There’s something about an island. It’s more than the physical fact of being separated from the mainland by water. It’s a way of life, a state of mind that captivates our imagination. So no matter how much Mallorca’s beaches may resemble the sands of Spain’s nearby Costa del Sol, they seem an ocean apart.
Mallorca and the smaller islands of Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera join dozens of little islets about 60 miles off Spain’s Mediterranean coast to form the Balearic archipelago. The islands are best known for their beaches — Mallorca alone boasts more than 200 — and for the easy-going mix of mass-tourism complexes, stylish luxury resorts and private villas, all imbued with a laid-back holiday air.
Not all its beaches are attached to resorts and crowded with rows of sun beds, which further sets Mallorca apart from the Costa del Sol. Drive a few miles southeast of the capital city of Palma to find Es Trenc, more than a mile of dune-backed golden sand washed by crystal-clear water. Not far away on the southeast coast, Cala Barca’s beach faces a bay bordering Mondragó Natural Park, its waters popular for diving and snorkeling.
Feeling even more remote under the pine-forested mountains of Llevant Natural Park, Cala Agulla is a beautiful blue-flag beach. Blue flags denoting high standards of sustainable development, water quality, environmental management and safety also mark Cala Formentor, at the island’s northernmost point. On Mallorca’s southern tip, a 30-minute walk from Colonia Saint Jordi brings you to the long white strand of Cala Es Carbo, on a protected bay and almost deserted. Nearly hidden at Manacor stretches one of Mallorca’s most beautiful beaches, Cala Varques, whose white sands and clear water are backed by cliffs and accessed by a path through beautiful woods.
All trails don’t lead to beaches, and Mallorca offers more than golden sand to boardroom-weary travelers hoping to add a few days of fresh air and adventure to their trip. Some trails lead deep into the island’s rich culture and long history, to hilltop castles and prehistoric sites. Others climb mountains and explore nature reserves, making Mallorca a good place for those looking for active diversions.
Birders and nature lovers head to Mondragó Natural Park, where rivers flow from orchid-draped forests, winding through the dunes and across the beaches. From the park’s trails and cycling paths you might spot as many as 70 species of birds. In late January and early February, as throughout much of the island, blossoming almond trees paint the park pink and white.
The 3,500-foot El Teix is considered an enchanted mountain, and the climb to its summit on one of the island’s most spectacular trails certainly provides a magical experience. The stone path from Valldemossa passes remains of old charcoal burners and several lookout points as it ascends through oak forests and along a cliff with views over the coast. Summit views stretch across the Tramuntana mountain range, the north coast and the Bay of Palma. Another scenic climb in the Tramuntanas ascends Barranc de Biniaraix, a four-hour excursion on old stone paths through olive groves and along streams in a nature reserve.
A popular bicycle route takes you from the stone lanes and houses of the postcard village of Fornalutx, set in a spectacular valley in the heart of the Serra de Tramuntana, through orange groves and along lush mountain terraces to Biniaraix, another picturesque village in the Soller Valley, known for its ravine of waterfalls and stony landscapes.
For coastal views and a breathtaking drive dotted by overlooks, follow the coast west from Palma through the steep village of Banyalbufar to Andratx. Travel an even more dramatic drive to the northeast tip of Cape Formentor, where caves cut deep into rocky cliffs far above the sea. Fishing excursions, yachting charters and ferries to Menorca embark from nearby Port d’Alcudia, one of more than 40 island marinas that make Mallorca a popular stop for yacht owners. The most upscale of these marinas, Porto Nous, sits at the eastern end of the island, a favorite of film stars and royals.
Golfers, too, will be happy on Mallorca. Real Federación Española de Golf operates 18 affiliated clubs here, and Thomas Himmel’s new Son Gual rates among the top 100 golf courses in Europe. Close to Palma you’ll find the championship 18-hole Puntiro Golf Park, designed by Jack Nicklaus, and two other challenging 18-hole courses: the Son Muntaner Golf Club and Son Termens Golf Club. Son Termens, while challenging with its water hazards and natural obstacles, is quieter than most of Mallorca’s courses. The European Tour course at the Pula Golf Club lies in the northeast.
Being an island in the middle of ancient trade routes shaped Mallorca’s history: Barbary pirates harassed its ports, Romans annexed it, Vandals sacked it, Moors conquered it, Spanish kings fought over it. Each left relics of their time here — prehistoric settlements, a Roman town, Moorish baths and gardens, Spanish castles and watch towers. You can explore these, seeing the countryside, savoring some of the island’s finest views and enjoying its many walking and climbing trails. The very purpose of castles and watch towers puts them at some of the island’s finest viewpoints.
A scenic two-hour walk through pine forests leads to the Tower of Cala en Basset, near the little coastal resort of Sant Elm, a good starting point for several walks. This 16th-century tower is part of the network built to control the coast and protect towns from pirate raids. Reach other towers and castles by car, including the 14th-century Capdepera Castle dominating a hilltop with a view over the channel separating Mallorca and Menorca. The Canyamel Tower, with sweeping views over the bay, represents one of the most outstanding defensive structures.
The prehistoric village of Ses Païsses — built around a circular talayot, a defensive tower more than 3,000 years old — contains well-preserved walls and other stone structures. The archaeological site of Son Fornés dates from as early as the sixth century B.C. and is dominated by the largest preserved talayot on the island, 55 feet in diameter. A museum here shows artifacts from excavations and puts these towers and their builders in historical perspective. The remains of the once rich and refined town of Pollentia shows the Romanization of the Balearic Islands through segments of wall, ruins of mansions, an arcaded street and part of a Roman theater from the first century.
Mountaintop Alaró Castle, reached by a stone path, dates back to the Moors, as does the Almudaina Royal Palace in Palma. After the Spanish reconquest in the 1300s, it was modified as a residence for kings, viceroys and governors. Now a museum, the King of Spain still uses it in the summer. Nearby on Calle Can Serra, you’ll find the 11th-century Arab baths, one of the few remaining examples of Moslem architecture on the island. But hints of Mallorca’s long Arabian past linger in the fountains and graceful rounded arches above the twisting narrow streets of Palma’s old medina. At Alfàbia, in a valley below the Coll de Sóller Pass, you can stroll through the Moorish gardens of an ancient estate that has survived from the 13th century.
Mountain trails, nature reserves, prehistoric cities and castles dating back to the Arab caliphate blend easily with beaches, golf courses and luxury resorts to give Mallorca enough diversions to merit adding a few days here. You’ll be tempted to find an excuse to linger longer.
Mallorca Info to Go
Iberia and several other carriers fly direct to Madrid (MAD) from Boston (BOS), New York (JFK), Chicago (ORD), Miami (MIA) and Atlanta (ATL); and to Barcelona (BCN) from New York and Miami. Frequent flights from either connect to Palma de Mallorca (PMI). City buses (Line 1) connect Palma’s airport with the city center and (Line 21) with several beach hotels. You can rent a car at the airport or have one delivered to your hotel. Get a feel for Palma with a 24-hour ticket on a hop-on/hop-off sightseeing bus.
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