With a flying time from northern Europe of little more than two hours, the Balearic Islands are hugely popular destinations for holidaymakers of different nationalities. Located east of the Spanish mainland, the Islas Baleares comprise four very different islands: Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. Their position in the Mediterranean Sea has made them vulnerable to invasion throughout history, but today’s invaders – the millions of tourists who visit every year for a holiday – are welcome.
Mallorca is the largest of the islands, with probably the most varied landscape of any European island – ranging from flat fertile plains to the mountainous peaks of the Serra de Tramuntana, to the 262 beaches. For more than a hundred years, visitors have been coming to Mallorca, but the package holiday boom in the 1970s saw dramatic growth in visitor numbers. Today, Mallorca is a destination for a wide variety of holidays, including sailing, golfing, cycling, walking and hiking, gastronomic, rural, luxury, and, of course, the traditional sun, sand and sea beach vacation. Mallorca is known internationally for its leather goods, quality local wines, and olive oils.
Menorca is smaller than its neighbour and the furthest of the Balearic Islands from Spain. Its coastline is relatively unspoiled and the countryside generally flat. The island has a wealth of Bronze Age stone structures and ‘talaiotic’ remains are a common feature of the landscape. The capital Mahon (Maó) was occupied by the British several times during the 18th century, and this is reflected in the Georgian architecture of the town. Ciutadella, in the west, is the other main town on the Minorca. The island is famous for its local gin, its cheeses (you’ll see plenty of dairy cows in the meadows) and the annual Sant Joan fiesta in Ciutadella on June 24th.
Ibiza (Eivissa) is known to many as a party island, but there’s much more to offer here than all-night clubbing. A magnet for the rich and famous, ‘the white island’ – with its distinctive whitewashed buildings and extraordinary light – has peaceful countryside featuring groves of olives, figs and almonds, and wooded hills. The capital, Ibiza, and Sant Antoni are the main towns. An hour’s boat trip from Ibiza harbour will take you to the unspoiled island of Formentera.
The official language of the Balearic Islands is Catalan, although each island has its own dialect. Castilian Spanish is, however, spoken by almost everyone.