I’ve had a dream since I was a child that I’d discover a benevolent, distant relative with a farm, complete with veggies growing on a hill, sheep grazing, and a cosy guest bedroom where I could stay. While such a relationship never materialised in real life, I found something even better in Son Bunyola, the newest offering from Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Limited Edition (VLE) collection of luxury properties scattered around the world. As I discovered less than a week after it debuted, it checks those boxes and many more.
Richard Branson’s luxury resort in Mallorca is now open
The resort on Mallorca, Spain’s northwest coast officially opened in June 2023. By any standards, it’s spectacular, and the story of how it happened, coupled with the history of the land and buildings, only adds to the mystique.
Richard Branson, who grew up visiting Mallorca with his parents, fell in love with the island’s rugged beauty and originally purchased this historic 1,300-acre property in 1994, while he owned the nearby La Residencia (now owned and operated by Belmond). Because Son Bunyola is located in the Tramuntana Mountains, the entirety of which is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, restrictions on what can be done and how are immense. Branson worked for years to obtain the necessary permissions to develop a resort and restore the crumbling structures but, frustrated with the lack of movement, sold the property in 2002. When he couldn’t let go of the vision, he bought it back in 2015.
The second time around, the team decided to pivot. “The Serra de Tramuntana is protected because of UNESCO. We could restore it, but we needed to keep it exactly the same. We couldn’t even build one more meter [onto any building],” says general manager Vincent Padioleau. The original plan was to have 50 guest rooms and suites, but that number slimmed down to 26 (the smallest of which starts at 270 square feet) to wholly work within the existing structures. Everything, down to the gravel and a mandate to re-plant the crops that once dominated the landscape, needed approval.
VLE hired GRAS – Reynés Architecture Studio, based in Mallorca’s capital of Palma. The company also brought on historian Tomás Vibot and archaeologist Elvira González Gozalo, who found that the estate was first documented in 1229, making it one of the oldest in the Valley of El Port des Canonge. Sometime in the 13th century, a square Medieval torre, or defence tower, was built to protect the coastline from pirates. Then, in the 1500s, a finca, or traditional farmhouse, was built to preside over acres of typical crops, such as almonds, olives, and the island’s most important grape, Malvasia.
Though I knew of Son Bunyola’s pedigree, when I arrived after 15 hours of travelling from Atlanta, including a 40-minute transfer from the Palma airport along twisting mountain roads, all I could think about was taking a nap. But as the massive gate at the top of the property swung open, revealing sweeping views of the Mediterranean and the gleaming sand-coloured hotel, I forgot my exhaustion, entranced by the drama of the scene.
Instead of a fussy, formal check-in process, a smiling hostess walked me through the courtyard filled with lush plants to Sa Terrassa, the hotel’s primary restaurant. An archway leads to an expansive terrace with equally arresting views of the sea and the mountains. A server appeared with a chilled glass of cava, which I sipped while wandering around the restored gardens, feeling like I’d found myself in a better-than-reality daydream.
Plush rooms with stunning views
The hotel consists of the main finca, which holds the lion’s share of the rooms plus two suites (one in the original 13th-century square defence tower and the other in a newer, round tower built in the 1930s); the Tafona building, which contains the estate’s historic olive press and houses two suites and two rooms; and an annexe building with two guest rooms overlooking newly planted vegetable gardens.
After a few minutes of soaking in the view, I was escorted to the Falcó, or falcon, suite (rooms are named for native flora and fauna) in the Tafona building. A wooden door with wrought-iron accents opened to reveal a flight of stucco stairs up to the second-floor accommodations. The 805-square-foot suite (USD 3,152/INR 2,58,768 per night in summer) includes a king-size bed beneath a wood-beamed ceiling, a spacious bathroom with a rain shower and deep soaking tub, four closets, and a living/dining room. The suite is flanked by two terraces — and the outdoor space easily doubles the suite’s square footage.
