by Clive Irving
Hotel art is generally appalling. For many decades, the notable exception has been La Colombe d'Or, a hotel that sits on a ridge above the French Riviera at St. Paul de Vence and is renowned for being as much an art gallery as a lodging. On the grounds are large murals by Léger and Braque and, by the pool, a Calder mobile. Inside are original works by once hard-up artists who paid for their rooms in canvases, including Picasso, Matisse, and Miró. Then there is the setting and the light, part of the conspiracy of location that bred such legendary talents: Chagall illuminated a chapel in nearby Vence, and a fine gallery of modern greats is also at hand in the Fondation Maeght.
Few hotels, however, occupy such inspiring locales as La Colombe d'Or. So applause, please, for the Gran Hotel Son Net, hidden away in a highland valley of Mallorca. The building is a sensitively restored country estate, or finca, dating from 1672. There you will find works by Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, and David Hockney, among others, as well as some sketches by the Great Wrapper, Cristo, of buildings he sought to enrobe. These are not one-off originals, which would require deep pockets, but they are well chosen from limited-edition prints and are appropriately framed (including a Hockney, whose frame is part of a geometric joke with planes of color) and carefully hung in public spaces.
The Son Net is an example of the kind of luxury retreat that has, in recent years, appeared in the Tramuntana Mountains of western Mallorca. The discovery of the area's beauty began with Robert Graves, who wrote I, Claudius while living on the island and who later settled in the village of Deya for his final years. This also happens to be the location of La Residencia, which introduced to Mallorca new (and expensive) levels of pampering.
Pervasive images of Mallorcan beaches thronged by the tanning torsos of Brits and Germans on package tours are confounded by this other side of an island that is making great efforts to go upscale and go green, harnessing its traditional windmill skills and solar power.The cuisine, too, is making strides with local ingredients and wines that are, for the first time, up to the standards of the rest of Spain.