Planes, trains and Virgin mobiles… with outstanding resorts around the globe, too, billionaire businessman, Richard Branson, has transformed our landscapes and skies with his boundless brand.
Britain’s best-known entrepreneur talks to Angela Sara West about how he loves his favourite retreat in Mallorca so much, he bought it twice!
Having clocked up five decades in business, Virgin’s expansion has seen Richard Branson successfully diversify in sectors from music and mobiles, health care and health clubs, to trains and transatlantic travel, cruise ships and space ships.
Multi-award-winning Richard has been knighted by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace and starred in blockbusters Casino Royale, Around the World in 80 Days and Superman Returns, along with small-screen series The Simpsons, Friends and Baywatch.
Barefoot luxury at Branson’s Necker Island home
Offscreen, the white-sand beaches of Necker Island, lapped by turquoise water and stunning views of neighbouring islands, are where this adventurous tycoon usually resides…
In 1978, Richard bought his 74-acre Caribbean retreat in the British Virgin Islands from British aristocrat, Lord Cobham, to impress his future wife, Joan. It marked the start of his luxury property portfolio, Virgin Limited Edition, which now includes a Swiss ski lodge, a Kenyan safari camp and a kasbah in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains.
In 2013, Necker became Richard’s main residence. “I left Britain for my love of the beautiful British Virgin Islands and, in particular, Necker Island. We’ve built our home there, a place where my family and I are able to truly relax. I’m so inspired by this idyllic island paradise’s beauty.”
Having transformed it into a multi-million-pound luxury resort, complete with a helipad and luxury catamaran yacht, Necker is now one of the most exclusive retreats in the world… The private island paradise is a playground for Richard’s famous friends and he has played host to a “who’s who” of Hollywood heavyweights, rock stars, royals and ex-presidents there, including Robert De Niro, Demi Moore, Harrison Ford, Kate Moss, Mick Jagger, George Michael, Harry Styles, Mariah Carey, Princess Diana (with Princes William and Harry in tow), The Duchess of Cambridge, and Barack and Michelle Obama.
Planes, flames & hurricanes | But the business magnate’s abode has twice been devastated by Mother Nature…. The Great House was rebuilt following a fire caused by a lightning strike during Hurricane Irene in 2011, with actress Kate Winslet heroically rescuing Richard’s 90-year-old mother, Eve.
Necker reopened in 2013, 20-percent bigger and better, but the main house was left uninhabitable again after being hit by Category-5 Hurricane Irma last year. “We felt the full force of the strongest hurricane ever in the Atlantic Ocean,” says Richard, who rode out the storm in his wine cellar.
A long-standing love affair with Mallorca | While it’s out of action, the Virgin boss has been enjoying his privately-owned collection of award-winning luxury hotels and retreats with Virgin Limited Edition around the world.
“Whilst Necker Island is being rebuilt, I’ve had the pleasure of spending time at many of these properties,” he tells me. And he’s been enjoying a slice of Spanish life at his newly-renovated gated Mallorcan estate, Son Bunyola, on the island’s northwest coast, more than ever. “Son Bunyola is my favourite Mallorcan retreat. I try to visit as often as I can.”
“Mallorca has always held a special place in my heart, since I first visited as a child.” But that love affair was marred with disputes with the local authorities, who refused planning permission for the British businessman to build a luxury boutique hotel at his spectacular Son Bunyola, resulting in him selling up in 2002, selling his iconic hotel, La Residencia, a Mecca for A-listers, including Leonardo Caprio, Goldie Hawn and Michael Douglas, too.
Back in business in Bunyola! | Following a change of heart and Richard’s realisation that he really missed Mallorca, he says he couldn’t resist when the opportunity arose to buy Bunyola back lock stock for around £11m in 2015.
He aims to convert the estate into the very best eco-resort in Europe. “Central to the estate is a finca building dating back to the 1800s, surrounded by vines, citrus fruit trees, almonds and olive trees. It’s absolutely beautiful and I look forward to seeing how plans progress!”
Sprawling over 700 acres, the expansive estate is part of a World Heritage site. Richard cites numerous reasons for choosing the area. “The northwest coast has always been a location for which I have great fondness. It has so much to offer… unspoilt nature, picturesque villages, top-class restaurants and finca hotels and culture. The region is dominated by the Tramuntana mountain range and its breath-taking scenery, and is home to some of the most historical and picturesque towns on the island. My son, Sam, even named his own daughter Eva-Deià, in honour of the village of Deià, which is one of the most beautiful in the world.”
Haute historic homes | Overlooking 5km of breath-taking coastline, his property comprises the historic Mallorquín manor house (the above-mentioned finca) plus three country houses which he has recently transformed into ultra-luxury villas, available for exclusive hire. “We opened villas Sa Punta de S’Aguila and Sa Terra Rotja in summer 2016, with Son Balagueret opening last summer. We usually stay in Sa Terra Rotja, our four-bedroom villa situated near the edge of the estate, but I’d be torn if I had to pick a favourite out of the three.”
Each villa boasts a private pool plus a dedicated concierge service via DEIA VIP to attend to every wish’n’whim. “Not to mention stunning views!”, adds Richard. “A stay at Son Bunyola is not like any villa stay, and it is so much more than a place to rest your head! All guests are encouraged to treat the villas like their own home from the moment they arrive; we like to ensure our guests feel special and receive excellent customer service, and aim to create a truly unique experience.”
With a strong ethos of giving back, the prolific philanthropist says Virgin Limited Edition’s recruiting policy is to give back to surrounding communities by offering training and employment. “We recruit locally at Son Bunyola, and source food and wine from right here in the region. We work hard to protect the beautiful landscape we’re so fortunate to occupy. Our approach includes a commitment to responsible supply chain management, fair trade policies, ethical dealings with our employees and the local community, and, of course, the environment.”
Balearic playtime | His favourite things to do on the island? “That’s the beauty of Mallorca… there’s so much to do and something for everyone; even if it’s just picking a great sun lounger and sunbathing. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, so I must have a way to stay active and adventurous, and Mallorca is great for hiking and cycling. I’d also recommend setting sail and exploring the coastline of Tramuntana where you’ll find some great spots for snorkelling and the chance to discover some hidden caves. With clear Mediterranean waters, the area is perfect for scuba diving and fishing excursions, too.”
The magic of Mallorca | With dramatic scenery of verdant countryside against a backdrop of magnificent mountains and cobalt blue water, this Spanish island is nothing less than spectacular. “Mallorca is so special to me because it provides the perfect environment to relax, laugh, learn and love with my family.” Now he has grandkids, Richard says he enjoys being able to spend more time in a place that means a great deal to them all.
“My favourite memories are the most simple; sitting around the table talking, admiring the scenery and enjoying meals and good company. We’ve had a special bond with the island for several generations, and I’m sure it will go on for generations to come!”
* The villas at Son Bunyola – Sa Punta de S’Aguila, Sa Terra Rotja and Son Balagueret – are available for exclusive hire from March to mid-November, and on request over the Christmas and New Year periods.
* Until 28th October 2018, guests booking a stay of seven nights or more will enjoy their final night for free! For further details, visit: www.virginlimitededition.com
* DEIA VIP concierge services: https://Deiavip.com
* Find out more at: www.virgin.com