Some 15 years ago, Sir Richard told the Bulletin that he wanted to transform Son Bunyola into the "best eco-resort in Europe", but the local authorities had other ideas and after a brutal battle with the local mayor and some other bodies opposed to his plan, he pulled out of Majorca, selling the emblematic La Residencia Hotel in Deya as well. But he did not sell Son Bunyola lock and stock.
The Virgin Limited Group has maintained a luxury villa on the property called Sa Terra Rotja. The property boasts four bedrooms, sleeps a maximum of eight people and is fully catered for and offers complete privacy.
The Son Bunyola estate is approximately 4,000 acres, set in mountains, valleys, pine forests, farmland and five kilometres of coastline. The property includes another private villa, which Mike Oldfield owned for a number of years, and central to the estate is a large historic manor house dating from the 1800s, unused now but forming an incredible centrepiece to the dramatic scenery.
Terracing surrounds the manor house with vines, citrus fruit trees, almonds and olive trees. In the past, Son Bunyola was a very important estate on the island and used to produce its own olive oil and wine, but farms in this area became less economic as machinery replaced manual labour. Over the past ten years, much of the land has been restored to its former glory.
Many almond and fruit trees and vines have been planted and this is what Branson wants to continue. It is understood that he wants to transform the manor house into a boutique hotel but also intends to continue with his plans to convert the estate in to an eco-resort - "the very best in Europe", as he said.
He has told the Bulletin about his passion for the island and his plans for the future.
Why has Majorca always held such an important place in your heart?
"Majorca has always held a special place in my heart. I first visited it when I was a child. My son Sam even named his own daughter, Eva-Deia, in honour of the west Majorcan town, Deya.
The north west coast of Majorca has always been a location that I have great fondness for. It has so much to offer. There’s unspoilt nature, picturesque villages, top-class restaurants and finca hotels and culture. The region is dominated by the Tramuntana mountain range and its breathtaking scenery, and is home to some of the most historical and picturesque towns on the island."
After what happened previously with Son Bunyola why come back?
"We owned the estate some years ago and always retained a fondness for it and Majorca. When the opportunity arose in 2015 to buy Son Bunyola we couldn’t resist. Now with grandkids in tow it’s lovely to be able to spend more time in a place that means a great deal to all of us, the villas really are perfect for families."
Are the plans similar to the original ones, the best eco resort in Europe?
"Central to the Son Bunyola estate is a finca building dating back to the 1800s surrounded by vines, citrus fruit trees, almonds and olive trees. It’s absolutely beautiful, and I look forward to seeing how plans progress.
At Son Bunyola we recruit locally and source food and wine from right here in the region. We work hard to protect the beautiful landscape we’re so fortunate to occupy. Our approach includes a commitment to responsible supply chain management, fair trade policies, ethical dealings with our employees as well as the local community, and of course the environment."
Why do you still consider Majorca a destination worthy of serious investment in the luxury market?
"Everyone’s perception of luxury is personal and individual. I love spending time with my family and enjoy the time we have together - I’m able to do so every time we come to Majorca. For me, Majorca is a very special place. The Son Bunyola estate is the perfect place to relax and recharge or use the opportunity to explore the picturesque local towns and embrace the culture."
Is perhaps now a better time with the tourist industry much more concerned about sustainable tourism and protecting the environment, I know these are issues you are concerned about?
"At Virgin we owe it to our customers and our teams to ensure that our future economic growth is built on firm, ethically sustainable business models. Businesses need to be bold and creative, to develop radical new products and find alternative ways of doing business.
Since innovation and creativity are at the heart of the Virgin culture we feel that our group of businesses are well placed to take advantage of the opportunity this presents."
And Branson has the full support of the local mayor. Mateu Ferra has been calling on the Council of Majorca for the past year to have Son Bunyola classified as a general interest site which will open the doors for Branson to embark on his project.
The mayor not only wants to see the properties on the estate renovated and restored to their former glory, he also appreciates the large number of local jobs which will be created and how the hotel would greatly benefit the local economy.
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