Which is why he chose to return here to design his own line. Family members brought him the best materials from the island's markets. The village baker embroidered a garment for his first collection. His mother hand-crocheted more than 200 camellias, to be used as appliqués. And a nun at an ancient convent in Sancelles gave him her blessing. "When I was little, I didn't appreciate it here," Pons says as he sips water from a well at Monasterio de Consolación, a 17th-century church with ceramic-tiled steps, dark carved wooden walls, and Moorish chandeliers. After work, he goes to Cala des Borgit, a swimming cove where he picks a plant called sea fennel, gathers piles of sea salt, and collects snails, all of which he uses to cook dinner the way his grandfather taught him. "Right now my mother is making apricot jam," he notes. "And though my father has retired as a farmer, he will be planting almonds until the day he dies."
Even Majorcans who don't support themselves as farmers anymore (many family fincas have been sold to wealthy foreigners) still find places to make the famous native sausages and celebrate festivals with processions and bonfires. Traditional foods such as fish pastries, blood sausage with white beans, and the famous frito mallorquín (a stew of potatoes, vegetables, and pig offal) are all readily available in family-run restaurants. Many people here continue to work at ancestral crafts, even as the island maintains its service economy. Bellboys come home from hotel jobs to blow glass vases. Chambermaids and waitresses have side gigs making appliqués for clothing.
In tiny Portocolom, on the southeast coast, fishing boats are docked in the port, and you can still buy fresh catches directly from the fishermen. There are few big buildings and fewer cars. The people in this town are fighting to keep it that way. They want to preserve what's left of the old Majorca. As the rest of the island caters to teeming crowds, Portocolom's streets are quiet. A white-haired woman in a dark blue housedress sits on a lawn chair crocheting the same lace that hangs in the windows of her white stucco town house, a study in old-world simplicity. A few doors down, another woman is also crocheting, while her ruddy-faced husband, wearing bedroom slippers, sits beside her, reading the newspaper. "It takes a lot of patience and hard work to do this," she tells a passerby. "But I love it."
Majorcans are nothing if not industrious. Perhaps that's why the island is not giving itself over wholesale to the kind of tourism that homogenizes a place. In fact, it is now doing all it can to reverse its more lowbrow image and refurbish itself for a more desirable tourist who respects a place as much for its mountains as for its beaches and seeks out experiences that are not like the ones available at home.
"For many years, Majorca was attractive to visitors because of the low cost," says Alexandre Suau, co-owner of Son Brull Hotel & Spa. "But I am more interested in quality and exclusivity." A few years ago, Suau renovated a ruined monastery near Pollença, in the north of the island. Because the farm is 20 minutes from the water, the view includes none of the unsightly high-rise buildings that are visible from every accessible seaside nook and cranny—there are only dusty hills and stands of olive and cypress trees. At Son Brull, Suau created rooms with plush, minimalist fabrics, blond-wood furniture, and dramatically tiled baths. There's a Zen-like infinity pool, a top-flight spa, and a highly innovative restaurant serving fusion cuisine. The bar, set in a former oil mill, incorporates shimmering surfaces, theatrical lighting, and a DJ. The response to all this has been heartening: Majorcans and visitors from mainland Spain, as well as chic international travelers, have been flocking to Son Brull. "It will be a long process to reinvent Majorca," Suau says, "but it has begun."
Outside the cathedral of Palma one Saturday morning, tourists from Germany and England are everywhere. They languidly glance at the Gothic structure, which has a towering main altar by Antoni Gaudí. Then they turn to admire the souvenir shops and a mime who is painted green and pretending to be a statue. Inside, canvas tarps covering the walls of a chapel are being removed for a small group of invited guests, who watch with intense anticipation. These are friends of renowned artist and native son Miquel Barceló, who shows his vast neo-Expressionist paintings all over the world. Since 2001, he has been working on a massive ceramic relief, which will cover the entire expanse of the chapel walls. The images have the broad sweep of Michelangelo, the depth of Hieronymus Bosch, and the flourish of Marc Chagall, and they tell the story of creation as Barceló sees it—that the world was born on his native island. Indigenous plants give rise to loaves of bread. Sheep and pigs graze on Majorcan hills. Native fish and stingrays swarm the Mediterranean waters.
His assistants begin carefully spraying the mural with water, to remove the coat of dust that covers it. Suddenly, grapes and wine bottles glisten. Palm and almond trees come into strong relief. Within a year these images will cover every inch of the walls, and Barceló's stained-glass windows will flood the room with intense-hued light. Still, what is revealed now is stunning enough. His friends break into spontaneous applause. "It is like the creation of the world," one says.
Perhaps, when this chapel in this great cathedral opens to the public this year, it will help to inspire the ongoing re-creation of Majorca as well.
BOB MORRIS is a T+L contributing editor.