Chances are you won’t be able to find S’Hotelet de Santanyi. Nor will your SatNav. Nor will the toothless crone you ask in the street. So accept that now and save yourself a lot of grief. It’s worth it when you get there, but once you’re as close as electronic devices will allow, ring the hotel for help. The owner, Francisca, is used to such calls. ‘What can you see around you?’ she asks. ‘OK, I know. I’m coming to get you.’ When you realise how close the place is to the town’s main square – 50 yards down a tiny lane that’s inaccessible by car – you feel a bit of a simpleton.
Those feelings evaporate the moment you cross the threshold into the contemporary art gallery that serves as the hotel’s hallway. Check-in consists of being handed keys to the front door and a well-edited list of best restaurants and beaches, and being asked what time you want breakfast. Then Francisca leaves you to it, saying only, ‘The house is yours.’ And what a house.
S’Hotelet de Santanyi is a characterful 300-year-old townhouse with scarcely a straight wall. It has been converted into a five-suite boutique bolthole by people with taste and a sensitive eye for maintaining the building’s natural charm. The dining room is in the place horses were fed in days gone by. The owners have kept the original trough, turning it into an arty light feature. They’re big on arty light features.
Suites are spacious, airy, high ceilinged and decorated in a warm combination of white modern minimalism and ancient Mallorcan stone. Quirky knickknacks such as a collection of jars or pieces of driftwood are positioned hither and yon, and strident works of original art dominate the walls – the kind that are either worth a small fortune or seemingly created by an experimental three-year-old.
It’s early evening when we arrive, and these Smiths pop the cork on their weekend break (figuratively and actually) to segue to holiday mode. We clink glasses of chilled fizz thanks to a complimentary minibar, and we savour the last of the evening sun on our private terrace overlooking the plunge pool and shaded courtyard amid the scent of honeysuckle. In the distance we can hear the gentle hubbub from the town square and the chime of ancient church bells.
The hotel does not yet serve lunch or dinner – a shame since the courtyard with dappled sunlight glinting off whitewashed, wild-flowered walls would be a cracking spot for a romantic meal. It encourages you to hit town at least – or else you might never leave. At Francisca’s recommendation, we set off for one of Santanyi’s buzziest and busiest restaurants, Es Moli, a high-end tapas spot that serves up the best of Mallorca on lots of little plates. The walk there and back takes us on a meander through higgledy-piggledy cobbled streets of the atmospheric old town (i.e. we’re lost again). It’s thirsty work. Fortunately there are plenty of little hole-in-the-wall bars lining the circuitous route.
We sleep so soundly in the king-size bed that it is a struggle to get out of it. (Last night’s bar crawl probably didn’t help.) The steam shower – big enough for two and stocked with Bulgari products – soon revives us, and breakfast is worth getting up for. A sumptuous spread of fruits, breads, pastries, eggs and cold cuts is laid out on our table in individual little vintage dishes. A still-life work of foodie-magazine art, it begs to be Instagrammed.
You’ll want a car to explore the surrounding area. You won’t want the one we hired. A massive 4x4 + narrow mediaeval streets = a lot of wincing + swearing. We were the first people ever to drive that vehicle, and almost the last. Once you have been to Santanyi’s Saturday market and bought jars of local produce that will sit in your fridge door for the next six months, it’ll be beach o’clock.
There are half a dozen unspoiled, picturesque beaches within a 30-minute radius of Santanyi – a million miles, at least that’s how it feels, from the douf-douf of Magaluf on the other side of the island. The prettiest ones are S’Amarador, Cala Llombards and Cala Mondrago. Get to the latter by walking 10 minutes through a stunning national park called Parc Natural de Mondrago – especially lovely to explore if you crave shade. We head for the sun, grateful we have proper shoes to negotiate the rocky outcrops: flip-flops are for rank amateurs.
Open-air restaurants fringe the harbour in the nearby fishing village of Portopetro, and we enjoy a late lunch of lemon-drenched calamari and cold melon with parma ham. With some colour and smiles on our faces, we head back to S’Hotelet de Santanyi to make the most of our terrace: dozing a bit, reading a bit. Our second evening then turns out even more fun than the first – an unplanned tapas tour of the town, cross-pollinating little bars with a glass of rosé and a plate of dates wrapped in bacon here, a copa of cava and some jamón Ibérico there. Some sort of booze + some sort of pig = happy Mr Smith.
We loved S’Hotelet de Santanyi. In fact, we loved the whole town. Lit up at night, it feels like a film set – albeit one that has a disproportionate number of banks and estate agents. We don’t have enough money in the former to be bothering with the latter but by the end of the night and another bottle of wine we are deciding which villa-with-pool we’re going to buy. Because Santanyi is really very do-able for weekends from the UK. We could be door-to-door in five hours? The same amount of time it has taken us to crawl from London to a country hotel on a Friday night. But then, we do tend to get a bit lost…