Country houses for sale

Island Rising

Majorca or Mallorca, depending on which holiday brochure you might be looking at, has become a serious player in the eye-watering house price market in recent years. While it?s often dismissed by those who?ve never been as a playground for bare-bellied beer-guzzling Englishmen, those in the know have been busily buying up properties which now boast price tags to rival Belgravia. This year, the Economist stated that the Balearic Islands lie just third worldwide behind Hong Kong and South Africa for house price increases. And in 2004, according to Spain?s national bank, property prices on the largest of the Balearic archipelago had risen by 15%.

Once the undeniable monstrosities that are the resorts which hug the island?s capital, Palma, are out of sight, the charms of Mallorca are obvious. The 250 days of sunshine, the rugged coastline interrupted with sandy beaches and the blue hues backdrop of the Tramuntana mountain range are well known. But the same praise can be heaped on most Mediterranean islands and not all are benefiting from an equal slice of the property hike pie. So what is Mallorca?s secret?

?It would be fair to say that Mallorca remains very much in the spotlight due to the wonderful climate and varied landscape but the key to its charm also lies in accessibility,? explains an agent from Engel & Volkers?s Sóller office. Popular lore on the island states that you can fly from Palma?s Son Sant Joan airport to pretty much any European capital in just two hours. That, matched with the advent of year round no-frills flights, has encouraged a new breed of home owner on the island: the commuter.

?While the Germans have been doing this for a while,? he continues, ?this is becoming more and more common with the British. Families are buying houses on the island and using them as their primary residence. The kids are sent to local schools and the mother looks after them during the week and on Friday afternoon the father will fly back from whichever country he?s been working in.?

Modern technology, the accessibility of broadband and excellent infrastructure on the island has attracted a large number of European businessmen ? not only British and German but Swedes, Swiss, French and Italians – to make Mallorca their home. Testament to this is the fact that all the international schools on the island currently have waiting lists. ?Flights are getting more and more frequent, and new routes are opening up all the time ? it?s never a problem to find a last minute seat if your presence is urgently required at a meeting,? explains Dominique Carroll of Kuhn & Partner, the largest estate agency in the Balearics.

This year is the centenary anniversary of the island?s tourist board. While Austrian Archduke Luis Salvador, brother of Ferdinand, is credited for putting the island on the map of the cognoscenti, it wasn?t really until the explosion of package holidays in the 60s and 70s that Mallorca opened up to mass tourism. Since the 90s, the local government has been beating a hasty retreat and, in an effort to re-establish the reputation of the island, moving it away from that of hedonist neighbour Ibiza, steps have been taken to circulate a more sophisticated image.

The reinvention has largely paid off and celebrity endorsements have done much to cement this change. Michael Douglas and Claudia Schiffer were some of the first to see beyond the Club 18-30 veil and they have been joined recently by others including Pierce Brosnan and Andrew Lloyd-Webber, who have both bought houses in the increasingly-exclusive mountain town of Deià. It was here that the poet Robert Graves settled for health reasons in the sixties and ever since the town has attracted a string of artists and writers who ensconce themselves in houses perched on the mountainsides.

The picturesque region between Sóller, Valldemossa and Deià, where the European aristocracy built residences in the 19th and early 20th century, is a particularly attractive part of the island to live in. But the popularity brings an inevitably challenging price tag. Engel & Volker?s Sóller office currently have a six bedroom, seven bathroom house on their books on the outskirts of Deià which is on the market for over 4 million euros. Set within 12.5 acres of land, the house has stunning views over the Mediterranean, terraced gardens a swimming pool and other trappings such as a mini gym and sauna.

But that?s not to say that the rest of the island doesn?t have sophisticated charms. Boutique hotels have been opening up all over the island in the past few years. Palma is crammed full of chic restaurants, designer shops and art galleries, and property in the capital has taken a turn for the trendy. Charmingly restored palacios in the old town around the Plaza Mayor have escalated in popularity after old style interiors have been replaced with under-floor heating and the latest domestic technology. ?Palma has seen a marked increase in property prices in the past few years and particularly in the last 12 months,? says Dominique Carroll of Kuhn & Partner. ?It?s now being hailed as the new Barcelona. The past 15 years of investment in regeneration by the local government has really come into its own. We recently took over the selling of 6 apartments in a restored palace on the waterfront of the old town ? all of them priced over 1 million euros and all have been sold.?

As the German economy has begun to recover, Germans are once again emerging as the big spenders at the top end of the market, while British buyers are especially interested apartments by the sea. ?I get a lot of requests for wrecks that people can do up but, to be honest, there aren?t many left,? says Ms Carroll. ?Development restrictions are now very strict so there will only be a certain amount of properties built in the future and there is only so much coastline for them to be built on. But the real key is that people are looking for another way of life as, for whatever reason, they are fed up of what?s happening back at home. And they are attracted to Mallorca because as an island, it is very safe and secure. Buying property here is a sure-fire investment.?

This article was published in Country Life magazine on May 26, 2005