No Shoes Required - ST. REGIS MARDAVALL

Alex Benasuli takes a jaunt to the beautiful Balearic island of Mallorca, for a helping of end of season Spanish sun at a classic full-service deluxe resort

The largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands has been one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations for decades. Blessed with 300 sunny days every year, together with warm temperatures that stretch from mid-March to mid-October, Mallorca has something for everyone. Long, sandy beaches and more intimate rocky coves serve as the backdrop to historic sites, exclusive marinas, happening beach clubs and quality seafood restaurants.

Traditional communities are interspersed with luxury villas and more commercial tourist districts, in a way that doesn’t compromise the sheer beauty of this stunning Spanish island. Away from the coast, mountain ranges carve up in the interior into peaks, valleys and plains of immaculate stone villages, groves of almond and olive trees, pine forests and Mallorquin windmills.

Because Mallorca was ruled by the Moors for 300 years, a lot of place names sound a little Arabic. You can visit bodegas and vineyards in Binissalem, the heart of Mallorca’s boutique wine industry. Or pick oranges in the beautiful valley of Sóller, which is particularly gorgeous during the first few months of the year when the fruit are ripe. And the mountains in the south-west, between Andratx and Cap Deia, are simply stunning to cruise through, especially in a cabriolet.

Palma, the island’s seafront capital, is a bustling city of 400,000 with one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Spain, centuries of history and vibrant arts, shopping and gastronomic scenes. Sun worshippers and boating aficionados enjoy the sandy beaches and coastal scenery. Nature lovers adore exploring the island’s many national parks.

Culture vultures are drawn to the handful of villages that have fostered artists for generations. And foodies revel in the burgeoning agro tourism scene, which has opened up to visitors Mallorca’s ecology, farming, local gastronomy and island customs. Whether you like your holiday chilled and relaxed or full of activities, it’s easy to see why Mallorca’s all-round appeal is so alluring.

There are times in life when only a full-service luxury resort will do. When that resort is set in its own, private sprawling garden complex, in the shadow of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range and directly in front of the tranquil Mediterranean, then even better. Add to this the reputation for sophistication and modern luxury that have become defining characteristics of the St. Regis brand, and you basically have the makings of a hospitality winner.

Twenty minutes from Palma’s well-connected international airport, St. Regis Mardavall, located on Mallorca’s southwestern coast, is a true destination within a destination, and epitomises the essence of a classic high-end resort hotel. A long driveway flanked by mountain vistas and Mediterranean landscaping, leads arriving guests to the property’s main building, of three. Designed in traditional Mallorquin finca style – in a combination of stone, ochre stucco, tiling and exposed timber – it is imposing yet not grandiose.

Check-in takes place on one of the hotel’s numerous terraces, which offer views over perfectly manicured lawns towards the sparkling blue sea. Welcome drinks and light bites ease the arrival process, as the welcoming and efficient reception staff take care of all the formalities, and promptly ensure that guests feel right at home and begin to relax in the first moments of their stay. Soaking up gentle sea breezes, and adapting to the calm of such a gorgeous spot and unhurried pace of life, is quite a start to one’s holiday.

One of the hallmarks of the St. Regis experience is the brand’s renowned butler service and its Mardavall property is no exception. Professional butlers help guests unpack, serve complimentary coffee and newspapers each morning, arrange for clothes to be pressed and are generally available 24/7. St. Regis does butlering very well indeed. And, knowing that one’s personal butler is but a button away, is a somewhat decadent luxury that utterly elevates the guest experience to another level.

Once installed in a guest room and unpacked, one’s shoes can come off and travel clothes swapped for pool and beachwear. The hotel’s 125 rooms and suites are large, and the vast majority have full or partial sea views. All have terraces. Even entry-level room categories have separate sitting and work areas. Beds are enormous and supremely comfortable.

Bathrooms feature double washbasins, big bathtubs and walk-in showers. Terraces are sufficiently ample to dine al fresco, as well as recline on comfy deck chairs draped with blankets on slightly chillier evenings outside of the mid-summer months.

Suites come in various configurations and some include jacuzzis, kitchenettes and private plunge pools. Families have the added benefit of being able to select rooms that can interconnect to form serviced apartment-style vacationing.

All guest accommodations will be remodelled and upgraded when the property closes in mid-November. Come early spring 2018, visitors will experience a more contemporary and bold, yet elegant palette. Rooms will feature wood floors and a more classic Mediterranean look will prevail, with dark blue accents offsetting the gorgeous natural light that fills every room.

Early mornings on the terrace, sipping freshly brewed coffee, nibbling on warm croissant and perusing my newspaper of choice, with the sea in front of me, was sublime. Large expanses of well-manicured and luxuriant gardens, together with lush green lawns, beckon from every angle. A barefoot stroll across the garden is the best shortcut to the swimming pool, cascading over three levels and rumoured to be the largest in Mallorca.

