Our author had a head full of preconceptions about Mallorca, equating it to an island destination for heavy boozing and endless partying. Until a 48-hour getaway to Palma persuaded her otherwise: Mallorca is bountifully equipped with stunning landscapes, culture and excellent food for travellers to savour and enjoy.
The approach to Palma Airport in an aircraft is a revelation in itself: Mallorca from above is simply stunning, with mountains, lush green landscapes, white beaches and the deep blue sea providing a feast for the eye. I am already beginning to question some of my prejudices. Of course there is nothing wrong with going on a holiday to party. But since it’s not my thing and I only have three days at my disposal, I decide to skip El Arenal –which is where the party’s at– and to focus on seeing Palma, the island capital, and surroundings. But let me give you a sneak peek into what’s to come: the discovery of an island that offers bountifully more than partying and golfing (Mallorca is considered a golf haven).
Art and architecture in the heart of the city
My base is the “HM Jaime III” hotel in the centre of Palma (one piece of advice to make sure taxi drivers understand your directions: the Spanish pronunciation of the letter “J” is a throaty sound that resembles the Scottish ending of the word “loch”). The location of this pretty boutique hotel is ideal, and as I sit outside sipping my first coffee on the island, I am tempted to stay put and spend the day watching the world go by. But since time is of the essence, I resist the temptation and take off to explore the city. Palma’s most significant landmark is the Cathedral of Santa Maria, referred to by the locals as “La Seu” which means “Bishop’s Seat” in Catalan. Whereas the first stone of the cathedral was laid in the fourteenth century, the main façade was completed as recently as the early twentieth century. As a result, this impressive building incorporates several architectural styles. That being said, the Gothic style clearly prevails, even if the typical towers of this period are missing. The most striking feature inside the cathedral is the large organ which was built by the Majorcan Gabriel Tomás.
The “Parque del Mar” starts right by the cathedral. This public park encompasses a surface of almost 70,000 square metres – thus offering ample space for the many daily visitors, both locals and tourists. A large part of the park consists of an artificial saltwater lake with fountains and surrounded by trees and a pedestrian promenade. Works of art are also on display in the park, with a huge mural painting by Joan Miró as the undisputed highlight. Miró was also one of the architects of the park.
Tapas and Crema Catalana in Nadal’s favourite restaurant
After a quick lunch in a typical bar in downtown Palma, it is time for an afternoon stroll and some sunbathing at the beach. The “Ca’n Pere Antoni” beach is less than two miles from the city centre. Deep blue water, warm sand, stylish cafés and –to my surprise– plenty of space. As I am informed by a local gentleman who is busy helping his daughter build a sandcastle, the beach can get crowded during the peak season. But, apparently, it is never overcrowded. What a great place to while away an afternoon!
I choose to dine in one of Palma’s best-known restaurants: the “Forn de Sant Joan” is located in the La Lonja district and said to be the favourite restaurant of the most famous Majorcan of our time: tennis star Rafael Nadal. The walls of the restaurant bear testimony to this with photographs depicting the restaurant owner and staff with Nadal, but also with numerous other international celebrities. The restaurant is on four levels: the small, intimate “Crystal Room”, the “Red Room” for romantic evenings, the bar-lounge for drinks and tapas, and the “Celler”, which is where we, meaning my friends and I, make ourselves comfortable at a long, solid wooden table. The waiters are incredibly attentive – and my friends’ baby is doted on. The first course is a choice of tapas – I choose Serrano (dry-cured Spanish ham), Tortilla Española and mushrooms. Our main course is fish and dessert the restaurant’s speciality: Crema Catalana. Exquisite.
In the footsteps of Chopin, Sand and Picasso
The plan for the following day is a trip to the rural region of Valldemossa, which is home to one of the island’s most renowned sights: the Valldemossa Charterhouse that was once a monastery. Some of the rooms now house a museum, with one monastic cell dedicated to novelist George Sand and composer Frédéric Chopin respectively. Sand and Chopin spent some time in the monastery in the nineteenth century. A small detour to the mountain village of Deià, also known as an artist’s paradise, is also well worth doing. Writer Robert Graves used to live in the village (the house is now a museum), and Pablo Picasso is also said to have spent time there. The idyllic village is surrounded by the peaks of the Tramuntana mountain range and affords fantastic views of the area. I leave Deià and make my way back to the coast, more precisely to Port de Sóller where I enjoy a leisurely lunch down at the pretty harbour. Had time permitted, I would have liked to have travelled back to Palma in the historic “Tren de Sóller” (nicknamed “Red Lightning”). But since I am very eager to hit the shops of the island capital, I opt for the less time-consuming journey back in a rental car. As it turns out, an excellent decision: Palma is a true shopping haven with the entire spectrum on offer, from bog-standard high street shops, through designer stores, to small and original boutiques. Simply put: I basically shop until I drop – requiring me to purchase an additional suitcase to carry things home in. So much for my pre-travel claim that “I’ll be travelling with hand luggage only, as I don’t need much.”
Food, a market visit – and plenty to eat!
Day three starts with a leisurely brunch in the “Bianco Café”. The coffee is excellent – and my day thus saved, as starting the day with bad coffee is not the way to go for me! The choice of food at breakfast is impressive and includes fresh fruit, eggs cooked in all styles and cake. Feeling satisfied and happy, I have but one item left on my self-imposed city trip list: a market visit. The “Mercat de Santa Catalina” is exactly as a market should be: loud, colourful and full of mouth-watering goodies. Although still very full from my lavish brunch, I “treat” myself to a bag of irresistibly juicy raspberries.
Having walked off brunch –and the raspberries– with a tour through the trendy neighbourhood of Santa Catalina, my mind is ready to think about food again: the bar “Joan Frau” within the market hall is said to serve the best paella in town. Not that I am a big expert on Spain‘s national dish – but I can certainly say I have never eaten a better one! That afternoon, I board my return flight with a wealth of new impressions. And knowing, for sure, that Mallorca is much more than a party island. Oh so very much more!
Three Tips in and around Palma de Mallorca
Forn de Sant Joan: Majorcan tennis star Rafael Nadal’s favourite restaurant features delicious tapas, delectable Crema Catalana and excellent service. Reserving in advance is recommended. (Calle Sant Joan, 4, 07012 Palma de Mallorca, www.forndesantjoan.com)
The Valldemossa Charterhouse
The former monastery in the pretty mountain village of Valldemossa became world-famous, primarily because Frédéric Chopin stayed there. A museum in the charterhouse is dedicated to the composer. (Plaça cartoixa, s/n, 07170 Valldemossa)
Mercat de Santa Catalina
The market hall is Palma’s culinary meeting point. The abundant choice of foods is impressive, from colourful fruit, through fresh fish, to spices hailing from every corner of the globe. The bar “Joan Frau” in the market hall is said to serve the best paella in town. (Plaça de la Navegació, s/n, 07013 Palma de Mallorca, mercatdesantacatalina.com)