Liz Barratt-Brown stands in shorts on the sun terrace – with a brush in her hand – and paints the railing. A friend of hers erects the wooden deck chairs. Within ten days, the first guests arrive, spending part of the summer at Pedruxella Gran.
For two months, the finca in the Vall d’en March in Pollença is transformed into a special holiday home: 242 hectares of land around it, where holm oaks, olive and carob trees grow. Sheep, goats, and chickens live here. Guests may harvest their own organic vegetables. They can bake pizza and bread in an old stone oven or bathe in a pool 200 metres above sea level, while enjoying picture postcard views across the mountains.
“During the other months our house is open to volunteers who work at the finca in exchange for free board and lodging,” says Liz, who works for an American environmental organization.
She inherited the unusual 13th-century property from her father. The finca is said to have attracted Templars in the Middle Ages. They washed silver in the nearby caves. Liz’s father lived for over 25 years at Pedruxella Gran, the “place among the stones”.
He renovated the historic building, bought furniture and old tools that suited the setting, planted trees, and was committed to bird protection on Mallorca. When his daughter took over the property in 1997, the American moved to Mallorca for two years – with her husband and children – to continue the work of her father. The couple modernised the house, without changing the old style, and planted a large vegetable garden. “There is even WiFi now,” says Liz, who still remembers times when the phone failed when it was raining.
Since work and expenditure on the estate were substantial, she and her husband Bos Dewery started to cooperate with WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). The global network brings together people who live close to nature and want to work free of charge on an organic farm. Two hundred volunteers from 20 different countries have been working at Pedruxella Gran over the past nine years. They work five hours a day, six days a week. They learn about organic farming, Mallorca´s history and traditions. The tasks on the farm are varied: taking care of animals, cultivating vegetable gardens, picking olives and carob, pruning trees, and repairing fences and walls. Tolo Bennàsser tells them how to do this. The farm manager spends the whole year on the finca, while Liz and Bos travel between Washington and Mallorca.
The first volunteers arrive in September; they will free the olive tree fields of scrub and brambles and fix the harvester nets around the trunks. The olive harvest and Thanksgiving in autumn are the annual highlights at Pedruxella Gran. Then the 500-year-old oil mill will be reactivated for four to five weeks. “It is one of the last of its kind really getting into action on the island,” confirms Liz. As in ancient times, at first the olives are crushed with a stone press to make a paste. A donkey pulls the great millstone in circles. By means of a screw press, which works like a vice, the oil is squeezed out of the fruit pulp. Buyers of this certified organic olive oil include five-star hotels such as Belmond La Residencia in Deià and Son Brull in Pollença. “Pressing the old way is quite unprofitable compared to modern methods,” says Liz. Their motto is: Use it or lose it – unused things get lost.
This also applies to the old stables and residential buildings. Between the thick outer walls you feel well protected inside. Massive stone walls simultaneously regulate the temperature in the house. Seven bedrooms, five bathrooms, library, kitchen, dining and a living room are built over two floors around a courtyard with old watchtower and ivy-clad patio. One thousand, three hundred square metres are alternately occupied by Liz, her family, friends and guests.
For the first time this year, Liz and Bos also offer a combination of vacation and work. ‘Voluntourism’ is aimed at guests who come to Mallorca for swimming or hiking and at the same time would like to help to maintain an old country estate. ‘Voluntourists’ work three hours a day, five days a week, and receive a discount on the rental price of the holiday home. “But that’s not everything,” says Liz, smiling. Experiencing the beauty of nature at Pedruxella Gran is priceless and means true luxury.
“Spending time in such a peaceful place changes people,” says Liz, also speaking for herself. One gains an appreciation of where food comes from. Consumption gets less important, the pace of life is slower. “Visitors leave with this new awareness,” says Liz. “They take it into their daily lives, into their homes.”
Visit www.pedruxella.com to find out more about volunteering to work at Pedruxella Gran in exchange for food and lodging.
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