“It all began in 2006 when a hotel had double-booked our room and we had to find another place to stay,” recalls Brenda Ooteman, the Dutch mother of three and owner of Osa Major, a beautiful yoga retreat located on the island of Mallorca...
She’s taking us back to the beginnings of how she came to live on the magical island. “We are sailors and up until then, we had seen Mallorca mostly from the water. We had explored and grown to love the sheltered coves and countless beaches but what lay inland was very much unexplored territory for us.” They quickly discovered that the island’s rural soul had much to offer. “We were quite astounded that a place that has been a hub for tourism for decades has managed to retain parts that are still wild and completely untouched,” she says.
Ooteman is an intellectual property lawyer and yoga teacher, and lives on the island with her husband, Roland Verbeek, an innovator in sustainability (they have three grown-up children – Max, 30, Nina, 27, and Luca, 23). Given yoga and spirituality have been long-term companions for Ooteman (she ran the yoga studio Yogatree in Amsterdam for ten years), it’s no wonder she went on to found Osa Major, she fascilitates yoga retreats.
Ooteman spent the first 12 years of her life in Africa, and ultimately, always wanted to return to that barefoot way of life. “I spent the first 12 years of my life barefoot and with lots of sunshine. Even though I consider my long-time home of Amsterdam one of the most beautiful places on Earth, I always knew I’d eventually want to live that barefoot kind of life again,” she says.
When creating Osa Major, they dreamt of a very old finca (a traditional farmhouse) which they could do up slowly. They ended up stumbled upon a plot of land that, while offering that million-dollar view, had already exhausted the patience of a German architect and came with a well-meant warning from the local estate agent. “There was no road leading to it and one had to leave the car and walk the last few hundred metres – not a great starting point for a building site as the estate agent did not fail to mention. And then there was the fact that in the process of putting up the exterior walls, archaeological remains had been found and everything had ground to a halt,” says Brenda. It took three years just to get the licences to continue building and when things finally started moving, two successive building contractors we employed went bankrupt.
“The place has such a beautiful energy that even without a house, it was worth being there. We would fill a picnic basket, rent a car and come to the site to just sit, enjoy all the different views and make plans. These visits allowed us to believe that, at some point, it would happen,” she says.
Finally, in 2011, fours years after they had begun to envision their new life, there was reason for celebration. “Our eldest son had decided he wanted celebrate his 21st birthday at the finca and that became a big driving force and helped us push the project across the finish line in May that year.”
Since then, the finca Osa Major, which they named after the ‘Great Bear’ star constellation that is visible above it every night, has gone from strength to strength. Four years ago, when their three children had fled the nest, Ooteman and Verbeek decided to permanently relocate to Mallorca. “I think it’s impossible to foresee all the opportunities that may arise in the future when you follow your dreams, and while I always envisioned running yoga retreats at Osa Major, I never could have imagined people would ask to hold their wedding here or even ask me to help decorate their house,” she says.
“I have found that, if you stay curious, opportunities open up all the time and, failing that, you can, of course, also create your own possibilities,” she says.
Here, we find out more about her dreamy life in Mallorca and shares her go-to spots on the island. So while travel may be off the cards for now, we can still keep dreaming.
Tell us about your childhood in Africa?
My most vivid memory is that I always wanted to be outside. I had many pets: a dog, a cat, some birds, quinipigs, etc. I loved to wander around in the big garden. I remember the sounds, the smoky smell, the distant noises, strange animals.
When you were 12, you moved to the Netherlands where you’ve said you adjusted with “great difficulty” – why do you think it was such a difficult adjustment?
It was too cold, I had to stay inside, there were only grey colours and the change was too extreme for me.
How has spending the first 12 years of your life in Africa influenced your approach to life?
Adventure keeps calling and I always try to respond to that call.
What about your approach to parenting – have your children inherited your wanderlust?
Not all of them. My oldest son loves Amsterdam and his home (of course he does some traveling), but my daughter and youngest son have this adventurous spirit.
How did you end up in Mallorca – can you share your journey to the island?
As sailors, we ended up keeping our boat in Mallorca as it’s very central for boating. Many people think that it is only a party island, but this is a big misconception: is it a international cultural hot spot, nature is overwhelming, the climate is fantastic, it is very easy to travel from, and many, many more things. I don’t want to tell all the secrets! The most magical part of living here is the sun, the sea, the colours, the misty mornings, and the blossom in January.
You live a “barefoot kind of life” – how would you describe your life?
Mallorca is like a little world, everything is available. We are very connected to nature, off the grid, with our dogs around us, healthy living/food; food direct from the garden. We love our veggie garden. We take many walks in nature too.
What has been the most challenging part of motherhood for you and how have you overcome any challenges?
From very early on, I always had a person in the house I trusted a lot and who could also take care of the children. I was always able to combine my work and motherhood without losing family life. When my firstborn left the house when we was all grown up, I couldn’t talk about it without starting to cry – it was heartbreaking. But I realized that the greatest gift you can give to your children is to teach them to fly and let them go. It. That lesson took me some time.
Now in your 50s, how has your perspective on life changed from when you were in your 30s and 40s?
My children are studying, working, and independent. I even work with one of my children, my daughter Nina. I know that everything is possible and that you’re never too old to change the compass. I try to live a healthy life and enjoy it as much as possible. Although growing older is not always easy, I also enjoy it very much. I feel better than when I was 30 with three young children. Back then, it sometimes felt like living in a jungle.
Tell us about your journey with Osa Major?
We bought Osa Major in 2006 as a ruin. We had to wait for years to get our permits. It was a very challenging period and we needed lots of patience. And then when finally we were building, two builders went bankrupt. But we still loved the place and kept fighting to get it done! Our mission is being happy there with each other, but also being able to share with other people. The community of our village and surrounding Osa Major is very important. Many people from the village work here, we bring lots of customers to the community.
5 places you love to eat at in Mallorca?
And what about shopping – where should we shop in Mallorca?
The old town Calle San Fell, Santa Catalina (where we partly live: lots of vintage shops and little restaurants), and the vintage market in Cosell on Sunday.
What about beaches – which beaches are your favourite in Mallorca?
Son Serra de Marina, Ses Covetes, Cala Torta, Playa Muro.
What kind of mother do you strive to be?
Open, clear, adventurous, loving, and caring.
What’s one thing about motherhood you wish you were told before you became a mother?
It is all beyond expectations – beautiful, impressive, with big confrontations also, but never something I would have wanted to know before. I am 56 now, my children 30, 27, and 23 and we keep on discovering things together. And being together. It has been never so wonderful – every stage is so beautiful!