(Bloomberg) -- The loudest the nightlife gets in Menorca—the quieter, more discreet little sister to DJ-filled Ibiza and increasingly ultraluxe Mallorca—is a chatty after-dinner queue at the gelateria.

While it has more beaches and coves than its Balearic rivals combined, it only draws 12% of the total visitors, according to government figures. 

But its profile is rising. Menorca is the fastest-growing island in the Balearics, as far as tourism goes. In 2022, the most recent data available shows, it experienced a 13% year-over-year growth in arrivals; tourism spending nearly doubled. No other island in the archipelago increased arrivals by more than 8%. Mallorca, which has been trying to rein in overtourism, even had a small decline.

“There is an increase of interest in the island,” says Mar Rescalvo, senior director of renowned international gallery Hauser & Wirth. The gallery’s founders, who also have a home on Menorca, opened the space in 2021 in a former military hospital on the outlying islet Illa del Rei. It’s attracted more than 180,000 visitors since then. 

Last year, Son Vell opened 34 rooms in an 18th century manor house on 450 acres. About a 10-minute walk from the sea, it marries an incredible location with plush interiors that blend seamlessly with the historic building and its surrounding natural setting.

“The island doesn’t want hotel chains,” explains Marta Madera, co-founder of the family-run Vestige Collection, which owns and operates Son Vell. “It becomes more trouble than it’s worth for a big brand to come in, but it’s kept the island ‘virgin’ and made the luxury be about the surroundings.” 

On May 31, the island welcomed its first world-class resort. Cap Menorca Relais & Chateaux is a stunning new boutique hotel with just 15 stand-alone suites spread across 74 acres, each suite with its own pool overlooking the Baleraric Sea.

Rates start at $550 per night, though rooms this summer have already fetched rates of $2,000-plus—a new record for this understated island where it’s been rare to see hotels ask for more than $1,000.

Menorca’s Quiet Luxury Boom

Cap Menorca’s opening hasn’t happened in a vacuum. The island is a case study in the art of building up slowly and steadily over several years.

Take the 43-room Menorca Experimental, which Paris-based hospitality outfit Experimental Group opened in 2018. Its design is modeled after an artist’s vacation cottage—white walls, terracotta floors, vibrant textiles, no televisions—breathing new life into a once-sleepy 19th century finca.

Romée de Goriainoff, one of the co-founders of the Experimental Group, says the island’s minimalist approach to development is the direct opposite of Ibiza’s strategy in the 1960s and ’70s. “Menorca was so protected that nothing could happen on it. Even today, there are no high-rises, nothing can be built on shore,” he says.

But De Goriainoff says this low-density vibe is exactly what made it desirable amid Covid-19 lockdowns, when hundreds of French, British and American urbanites flocked to the tiny island and became permanent residents. Now, he says, Experimental Group sees demand rising each year, and from increasingly moneyed travelers who are willing to spend more while visiting. 

Menorca remains a difficult place to develop thanks to its status as a Unesco biosphere reserve, which requires new hotels to be built into existing structures.

For instance, along the entire 115-mile perimeter of the island is a preserved 14th century bridle path, harking back to a time when all citizens had to be prepared to defend the island with the horses they kept at home. Today it’s the only place to see indigenous Menorquí stallions, which feature prominently in local festivals.

Torralbenc, a Small Luxury Hotel of the World with 27 petite rooms, opened in 2013 in a converted farm estate surrounded by vineyards. It kept its whitewashed exteriors while adding an infinity-edge pool and a fine dining restaurant with three-course menus that incorporate the property’s own wine, olive oil, vegetables and eggs.

Hauser & Wirth, likewise, uses its stunning island setting—with gardens designed by Piet Oudolf—for rotating exhibitions of acclaimed artists (including Rashid Johnson), who have created pieces inspired by the landscape. Compared with other booming European locales, says Rescalvo, “there is a much greater awareness of the values of sustainability and conservation” on Menorca.

The New Standard in Town

While other small hotels are tucked into historic fincas, Cap Menorca benefits from the scale of a large compound, with enough space for an 80-foot-long main pool and multiple restaurants that are only open to hotel guests, all of which serve variations on local seafood and island-grown vegetables. 

The onetime military base that houses it sat abandoned on the cliffs of the island’s south shore for decades. In 2012 it caught the attention of Laurent Morel-Ruyman, a former fashion executive turned Menorcan hotelier, who spent the next years converting it into a rarified place to stay.

In those 15 bungalows are details such as floor-to-ceiling windows, whitewashed walls and rich leather accents; its clifftop restaurant Casa de Mar is built to look like the deck of a yacht surveying the island’s coastline. Guests also get access to a small fleet of restored ships from the 1960s to explore the island, including the wide-deck cruising ship Ciutadella and the lavish sailboat Blue Leopard.

Morel-Ruyman, who already owns and operates a smaller hotel called Faustino Gran Relais & Chateaux on the island’s western end, aimed to tread lightly on the land. While he updated the existing buildings with modern conveniences—air conditioning, luxe linens, top-notch service—he planted roughly 30,000 trees and plants around the grounds and removed wide concrete roads, replacing them with natural pathways for walking and exploring. “It’s more about being in contact with nature than residing in a marble palace,” he says.

Just the Beginning

The momentum in Menorca is still building.

Next year, Vestige Collection will open another pair of hotels on the island, Son Ermitá and Binidufa, each with about a dozen rooms in two adjacent estates. Son Ermitá will offer a hilltop location with nearly 360-degree views of the surrounding agricultural landscape and the sea, while Binidufa will have a more tucked away setting among rolling hills. At each one, guests will have access to three nearby coves and two beaches.

The food scene is gaining traction, too. Hauser & Wirth’s restaurant Cantina, with seaside tables shaded by olive trees, is about as fresh and charming as Mediterranean dining gets.

Adding to his already busy summer, Morel-Ruyman will introduce Lolo’s across an inlet from the Faustino Gran, on the island’s western coast. He likens the concept to Casa Tua, the Italian restaurant and members club in Miami Beach that’s like a hybrid of Soho House and Cipriani. “The food is going to be great, the wine will be mad,” he says. “And the music will be the opposite of what you hear in Ibiza with the ‘bang, bang, bang.’” 

But as the island evolves, its most compelling aspect is how little it really changes. “The arrival of true luxury hotels is not about adding more tourists,” says Morel-Ruyman.

The island’s aversion to brand imports extends even to the food: 92% of what’s consumed on Menorca is grown on the island. “The charm, the beauty of the island,” Madera says, “is that it’s stayed the same.”

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