Rooms include a minibar stocked with Mallorca-made products: a variety of Maüa single-origin chocolate bars, as well as Pu!g craft sodas in flavours such as orange, lemon, ginger beer, and cola (a staffer assured me they could provide Coca-Cola if I preferred — I didn’t). Sustainability elements are woven throughout, so skillfully that you might miss them. Sparkling and still water is filtered and offered in elegant, reusable glass bottles. Pods for the in-room Nespresso machines are refillable with espresso by Arabay, a Mallorcan roaster. Instead of toss-away slippers at turndown, guests are gifted sturdy espadrilles at the beginning of their stay to use and take home.
I discovered that all of the resort’s 26 rooms are unique and designed by Rialto Living, a popular lifestyle retail store in Palma.
“We treated it like our other projects,” says Barbara Bergman, a Swedish-born designer who co-owns the company with her husband, Klas Kall. Though the designers regularly create one-of-a-kind spaces for residential clients, it was their first commercial project. “We want the guests to feel comfortable and at home, or at least like a guest in someone’s fantastic home — in Sir Richard Branson’s home in Mallorca.”
In my room, I flung open the windows overlooking the 92-foot swimming pool, complete with an infinity edge facing the coast and a separate hot tub, ringed with pristine lounge chairs and jaunty viridian green–trimmed umbrellas. A refreshing dip became an immediate priority.
As I discovered, Son Bunyola makes it easy to do as much or as little as you like. Guests can take a morning outdoor yoga class, borrow a gratis bicycle (or rent a mountain bike to navigate the island’s mountain roads, regarded as some of best cycling in the world), join a weekly history walk, play billiards or ping-pong on a shaded terrace, or hit a tennis or pickleball on one of the sun-baked courts. I wish I could report that I’d done any of those activities, but there were too many other things to absorb my time.
The food and wellness experience takes it to the next level at Richard Branson’s resort
First, there’s the food program, led by Spanish executive chef Samuel G. Galdón, who presides over menus for the aforementioned Sa Terrassa, as well as Sa Tafona, the soon-to-open wine and tapas bar. Approximately 75 percent of the ingredients used come from the island, and as the on-property crops and bee hives mature, the kitchens will take “farm to fork” to the next level. In fact, a winemaker has joined the team and VLE anticipates they’ll be able to produce their estate-grown Malvasia wine as early as 2026.
Another highlight was the 25-minute walk down to the pebble-strewn beach, my feet clad in borrowed “rock shoes” from the front desk (a must), for a paddleboarding session to navigate the glittering waters along the Banyalbufar coast. A visit to the petite spa was also a must. Located in the basement of the main finca, the two-room spa is built into the former kitchen, with one of the rooms in a massive former oven, complete with a domed ceiling made of bricks. I chose a massage using locally sourced almond oil, during which a therapist kneaded out all of my travel-induced kinks.
Some things at Son Bunyola are still works in progress. A boutique, stocked with a curated collection of stylish Spanish-made wares, is yet to open; animals including donkeys, peacocks, sheep, chickens, and pigs will join the flock of goats that already call the farm home; and a dusty, rock-strewn patch of land in front of the sea-facing façade will become a lush lawn for hosting events. And, though the hotel intends to operate year-round, it will close for some final tweaks from November 2023 to March 2024.
During the winter, the three on-estate villas (which have been operating since 2015) will also receive some upgrades, with Rialto Living leading the charge to bring them in line with the style of the hotel. And, now that Richard Branson and the Virgin team have somewhat cracked the code of such projects, they’ll set their sights on restoring the adjacent, smaller finca, Son Valentí, with hopes to open its 12 suites sometime in 2026.
The fact that I got to see it just a few days after the official opening — and while some elements were in flux — only added to the feeling of staying at the home of a hospitable friend or family member. That’s by design, and it comes from the top down. “Here, it’s not only a hotel. It’s a place to enjoy as a home because it’s Richard Branson’s home,” Padioleau tells me on my last night, as the sun sunk below the mountains.
Rooms at Son Bunyola start at USD 1,042 (INR 85,544) a night, and you can book at virginlimitededition.com.
(Hero and feature image credit: Virgin Limited Edition)
All currency conversions were done at the time of writing
This story first appeared on travelandleisure.com