Mallorca: beyond the cliches
The Balearics are best known for sun, sand and sea, but there is far more to discover
In this day and age it is not often you encounter someone who has never been to Spain, which is why I always felt like a bit of an oddity when friends and colleagues would fawn over childhood vacations to Iberia.
Mosney always did for me. Besides, the vista of a 1970s-era package sun holiday surrounded by lobster-red British and German tourists had always dissuaded me from paying a visit to the country.
Indeed, my first steps in Palma de Mallorca Airport two weeks ago threatened to confirm my long-held suspicions, as hen party after hen party passed by, sporting T-shirts adorned with monikers such as “Naughty Natalie”, “Saucy Suzie” and, my personal favourite, “Terri Turbo Tits”.
Much of the Balearics’ popularity can be attributed to the pull of visitor-oriented resort towns as well as the party island of Ibiza, but anyone would be forgiven for thinking Magaluf and Santa Ponsa were located on the far side of the moon rather than a short drive down the coast given the pains to which the guides go to avoid mentioning either.
The next morning’s breakfast served to further reinforce the high-brow narrative as we were serenaded with an unlikely live violin and classical piano performance in the four-star Moon Port hotel, which is in the coastal town of Port d’Andratx, some 30 minutes from the island’s bustling metropolis of Palma.
The character of the hotel was well summed up by the predominantly middle-aged and older patrons quaffing cava with breakfast at 10am. The message was unequivocal: this is not your stereotypical budget holiday.
Mallorca is the largest of the Balearics, a chain of four islands which lies 100km off the coast of mainland Spain. It has proven a consistent favourite among Irish travellers with anywhere between 125,000 and 150,000 of us visiting each year, but it perennially resides in the shadow of its rival archipelago – the touristic behemoth that is the Canary Islands.
My first look around Palma came in the form of an excellent Segway tour. After some initial trepidation about falling on my face, the experience of gliding past the art-deco sandstone facades in the heart of the old city is a thoroughly pleasant one. It is a fantastic way to take in landmarks, such as the 13th-century Gothic cathedral and La Llonja gallery, with minimal effort.
After stopping to try some local cured meats and cheeses at Santa Catalina Market it was on to a kayaking session in the St Elm. This idyllic coastal village is most notable for its proximity to Sa Dragonera, a small island
and nature reserve so-named because of its lizard-shaped outline.
However, the main objective was to reach the smaller, nearer island of Pantaleu known in folklore as the place where Christian monarch Jaume I stopped for a spot of lunch before subjugating Mallorca’s ruling Muslim population in the 13th century.
The initial instructions to adopt a consistent “left-right-left-right” rowing rhythm were soon abandoned for a more chaotic “five left, seven right, whatever gets you there” system, and a successful outing (measured by the fact that no one drowned) was followed by a well-earned evening meal consisting of the local pa amb oli cuisine of bread, oil and traditional Mallorcan meats.
The nearby Tramuntana mountain range is home to the rather dreary Carthusian monastery, where Chopin spent three decidedly unhappy months of illness in 1838 and 1839.
The melancholic vibe of the building’s rooms, aptly referred to as cells, contrasts sharply with the sweeping panorama of the surrounding countryside, and the pictureseque nearby village of Valldemossa.
A jaunt down the winding mountain road towards Deià offers views of opulent residences occupied by luminaries old and new including actor Pierce Brosnan, poet Robert Graves and an archbishop belonging to the ill-fated Habsburg dynasty of central Europe.
Back at sea level, I tried a golf lesson at the plush Alcanada golf resort where I was continuously chided by our Dutch instructor John for my unorthodox hurling grip of the golf club, although his scepticism gave way to astonishment as my clueless hacks somehow morphed into pristine drives down the fairway about halfway through.
“Never in my life have I ever seen this before”, came the disbelieving response from John, and I was suitably self-enamoured as we left to take in a tour of the fascinating art collection belonging to artists Yannick Vu and Ben Jakober at their secluded seaside manse, before some more local tapas and wine at the stylish Purobeach Club in the heart of Palma.
Although prices for the aforementioned culinary activities and accommodation can certainly creep into the mid to upper range, you are left with the lasting impression that Mallorca offers much beyond sun, sea and sand if you care to explore it.
Aer Lingus operate a daily service from Dublin to Palma Majorca and a three times weekly service from Cork to Palma Majorca. One-way fares including taxes and charges from Dublin start at €95.99, and from Cork at €77.99. For more information on fares and schedules and to book, log on to aerlingus.com