La Granja Estate
Ten miles north of Palma, tucked into the foothills of the Tramuntana Mountains and in the next valley to Valldemossa, is the small town of Esporles. Although this delightful place has grown up on the banks of Sant Pere's Torrent (St. Peter's Stream), the torrent only fills the watercourse following heavy rain in the mountains. However, it is a different story further up the narrow Valley de Superna where a freak of geology results in a constant flow of water gushing out of the hillside. After tumbling into the valley below it soon disappears only to reappear at Canet four miles downstream.
The Romans discovered the stream after they occupied Mallorca in 120 B.C. and they set up watermills in the narrow valley. Maybe the Byzantines discovered the valley when they conquered the island around 530 A.D but the Moors definitely found the tumbling waterfall after they captured the island in the 10th Century. They built a farmhouse called Alpich, established watermills and turned the rugged sides of the narrow valley into fertile areas with their famous walled terraces.
The first owner we know by name was Count Nuño Sancho of Roussillon, King Jaime the Conqueror's great uncle. Sancho had provided over 200 knights, crossbowmen and labourers for the invasion in September 1229. In return he was promised large tracts of land once the island was under Jaime's control.
Sancho was given two parts of the island after the conquest, one based around Manacor and one covering the Valldemossa-Bunyola area which included La Granja (or La Granja). Ten years after taking ownership, Sancho handed the area over to Cistercian monks, who were renowned for their hard work and agricultural skills, particularly making the most of water power. They also enlarged the existing building, turning it into their home, their place of worship and their place of work. Although Sancho later wanted the estate back, the monks refused and threatened to fight anyone who tried to take the fruits of their labour from them.
In 1447 the monks sold the estate to Don Mateo Vida and moved to San Bernard Monastery in Palma city. The estate stayed in the Vida family for another 200 years before passing to the Fortuny family. Over the years La Granja finca and gardens were improved and expanded as life went on in this hidden valley.
The present owner, Don Cristóbal Seguí Colom, took possession of the estate in 1968 and began work on what we see today. The building was restored and the rooms were filled with exhibits covering all aspects of life in Mallorca over the centuries; the gardens were also returned to their former glory.
A tour of La Granja begins with farming life and displays of agricultural implements stand alongside the tools of many trades such grain thresher, a potter's mill, dyer's workshop. A selection of local animals brings the outdoor area alive. After visiting the secluded gardens at the rear of the finca, it is time to make your way through the first floor rooms, where each one has its own theme. The variety of displays, items and artefacts is both amazing and surprising, with everything from a throne room to a games room, from bedrooms to kitchens. The upper story loggia, a covered walkway supported by slender columns, is one of the building's best architectural features and it allows the visitor to view the gardens in front of the house.
The ground floor displays are equally fascinating and the workshops are filled to the brim with interesting items, ranging from wine and olive presses to looms and forges. Each room has a theme devoted to a local trade and you can see how carpenters, rope makers, cobblers and harness makers (to name but a few) made their wares.
Once outside it is time to stretch your legs and make your away along the twisting path up the far side of the valley. A short, strenuous walk, takes you to a rocky promontory overlooking the La Granja estate before heading back down the hillside. Before re-entering the finca it is time to appreciate some of the feats of hydraulic engineering which made this place self-sufficient, including a miniature aqueduct and waterwheel. A short walk through the cellars and we can see how the people of Mallorca made their food in the past in the kitchen and granary.
But the display that leaves a lasting impression is kept to the end; a variety of evil looking instruments dating from the Spanish Inquisition are displayed in the gloomy torture chambers. After being underground, you will be glad to get back in the open air and into the outer courtyard where there are a variety of workshops displaying local crafts. There is also a restaurant, cafe and gift shop where you can taste local foods before you buy.
During the high season some might prefer to attend the handicraft and horse shows on Wednesday and Friday afternoons. But avoid these times if you prefer a relaxed visit where you can wander around at ease and soak up the tranquil atmosphere.
Give yourself at least two hours to get around La Granja; more if you intend to eat. The only drawback is that there are many stairs and steps in the house and gardens, making access very difficult for people with mobility problems.
Further details are available at www.lagranja.net.
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