Comfy chairs for lounging surround the pool, and are strategically placed in clusters amidst the greenery, providing guests with a degree of space and privacy. Canopied outdoor beds cater to those who take their chillaxing more seriously. Taking short walks around the grounds, thick blades of grass underfoot, exploring the different vantage points of the sea and shady spots beneath the trees, are a great way to pass the time while expertly pursuing the art of lounging.

Inevitably St. Regis Mardavall is popular with families, particularly during school holidays. In another section of the garden, close enough for parents to stroll over and check up on their brood but far enough away so as not hear them, the hotel’s kids club comprises two shaded swimming pools and a club house, and provides all manner of organised activities for younger guests. This set-up skillfully keeps the main pool primarily for adults, while children have their own domain in which to have the time of their lives.

Spa and wellness fans will likely fall in love with St. Regis Mardavall. An oasis of tranquility, its Arabella Spa is truly exceptional and offers the most extensive variety of treatments on the island. Like a hidden Atlantis within the resort, an indoor pool flows into an outdoor pool, with another array of lounging areas for those seeking more privacy. Guests unwind in saunas, steam baths and an Egyptian saltwater pool.

More than a dozen treatment rooms offer everything from nail care and traditional massages to luxuriant rituals and anti-aging therapies. Two dedicated traditional Chinese medicine doctors are on hand to delve into their millennia-long heritage, and address everything from sleep issues to digestion and joint pains. Chinese medicine is not only about acupuncture and acupressure – bespoke herbal remedies and teas are an intrinsic part of treatments, and leave guests feeling personally looked after and recharged. Spending half a day or even a few hours at Arabella Spa is akin to temporarily tapping into a fountain of youth.

Whilst St. Regis Mardavall is a relaxed place and positively encourages bare feet and beachwear by day, you might be tempted to smarten up a touch of an evening. Champagne cocktails and canapés are served nightly. Es Fum, the hotel’s intimate and elegant gourmet restaurant, was awarded a Michelin star in 2011 for its innovative and exquisite cuisine. Any restaurant that starts a meal off with not one, or two, but five different flavoured butters, will always have a place in my heart. Hibiscus infused sea salt was a first and hopefully not the last, and my main of creamy rice adorned with langoustines and prawns, served with a grapefruit vinaigrette, was literally to die for.

The five to seven-course Mediterranean, seasonal and local produce-inspired tasting menus, prepared under the direction of talented chef de cuisine José Miguel Navarro, are exceptional and worth splashing out for, especially with wines expertly paired by sommelier Javier Gómez. Dining al fresco on Es Fum’s timeless terrace, whilst taking in the picture postcard views, is a gastronomic treat not to be missed when on Mallorca, whether staying at the hotel or not. (www.restaurant-esfum.com)

It is tempting to never leave the grounds during one’s stay at St. Regis Mardavall, since residents are so spoilt for choice. Either stay onsite, de-stress, unwind and allow yourself to be pampered, or venture out of the hotel and become immersed in the endless possibilities that the island has to offer. As tempting as the latter may sound, trust me, once your shoes are off and your body is kissed by the sun, it’s not easy to put them back on. I could have easily stayed nestled in between the mountains and seas, amidst the bucolic lushness and five-star facilities of St. Regis Mardavall, for a very long time. 

No Shoes Required - COCO-MAT ECO RESIDENCES SERIFOS

NICHOLAS CHRISOSTOMOU experiences an authentic slice of Hellenic history, artistically updated to create a rare hospitality experience on the shores of the Greek island of Serifos.

Luxury in terms of travelling experiences comes in many different guises. There is the obvious opulence of a lavish hotel suite, lined in silks rich woods and marble, littered with antique furniture and adorned with pricey artworks. Then there is the gastronomic luxury of consuming multiple courses of decadent foods paired with expensive wines. Personal time and space are often a luxury, especially for busy high-flying executives.

Bathing in the sun for an hour or two is considered a luxury by many, not least city folk who reside in bustling metropolises. And then there is the luxury of beholding a spectacular vista, feeling like it belongs solely to you, waking-up to the same view every morning and going to sleep at night after having watched the sun set in the horizon.

Until staying at COCO-MAT Eco Residences, on the beautiful unspoilt western Cycladic island of Serifos in the Aegean Sea, I must admit that I hadn’t ever really fully appreciated the latter. But I soon discovered that fanciful décor and all the bells and whistles in the hospitality world rather quickly paled into insignificance when confronted by such intense natural beauty, the like of which I experienced on Serifos, from my incredible vantage point above Vagia Bay, gazing down towards the calm azure waters below.

I realised soon after disembarking the Seajet ferry which whisked me there in two hours from Piraeus, as the minivan in which we were travelling to our lodgings passed fish tavernas, pastry shops and cafés lining Livadi harbour, that there was something intensely innocent and unpretentious about Serifos. I flash-backed to childhood family holidays in Cyprus, when times were carefree and young Nicholas bobbed up and down in a rubber ring on the Mediterranean. Arriving in Serifos, on a clear blue-skied June day, felt a little like stepping back into the seventies, and I knew there and then that I was in for a genuine Grecian treat.

