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Monday May 26, 2014

A parking lot in paradise?

Deia, one of the most idyllic and famed villages in the rugged north-west of Majorca, is currently under threat from developers. In the heart of the village a once tranquil and beautiful lemon orchard has now – under the auspices of the village council – been razed to the ground to make way for a car park. But it doesn’t stop there. Apparently plans are afoot to create a two storey building on the site for shop units and commercial activity.

Locals and expat residents have expressed dismay and anger that an area of such outstanding beauty in the heart of the Tramuntanas – recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage site – should have been savaged in so arbitrary a manner and without adequate consultation within the community. One of the main arguments is that there isn’t enough parking space in the tiny village for tourist vehicles and coaches during the busy holiday seasons but there is parking beyond the village and a new, unobtrusive car park is currently under construction. Of course the irony – seemingly lost on the perpetrators – is that the very reason why scores of international visitors gravitate to the locale is because of its serenity, sense of timelessness and lack of commercialisation.

Cooking the golden goose is not a new concept in Majorca. The recent stripping of character of Raixa, a beautiful and historic country estate on the outskirts of Bunyola in the foothills of the Tramuntanas, ably demonstrated how certain forces within the regional government appeared not to have a clue about aesthetics, let alone the aspirations of the international cultural visitor. In Deia there is another country house open to the public. It is the erstwhile home of prolific English writer and poet, Robert Graves. Wisely, his son William, executor of his estate, perhaps sensing what might become of his father’s home if left in the hands of others, doggedly oversaw its transformation into a museum. While conforming to necessary legislation, he ensured that Robert Graves’s personal artefacts, the property’s original flooring, furniture, kitchen crockery, paintings, books and even the poet’s beloved straw hat, remained in situ. This has made it a living experience. One can vividly imagine the big man striding around the orange and lemon grove, picking his vegetables and returning to the kitchen with trusty trug, before taking refuge from the searing sun in his cosy and somewhat puritanical study.

Back in the 19th century, explorer, writer and amateur scientist Archduke Louis Salvador settled near Deia, purchasing several country estates in the area which he lovingly restored. As a champion of nature and wildlife, his philosophy was to conserve and preserve the area’s untamed assets for future generations. He respected the cultural identity of the people, protected the animals on his estates, letting them live out their lives in peace, and respected the virgin state of the terrain. Over the years mostly responsible and necessary improvements have been made to the locale and Deia village itself but not at the expense of its unique cultural heritage.

In the same way that Robert Graves and Archduke Louis Salvador were drawn to Deia – a veritable Garden of Eden – so too were artists, writers and musicians. Countless discerning holidaymakers have roamed the rugged zone over the decades and delighted in the quaint, old worldly charm of the village. Should Deia become a mini Valldemossa –its near neighbour, famed for its connection with Chopin – besieged by tour buses and heavy traffic throughout the year, its character will be destroyed.

Last week a peaceful demonstration was staged at the car park by locals, expat residents, tourists and well wishers and discussions held with the local mayor. Prominent resident Lynne Franks lent her support at the event as did Alice Jay of Avaaz, the campaigning community site which has created an online petition. Further dialogue is expected in the coming weeks in the hope of arresting further development.

Before considering further action with their diggers, the developers should perhaps seek inspiration from Joni Mitchell’s iconic song, Big Yellow Taxi: ‘Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.’

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  1. what sad news – I love Deia and its arty boho-chic feel. Just to clear away things that people have come to know and love makes my heart sag a little.

    We came to the island 2 weeks ago and stayed in Cas Concos nr Felanitx where we always base ourselves – its a good rural area and now have Mallorcan friends there. However I arranged for a little overnight side trip to Soller for my partner’s birthday and we stayed at Ca N’ai rural hotel. What a perfect little gem!! On our departure Maria on the desk asked us if they could improve on the hotel or the service – it was already perfect I thought – my advise was ‘ don’t make it too perfect’ – I like dust on my shoes on the walk to our room – I like it that they serve Pa amb Oli with rustic cheese and jamon.

    You just cant perfect paradise and if they try they will just destroy the reason why people come to this glorious island.

    ps. as you can tell im missing it already ive only been back 2 days

    * by sarah brown | Jul 8, 08:13 pm