Following our hike along the coast we needed a break from walking and had decided the evening before that we would visit the beautiful Raixa Estate near Bunyola. My Mum had always wanted to go and made several attempts for a visit but always arrived at closed doors as they are not open every day and in the past were often closed for renovation. We wanted to make sure this would not happen again and therefore checked the website to find their new regular opening times now that all the repairs are complete.
It was a short drive to the estate from Soller, and it can likewise be easily reached by car from Palma. We followed the sign posts after Bunyola and parked the car in the public car park at the end of a bumpy and dusty drive, along the dirt track right from the main road. Outside the main entrance gate we found a sign post with a short description of the history and the map of the estate. Raixa lies at the foot of some hills of the Tramuntana Mountains and dates back to the 13th century, when Mallorca was under Moorish rule. The large estate first was a country home to a family who wanted to escape the city while their peasants farmed the land. The vault of the chapel and the porch in the courtyard are the only remains from that period.
A few hundred years later the first count of Montenegro took over the estate and developed it into a small but profitable agricultural business and beautiful family home. Houses were renovated and extended, and the pleasure gardens were created. A local Cardinal took over in 1800 and as an avid collector of art he created a museum of classical sculptures in Raixa. Many of these sculptures can now be seen in the Bellver castle in Palma. They also transformed the houses into a villa of neoclassical style. Unfortunately, the cardinal died in Italy before the renovations were barely started and his favourite nephews took over to make his wishes come true.
Once we had strolled through the gate we noticed the house among the orange groves. The main feature that immediately stuck in my mind was the stunning, south facing gallery and balcony with its sand coloured pillars and arches. The entrance path led us up, along the right side of the estate and through a gate that looked like a children’s castle with its two little towers to either side of the archway. Ahead we could see the entrance to the courtyard of the large house but first we walked through the entrance garden that abuts the original main drive. A fountain with water trickling out of the mouth of a grim looking, bearded face was built into the wall to our right. Opposite we found a statue of the cardinal and next to it a small, overgrown pond.
The main entrance to the estate was not reached from the courtyard but through the house. The friendly lady at the desk informed us that it was free to enter the house and gardens and gave us a free leaflet with some information. To our surprise we could choose from English and German, not only Spanish and Catalan as we had expected. The house has been completely renovated by the Mallorcan government but I have to say that most of the original features, like floor tiles and windows have been removed and exchanged for new replicas. This was a huge disappointment, not only for me, but the rest of my family too. There are many old photos of the rooms and whilst the décor was never sumptuous like Italian palaces it clearly had many rich local features such as terracotta tiles on the floors that have been lost to time.
They have made it interesting to wander through the house though, with plenty of history, and displays of plant and animal life in the area on show. Even Jerome found the large number of films and interactive displays interesting and we had to drag him out of the kitchen where he was cooking some local dishes of the day from a hundred years ago on an ipad interacuve learning display. Even the kitchen was moved and changed, it did feature some of the original features though and a window looks into the old original olive mill, which was rather interesting to see. A walk onto the balcony to enjoy the view over the orange grove and the Loggia garden with manicured buxus and fountain is a must and perhaps the highlight of the house tour.
Once we left the house to the back door we immediately stood in front of the magnificent garden stairs dedicated to the god Apollo. The eye-catching lions at the bottom of the stairs that lead up to the statue of Apollo are sadly closed to the pubic but even if we could not wander up and down on them they were definitely among our favourite feature of the garden. Unlike the house the original garden features have been preserved and the layout and plants must be like the original times it was built. Water plays an elemental part in the gardens of Raixa and we could see water running down either side of the steps from lion’s faces and into the basins below before overflowing and running down the walls. The water had left algea and stains from years of uninterrupted flow, but I thought this just added to its charm.
The upper gardens were structured around the stairs and the route led along a landscaped path, past smaller fountains, a waterway on the ground that feeds the gardens, a false ruin (a common feature for this period) and several ponds. We passed the statue of Apollo to the top of the stairs, which gave us a beautiful view down towards the back of the house.
Shortly after the path divides and the woman had advised us to go up the narrow, steep path through the hillside garden, to the little pavilion and viewpoint. Before we reached the pavilion we found a little grotto that was made to look like a limestone cave with fake stuck on remnants of stalactites and stalagmites. Jerome sat down on the concrete seat built into the cave’s wall for a while, enjoying the cool air of the grotto. Other people started to come into the cave and space was sparse so we moved on to the pavilion.
The round, pavilion is built onto a point that sticks out over the flat land that runs all the way from Raixa to Palma, which can be seen from one of the windows in the distance. I was less taken by the view than the colourful windows, every window was a different colour and one was made up of four coloured panes. The afternoon sunlight shone though and created a dreamy pattern on the floor and walls. It reminded me of the Bahia palace that we had visited in January. The boys quickly moved on while my mum and I stayed behind to take some photos and enjoy the play of light.
Once back down the hill, we finally saw the famous water reservoir, the largest of its kind on the island. The turquoise water looked very inviting, especially in the afternoon heat. The water comes from the estates own well in the hills above Valldemossa and without it the creation of the gardens would have been impossible. The original tank was too small leading to them creating this huge one, more than 80m long.
We stepped onto the Italian style terrace protruding over the pool to watch the carps swim in the deep water. At the far end we spotted the water gushing into the pool. The water from the pool also fed the watermill, which could be seen in one of the houses to the back of the pool. The mill was used to grind grains in the olden days and we were able to see some of the millstones in the ground through a window.
Back in the house we walked down a flight of stairs and ended up in the sunny courtyard. The house was built around this courtyard, a common feature of many larger mansions on the island and Spain. To the right, next to the entrance archway we found the little chapel and there also was a traditional well to one side of the courtyard. We exited the courtyard at the opposite end, where a few steps led us down to the manicured garden. More interesting though was the little vegetable garden to its right. The field was planted with local fruit and vegetables in neat rows.
I have to say that we really enjoyed our visit to Raixa and will return again on one of our frequent visits to Mallorca. It is a marvellous place to spend a few hours wandering through the house and along the paths in the gardens. To make the most of a visit and to see the full beauty of the garden it would be advisable to visit in Spring. Please also note that the gardens are closed in Winter and only open again in March, again check the website to make sure you will not encounter closed doors.
If you like gardens you may also want to drive the short road up to the Soller tunnel and also visit the Jardins D’Alfabia. The house and gardens there, are just as stunning and still a among the lesser known the sights of the island.