One of the things I like the most about Deià’s Belmond La Residencia is the way it combines understated Mediterranean chic with a respect for the authentic Mallorcan way of life. Cipriano Cerezo Carrillo works at Belmond La Residencia and, along with Antonio Jiménez Diez (Toni), makes sure the hotel’s popular donkey excursions are truly memorable.
I chatted with Cipri one beautiful morning last week on the peaceful, shaded terrace of the hotel. He’s a calm, amiable fellow with a broad smile. My friend Hanna Bornebusch, PR Manager at Belmond La Residencia kindly translated for me.
Although his mother and father were from Andalusia, Cipri and his four brothers and sisters were born and raised in Soller. His parents came to Mallorca from the south of Spain separately. They met and fell in love when his father was working on the construction of the American airbase at the top of the Puig Major above Soller and his mother was working as a housemaid for some wealthy people.
‘When I was small,’ Cipri told me, ‘my brothers and I worked, helping to harvest the almonds and olives, because the family needed us to. I have really fond memories of that time and it’s why I love the mountains so much. All of us, including my grandparents, went up the mountain to the olive groves. When it rained we took shelter, lit a fire and had our pa amb oli.
This was also when Cipri’s love of animals began. ‘Growing up, I was always surrounded by horses, cats, dogs and rabbits. I have a particularly strong connection with the donkeys because we took them with us up into the mountains and sometimes rode on them,’ he said. ‘Animals are very intelligent and when you treat them well you can establish a really close friendship.’
But it would be some time before Cipri was to work with donkeys again. ‘I started at the Hotel Es Molí in Deià when I was 14, many years before Belmond La Residencia even existed. I worked at Es Molí for four seasons and then at another hotel in Port de Soller next to where the Jumeirah is now for 22 seasons. I worked my way from being an assistant to barman to waiter. I started at Belmond La Residencia in 2004 and have done a bit of everything, from helping at breakfast to working at our restaurant El Olivo. Now, apart from the donkey excursions, I’ve worked at the pool bar for the past five seasons.’
Cipri has always enjoyed working in hotels. ‘I like the variety and the contact with customers,’ he told me.
Cipri’s job is to prepare all the crockery and food for the excursion and drive it to the idyllic mountain setting where Belmond La Residencia’s guests will dine al fresco.
‘I set the table so it looks beautiful,’ he explained. ‘It’s a long wooden table. I get the fire going with wood so I can toast the bread. Then we eat a typical Mallorcan pa amb oli with everything – ham, sausage, cheese, tomatoes and olives – followed by ensaimada. The women always say, “Oh no, I can’t have sweet things”. My answer is “You’ve walked all the way up here, of course you can have some dessert!”.’
Toni Diez leads the groups up the mountains which takes around 30 to 40 minutes of slow walking to get to where the guests eat. Up to 20 guests can go on the donkey excursion but a maximum of 15 is more comfortable. The donkeys, Luna and Pancho wear traditional saddles in which the ladies’ handbags can be stored. Guests are allowed to lead the donkeys but not ride them.
How had Mallorca changed in Cipri’s lifetime? ‘The biggest change has been tourism. When I was younger, the only work there was in Soller for men was working the land or in construction. For women it was in the traditional industries like leather or olive oil, as cleaning ladies or looking after children. Now the factories in Soller are all closed.’
Cipri laughed. ‘I remember that Deià was always called The Hippy Village because of all the artists and musicians.’
Is the quality of life better now? ‘I’ve always been happy and feel privileged that I haven’t had problems in my family. When I was younger, there was always work and we could choose. If someone gave us a better offer, we’d leave. It’s not the same today. Back then, it was all about work and partying, especially when the foreigners arrived. Now it’s different but it’s still a good life. I’m just grateful I can enjoy my work. I sometimes help my brother construct dry stone walls, a real art, and I like that too.’
What hasn’t changed, as far as Cipri is concerned, is the feeling of security in Mallorcan villages. ‘It’s a quite life here. Children are safe to go down to the beach or play on the streets. From the point of view of a father, it’s nice not to have to worry about my children.’
No wonder Cipri looks so contented on this fine morning.