It’s high Summer. I’m sitting on a dappled terrace in the centre of picturesque Sóller on the north-west coast of Mallorca, savouring the silky-smooth ice-cream made just a few metres away with oranges and lemons grown in this very valley – and thinking: this is the life!
As I consider trying out a few more of the 40 – yes 40 – fantastic flavours, or perhaps moving on to the sorbets, it occurs to me that this friendly little artisanal ice cream factory, Sa Fabrica de Gelats, is one of those hidden gems that typifies what visitors to Mallorca miss when they spend their holiday lolling by the pool.
I should say first of all that I’m by no means a purist when it comes to holidays. I’m certainly not a believer that the only way to see your chosen destination is to work your way religiously through eight different “target locations” a day – four each morning and afternoon, without fail. On the other hand, I’m positively evangelical when it comes to Mallorca: I simply can’t bear the thought that so many visitors fly in and out every year without marvelling at the majesty of the Sierra de Tramuntana, sipping a glass or two of wine as the sun sets over the fishing boats at Cala Figuera, or soaking up the atmosphere in the late Joan Miro’s studio in Palma, untouched since his death at the age of 90.
In fact, not only do they not do any of those three wonderful things, which come to me off the top of my head. Often they don’t even do the most blindingly obvious things, such as visiting Palma’s fabulous gothic cathedral – La Seu – despite the fact that it dates back to 1230 and dominates the city’s skyline. So, what can I do to play my part in making sure that Summer 2009 is the summer as many visitors as possible move beyond the poolside and enjoy the many delights of La Isla de la Calma. Well, I can start by listing my own
Top Ten favourite places and things, and hope that some of my enthusiasm rubs off. We’ll take it that everyplace I’ve already mentioned has already been included in your new itinerary. So here’s the rest …
Take a Balloon Trip over Mallorca
Without a doubt, this is the very best way of seeing the island. Mallorca Balloons runs flights from March to October, operating eight balloons, one of which is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest balloon in Spain. Forget the pool, the sheer romance of floating 2,000 feet over such a magnificent coastline is virtually indescribable …
Discover the 300-year-old Mallorcan Breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and ensaïmadas have been the traditional breakfast pastry here since the 17th century. The ensaïmada has even been awarded protected regional food status by the EU. Forn Fondo on Calle Unió in Palma has been a bakery since 1911. Pau Llull is the fourth generation to run it. Who better to make your breakfast?
Taste the Finest Lamb in the World
Forget the glitzy restaurants on the coast, even the good ones. Follow the UK’s most down-to-earth celebrity chef, Rick Stein and head for the hills, specifically to Es Verger a little mountain restaurant near Castell d’Alaro, where he ate “the most succulent lamb I ever tasted”, roasted over a wood fire.
Explore the Calas
This is a general instruction. A cala is a small cove, and the Mallorcan coast is a charming string of them. Keep your eyes open for the road signs and you’ll find some extraordinary little havens of tranquillity. It’s the slow way of exploring – but boy is it rewarding.
Don’t Miss Unique Fornalutx
If you stay by the coast you’ll never see it, but Fornalutx is regarded by many as the most beautiful village on Mallorca, and one of the most stunning in Spain. You’ll find it deep in the Sierra de Tramuntana, with winding streets, narrow stone steps, and flowers and greenery everywhere. Its houses are decorated with colourful painted tiles, some dating back to the 16th century.
Relive the Scandal of Valldemosa
It may be calm now, but in 1838 it became home-from-home for one of the biggest scandals to grip Paris that year: the affair between the pianist, Frederic Chopin, and the writer George Sand. To get away from it all, they rented a former monk’s cell at the Royal Carthusian Monastery here. They ended up hating the place – but they did wonders for its holiday reputation.
Enjoy the Colour of San Telmo
Where the mountains meet the sea, less than ten minutes west of Puerto Andratx, you’ll find San Telmo, a simple fishing village where the fishermen’s houses line the sea’s edge. It’s protected a few hundred metres offshore by the island of La Dragonera, declared a nature reserve in 1985. You may never want to leave.
Daniel Libeskind is one of the world’s leading architects, who designed the iconic Jewish Museum in Berlin and was chosen to redevelop Ground Zero in New York. Not many people know, however, that overlooking the sea near Puerto Andratx he designed the home and studio where sculptor, Barbara Weill, has worked for 35 years. It’s the only domestic project he’s ever done, and already on the worldwide itinerary of curious architecture students.
Hotel de la Residencia in Deià is one of the most exclusive hotels on the island, a haunt of rock stars and royals. The hotel’s small but perfectly-formed gallery is in a room which once housed an olive-press, and regularly hosts exhibitions by international names as well as Spanish artists. It’s a world of its own.
Cap de Formentor
This is Mallorca’s northernmost point and about as wild and wonderful as the landscape here gets, which is saying a lot. The sea views are quite stunning – but if you’ve a fear of heights, watch out.
If you do only half of what I’ve listed, you’ll have discovered something of the real Mallorca. Keep the other half for next year – you’ll never want to laze by the pool again!