Travelling the world on the back of a motorcycle can give you a wealth of thinking time, not to mention a distinct perspective on life. Spending two years intermittently traversing the African continent on two wheels was the impetus for Swedish entrepreneur Mats Wahlstrom to shift his focus in life to the realm of boutique hotels. In 2004, the rugged adventurer recognised an underlying spirit in an abandoned 14th-century palace in Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca. With the deft touch of his entrepreneurial hand, the palace was soon brought to life as the hotel Puro Oasis Urbano, a member of Design Hotels.
Growing up in Sweden, my childhood dream was … just to get out of there. I always knew I would become an entrepreneur and run my own business, more as a statement of freedom than financial reward. It was always important for me to be able to determine my own destiny.
I couldn’t picture myself … working in an organisation or having a boss, and even today I still find that it’s more important to do things I like rather than always maximising business opportunities or profit. It’s very easy to be all focused on Excel spreadsheets and then you die.
I think everyone struggles to … find that correct balance between business success and personal success. It’s a delicate balance to be able not to neglect either side of it.
Hotels became my passion … a little bit by default. I was investing in real estate in Spain, and Mallorca, being an island, was the only area I could really define. At the time, Palma had gone through some rough times and was about to rebound, so I decided to buy property there.
I was inspired by … the lifestyle of South Beach in Miami and the hotels there and I’d always wanted to have my own brand, but I’d never been in that type of business to be able to do so.
A hotel I’ve always loved is … the Delano in Miami. It’s become a classic because it was done so well. I think it’s really the grand piece of lifestyle hotels.
Having been travelling extensively … in the ten years prior to opening Puro, I’d developed a knowledge of lifestyle hotels. That kind of evolved into me opening up Puro and believing I should make a go of a Miami-style hotel concept in Spain. At the time, only more traditional hotel concepts existed there, so when we opened it was kind of groundbreaking. Since then, Palma has become a great destination and the city has really turned around.
The great thing about Palma is … that it’s a great spot in the Mediterranean. It has developed in a really nice way and is, in a way, becoming the Hawaii of Europe. It’s a great meeting point with a nice offering of restaurants and hotels very close to Western Europe – especially compared to somewhere like the Greek Islands. Palma is only an hour and 20 minutes away from Zurich, two hours from Berlin and London, and so on. It’s very close to everything. It’s also a little bit of a neutral spot in the sense that many European nationalities meet there.
Puro was actually once an old 14th-century palace … that was owned previously by Richard Branson. He bought properties in Mallorca after he sold Virgin, but he didn’t do anything with this particular old building that had been abandoned, more or less, since the 1950s.
It was in terrible shape … and he agreed to sell it. The location was great and I ended up buying several properties in the same area.
As soon as Puro opened … we immediately had a very good crowd – the type of crowd that we really wanted. The people we attract to Puro are well-travelled, usually around 30–55, who are interested in people in general and also curious about lifestyle hotels.
The problem was … we didn’t have a suitable beach to send our guests to, because everything nearby was in a very touristic, plastic chair kind of environment. That’s when we came up with the idea of Purobeach – a lifestyle concept with food, drinks, a lounge, terrace, pool and treatments, in Palma Bay – which we opened a year after the hotel in 2005.
My motorcycle trip … was actually done in stages. I was cruising around West Africa and the Sahara and basically took off and drove around Morocco, Mauritania, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal, but kept the bike there. I would come and go and continue the journey riding around.
The lesson I learned … which is the lesson of all travel, is that the worse your experience gets, the more rewarding the travel will be. You always remember the moments when you are really deep in shit, whether it’s breaking down in the middle of the night in the desert or something else. You always manage those situations and they become the highlights of your travel – in the end you wouldn’t want to be without them.
Travelling by yourself … is also a great way to learn things. You realise in the end that it’s a small world and people are the same – in their core – wherever you are.
I think that in the future … boutique hotels will become more casual and less quirky. At least, I hope so. I feel that the trend will become more focused on comfort than design. I think people are a little bit tired of those properties that, in the end, just become complicated
for the sake of design.
The next place I’m hoping to create something is in … Porto Montenegro in Bay of Kotor to open a Purobeach this summer. It’s a fantastic area and we’re really trying to bring back the era of Sophia Loren and Tito in the 1950s.
I’m inspired by … people who choose their own path in life. People who break out of a preset mould or choose to walk in a different direction and follow their instincts or intuition, whatever what that may be.
When I look at my life today … the greatest challenge I’ve had to overcome has been being able to prioritise my personal life. To choose not to enter into new businesses all the time and finding that balance. It’s very easy to get stuck in the business side of things all the time because you’re very enthusiastic about it, but then you forget yourself in the middle of it.
That said … finding that balance is also what I would say is my greatest achievement.
I find peace in life … being in Switzerland, where I live – that’s kind of my mountain hideout. I live in Verbier, which is a really nice ski area close to the Italian-French border. There’s a lot of snow here at the moment and so it’s really nice. I spend most of the winter in Verbier.
If I had one piece of wisdom to give to the world … I would go for somewhat of a cliche but I still like it: Follow your intuition and choose your own path.
Image courtesy of Design Hotels.