Louise Davis, author of Hideaway Hotel: Secrets of a Mediterranean Celebrity Retreat, worked at Belmond La Residencia in Deià for 22 years until her retirement in late 2017. By then, she’d become PR Manager for the hotel.
As someone who knew every nook and cranny of La Resi and had seen the rich, famous and notorious come and go for many years, Louise is in a perfect position to share delicious celebrity gossip. I was, of course, keen to interview her.
Before doing so, I read and enjoyed Hideaway Hotel. Louise has a sharp eye so, apart from being a solid history of this remarkable hotel, the book is filled with telling detail.
For example, in the early days of La Resi, as everyone in the village calls it, she remembers there being 12 small televisions kept in stock by the bellboys “in case anybody requested one”. This neatly conveys the hotel’s eccentric singularity. There’s also a nice running storyline involving the “fascinating history of the hotel’s ancient Steinway piano” which is only explained towards the end of the book.
While emphasising the lack of pretension on the part of most guests and staff, Louise does enjoy poking gentle fun.
She tells the story of launching a project to protect the hotel’s olive groves and uphold local traditions in which guests would be offered “a taste of the golden liquid and acknowledgement of their contribution publicly on an olive tree.”
The project was a success. So much so that the person allocated the task of keeping a tally of the sponsors told Louise they were running of trees on which to put plaques. She replied that this was impossible because the hotel had about 1,500 olive trees.
“Ah, yes,” the person replied, but people want their name to be on a tree where it can be seen by other guests and not up in the high olive groves.”
Overall, though, the story that emerges is of a hotel that, as far as the Deià we know and love today is concerned, was ahead of its time.
“Our guests were a special kind of people,” Louise writes, “They possessed a high spending power but were not ones to flaunt it. They did not expect to be enclosed in an ivory tower but to discover the area and immerse themselves in the local culture. For this reason, they welcomed the fact that they could get to know the artists, that they could mingle with island residents at a cocktail event or a concert in an open and friendly environment.”
Louise began writing Hideaway Hotel after she left La Resi in 2017 She worked on it for about six months and then put it to one side. But when COVID-19 and lockdown arrived, she had no excuse and began writing pretty much every day. She used her work diaries as a starting point but relied mainly on her memory.
As she told me, “It’s surprising how I remember stuff.”
Although I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, one thing mildly disappointed me. The secrets about the hotel didn’t include any celebrity tittle-tattle. I began by asking Louise why that was and if there were any stories she could share with me now.
She laughed. “No. To be quite honest, I actually rewrote the book to cut out references to celebrities and incidents that happened. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and I didn’t want it to be one of those books that talks about celebrities. I was more interested in telling the story of my time in the hotel. In any case, I wasn’t writing the book to make money.”
Apart from Richard Branson and Lady Diana, Louise also changed names throughout the book. If you know the hotel and Deià, this is definitely part of the fun of reading the book.
The main thing that comes across is Louise’s affection for the hotel and the staff. She agrees. “It’s great to work with lovely people. On the whole, the staff had been there for a long time and they all identified with the place like I did. They all felt it was part of their life, their second home. That made a great difference. I always felt that the people around me were part of an extended family which was very special. With the hotel, there was the building itself, the architecture and furnishings, the way it was kept as an old Mallorcan property. There was the fact that it was in Deià and the locals feeling it belonged to them. Then there were the artists.”
Thinking about the place La Resi occupies in village life, I asked Louise what she felt about the decision to close the hotel in the winter months.
“I always thought the hotel was warm and cosy in winter. We had open fires and candles. It was full at New Year and we probably had 60% occupancy at Christmas. We were ticking over rather than making a profit. I think the feeling now is that it should always be making a profit, which I understand. But it’s a shame because it did change the village. I know people who have second homes in the village who never go in winter because there’s nothing happening.”
The story that emerges is of a hotel that, as far as the Deià we know and love today is concerned, was ahead of its time.
Although the book is primarily concerned with La Resi, Deià and its people, there are some lovely insights into island life in the past.
For example, at one point Louise writes, “When I first arrived on the island, there were traffic police at busy junctions. The smart-uniformed officer wearing a tall, white helmet and elbow-length, white leather gloves would stand on a raised platform, protected by a circular metal guard rail. Regular drivers on the route would get to know their local officer. Driving past on my first Christmas on the island you could barely see the top of the officer’s body, just his arms waving above the enormous stack of gifts that motorists had left while passing. Similar gifts would be given to the local postman, the local doctor, the teacher, and so forth.”
With this in mind, I wondered if Louise was planning another book.
“Maybe,” she said. “I’m considering two things. A lot of people want to read the book and can’t because they don’t read English so I’m thinking about having it translated. Also, I’m considering a prequel. I’m thinking about writing about why I came here and where and why I stayed.”
Until then, we have Louise’s evocative poem to a place she, and many of us, love. As the book ends, she writes, “On my last working day, I headed to my car, passing by the garden, along the bar terrace, through the quiet olive grove where olives were almost ripe for harvesting. The bougainvillea and jasmine were still in flower, wafting a fragrant scent on the air and the sun was dropping into the sea. Just another day in the life of La Resi.”
Hideaway Hotel is available to order from Amazon. It’s well worth reading.