The story behind Son Bunyola

Richard Branson standing outside Son Bunyola hotel in Mallorca
Kami White
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 14 July 2023

The story of Son Bunyola (our new Virgin Limited Edition hotel in Mallorca) traces back thousands of years, so I couldn’t be more thrilled to keep the story alive. The hotel was built from the bones of a 16th century finca, which I first set eyes on over 25 years ago. As soon as I saw the finca, I knew I wanted to bring it back to life and ensure this chapter of history wouldn’t be closed for good. As the finca sits on a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the progress was slow-going, but we weren’t in a rush. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was this finca! In fact, restoring the finca unearthed so much of its history, so I thought I’d share it with you all.

The finca sits at the heart of our 1,300 Son Bunyola estate and the main building traces back to the 16th century. However, a medieval defense tower is attached to the finca and it dates back to the 13th century. It’s incredible to see this structure alive again, and home to one of the property’s Tower Suites.

Over the years, we learnt how the site played an important agricultural role in the past – with its own olive, almond and citrus trees; and its own vineyard used throughout the 19th century. The team has worked hard to nurture this beautiful landscape, so that by 2024 our citrus, almonds and olive trees will bear fruit. We have also re-planted the 2.5-hectare vineyard to grow the local grape variety and re-produce our very own Malvasia wine from 2026. Wonderful.

To bring the story to life in a different way, our executive chef, Samuel G. Galdón, champions a farm-to-fork style of cooking. When I met Samuel, he spoke passionately about expanding the kitchen garden and using the produce in new and exciting ways to elevate traditional dishes. In fact - only recently, one of our gardeners told us about a spring we didn’t know about on the estate. The team set to work clearing the overgrown area on the estate and, to their delight, they found the spring. This will be a fruitful area for Samuel to develop an even larger and more magnificent vegetable garden. It was also brilliant to see Samuel working with Yassine Khalal at the Son Bunyola launch celebrations. Yassine is our delightful chef at Kasbah Tamadot (Virgin Limited Edition’s property in Morocco), who has worked with us for many years and makes one of my favourite dishes – Chicken Tagine.

Richard Branson with the chef of Son Bunyola and Kasbah Tamadot
Kami White

While on the topic of wonderful people, it was fascinating to learn more about the people who have inhabited the estate over the years. While restoring the finca, we learnt how sailors from an Italian shipwreck were nursed back to health at Son Bunyola in 1917, and how some of our team today lived in the finca as children in the 1970s. Currently, 80% of the team who work at the hotel are Spanish and 50% are from Mallorca. These numbers will only grow higher over time - adding another dimension to the finca’s story.

Restoring this history and the beautiful surroundings of the estate also meant we were very focussed on sustainability and energy conservation. I was so impressed by the level of detail the team went to in this department. Hot water is pre-heated using energy collected from the air conditioning and refrigeration cooling systems, while the boiler is powered by recycled wood chippings. The hotel’s thermal insulation has also been upgraded and the building has its own water purification system, meaning that 100% of the wastewater is purified and reused to irrigate the gardens. There are no plastic bottles or straws to be seen, and the rooms are decorated with flowers picked from the estate. We also keep a number of different animals on the estate including chickens to produce eggs, peacocks, sheep, and donkeys arriving this week, to keep the estate tidy.

I love how the story of the finca is carried through the interiors of the hotel too. Coordinated by the Mallorcan-based designers at Rialto Living and Gras Architects, every detail has been carefully considered to celebrate the finca’s history. From wall and floor tiles to the original staircase and a chapel alter - original features have been restored throughout, so you can really sense the history when you step inside. Honouring this heritage was always central to its restoration and the team also re-purposed original features wherever they could. For example, wooden doors are now bespoke coffee tables in the rooms, and a Tafona, which still houses the historic olive press is now also home to a tapas restaurant, Sa Tafona.

The original chapel alter at Son Bunyola, restored inside the new restaurant
Kami White

Walking through the hotel, I was so happy to see a whole collection of items hand-made by artisans at the Eve Branson Foundation – a social enterprise set up by my mum. From bathmats to rugs, and embroidered napkins – the textiles have been beautifully hand-woven by women at the Tamgounssi Weaving Centre, which is very close to Kasbah Tamadot. The property works hand-in-hand with the foundation to train local Berber women in a variety of traditional Moroccan crafts, and provide them with a sustainable income and an understanding of entrepreneurship. It’s incredible to realise six artisan spent over two months making the bathmats, using careful needlework to loop and knot the yarn hundreds of times over. Meanwhile each rug took about eight days to weave onto a horizontal loom. Another stitch in the Son Bunyola story.

Richard Branson pouring tea for a Berber woman
Kami White

It's so inspiring to look back at the history of Son Bunyola, and to see the estate enter a new chapter. Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard over the past two decades to keep this story alive, and to let people enjoy the estate for so many years to come.