As we traversed the winding roads, the scenery which unfolded before our eyes was quite literally breath-taking. Turning every corner gave way to another picture postcard bay or sweeping sea vista, and the island appeared to exude a calmness and reassurance that rapidly connected directly with my senses. Areas of arid terrain and wild countryside, punctuated by intense deep blue swathes of the Aegean, made me ache to get down to one of the beaches immediately, which I knew were below but couldn’t quite see.

Serifos is an island laden with history, and its mines and the people who worked them are a significant part of its past. Rich in iron ore and precious minerals, Serifos was once home to a mining industry that thrived for eighty years, giving prosperity to the island and growing the population. The exploitation of Serifos’ mineral resources by Emilios Gromman and his family began in 1885 and continued until 1962 when the mines closed as reserves depleted, production costs increased and metal prices were in decline around the world. The rusty remains of mining machinery, tools and carts dot some of the island’s lush green hills like poetic reminders of Serifos’ industrial past. In some places it feels like the workers literally downed their tools, stopped the wagons and walked away forever. COCO-MAT Eco Residences has been fashioned in such a way as to respect the everyday lives of the hardworking miners of the island’s bygone era and, in some way, keep their memory alive.

Set on wide, sandy and un-commercialised Vagia beach, free of tavernas and forming part of one of the most picture-perfect bays on the island, a hillside cluster of one-time grey-stone miners’ quarters built a century earlier, have been reimagined to create a rare hospitality experience incorporating an authentic slice of Greek history. Well-known architect, George Zafiriou, in conjunction with coveted contemporary Hellenic hospitality and sleep products brand, COCO-MAT, reworked the site into just over a dozen spacious two-storey residence-styled hotel suites, that skilfully merge the traditional elements of local architecture with an expansive industrial feel, to create hospitable spaces oozing natural light, in complete harmony with their surroundings. COCO-MAT’s involvement in this project is evident throughout what is essentially an über-relaxed boutique resort, catering to the needs of discerning travellers looking for a unique and tranquil spot for a hassle-free and peaceful break. Even the smallest details, such as room keys and slippers, are thoughtfully connected to the hotel’s warm and eco-friendly concept.

COCO-MAT Eco Residences is essentially a place to decompress, switch-off and, well, sit back with a drink in hand and simply admire the extraordinary scene in front of you. Because this resort is all about the somewhat implausible views, which draw the eye from every room, terrace and window. Within minutes of unpacking, shortly after dusk and quite unplanned, I fell into a sleep which lasted for almost twenty hours straight, waking only to eat, rehydrate and then drift back into a super contented slumber.

Obviously the further up the hillside you go the more spectacular the panorama beneath you. We were lucky enough to be staying in one of the highest two-bedroomed residences, which boasted a sprawling sun-trap-of-a-terrace off a spacious lounge cum dining room laid with brushed-concrete floors, cute trompe l’oeil tiles and simple handmade rugs. Both the rustic chic al fresco breakfast area – fashioned out of old timber planks and weighty remnants of oxidised mining equipment – and the more formal circular dining table inside could comfortably seat eight. Meanwhile deep custom-made built-in sofas, upholstered in restful shades of pale blue and grey, just screamed to be laid on. In fact there was not a part of the residence which didn’t feel snug, inviting or gently calming. Talented interior designers Ioanna Founti and Zili Karahaliou have deftly crafted warm and well-lit spaces, rich in earth tones, with an aesthetic made up of just the right combination of selected Serifos finds and restrained decorative items from Athens, complete with subtle nods to colonial style.

The only time I needed footwear during our four-night stay was to ride our rented quad bike around the island. Other than that I had pretty much no use for my Rivieras at all. Breakfasts of warm spanakopita, fresh fruits and melon, just-squeezed juices and the most divine Masticha Chai with honey were usually served to our room, even on days when I woke closer to lunchtime. And whilst there were countless places to go, hidden beaches to explore and must-see island sites to visit, quite honestly it was really just too tempting to do absolutely nothing but laze in the sun or have another lie down. The enormous all-natural daybeds on our terrace were for more than just sun-worshipping and siestas – more than once I seriously considered sleeping under the stars.

In so expertly unifying nature, simplicity and elegance in one exclusive yet unstuffy beachfront location, COCO-MAT Eco Residences not only offers a place to dispense with the cares and worries of our hectic 21st century lives, but also unwind, rest and rejuvenate ready to face the world again. The resort’s authentic Cycladic design merged with unadorned industrial order and casual eco-friendly ethos was the perfect setting for my barefoot Greek island break from reality. I can honestly say that parting from the spectacular views of Vagia Bay, to which I had woken on four splendid mornings, was not an easy or pleasurable task. 

Nicholas made the two-hour crossing from Piraeus (Athens) direct to Serifos on a Seajet catamaran www.seajets.gr/en