The Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma, known as La Seu

Mallorca, an interesting break from your routine

If you are looking for a lovely one-week break from your Algarve routines, here’s a suggestion. Fly over to Mallorca (Ryanair has direct flights from Seville). Helga and I did exactly that recently.

Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands and is located 206km south of Barcelona and 260km east of Valencia in the Med.

Mallorca is only three-quarters the size of the Algarve (3,640 sq. km v 4,997 sq. km) but has almost twice the resident population (875,000 v 475,000) and its largest city, Palma (pop. 405,000), is huge compared to Faro (pop. 65,000). In fact, the foreign resident population of Palma is roughly equivalent to the total population of Faro.

Mallorca and the Algarve are alike in some ways
Tourism is the lifeblood of both areas. Palma’s airport handled over 29 million passengers last year, more than three times the traffic at Faro’s airport. In addition, Palma’s harbour can handle several huge cruise ships at one time and, in season, these deposit up to 22,000 people a day in the city. In fact, in total, Palma has the greatest number of visitors annually of any town in Spain!

Golf is important to both areas. Mallorca has 22 golf clubs, the best of which is Club de Golf Alcanada, located at the far north-eastern tip of the island, while the most popular is Golf Son Gual, near Palma in Manacor. For comparison, the Algarve has 37 courses, including four of nine holes. Greens fees are heavily discounted online but are somewhat lower in Mallorca. Beaches are important to both areas, too, and while the Algarve may have the edge in huge, long stretches of sand, Mallorca probably has more smaller but very secluded sandy beaches.

Mallorca and the Algarve are different in many ways
Unlike the Algarve, Mallorca has a very long, colourful history and a beautiful and varied topography, featuring two mountain ranges, and it offers a full palate of cultural activities and points of interest.

Palma de Mallorca
Palma was founded as a Roman camp in 124 BC. It was subjected to several vandal raids during the fall of the western Roman Empire, then reconquered by the Byzantine Empire. In the early 800s, several Viking raids devastated the island. It was eventually colonized by the Moors in 902 and, in 1229, captured by James I of Aragon. In the next 100 years, the island was populated mainly by immigrants brought from Catalonia, and still today the Catalan language is used equally with Spanish.

Palma’s most distinguishing feature is its massive gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria (commonly known as La Seu), which was begun in the early 13th century (on top of an old mosque) but not finished until 1601. Its 44-metre high central nave is the second highest of the gothic world. Its huge buttresses can be easily seen from ships entering Palma harbour.

In 1901, 50 years after an earthquake-inspired restoration had started, the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi was invited to take over the project. However, after making some mostly cosmetic changes, Gaudi abandoned the cathedral in 1914.

Next to the Cathedral is the Palacio Real de La Almudaina, an ancient Moorish fortress which was converted to a royal residence by the Kings of Mallorca. Today it is the official summer residence of the King of Spain.

On our last evening in Mallorca, we had the great pleasure of dining en plein air at a lovely restaurant called Murada, with a perfect view of the Cathedral and La Almudaina as they turned from sandstone to beige to pink in the setting sun.

The old part of the city has narrow, twisting alleys everywhere, giving on to pretty little squares and old houses, each with a plethora of wrought-iron balconies. But the native heart of Palma is the Passeig des Born, a wide, beautifully landscaped rambla that is very popular for the evening strolls of the Palmerians. Reminders of the 300-year Arab presence in Palma are the frequent fountains

Outside Palma
Much of the interest and beauty of the island lies outside Palma. The most scenic area is La Costa Rocosa (The Rocky Coast), which is dominated by the limestone barrier of the Sierra de Tramuntana range of steep mountains. We drove north from Palma to Valdemossa, a small village that has grown up around a Carthusian Monastery.

Although the town is delightful, its claim to fame stems from the winter period of 1838-39, when Frédéric Chopin and George Sand stayed there (Trivia question: What was Sand’s real name? Answer: Amantine Lucile Aurora Dupin). Although Chopin regained his inspiration during the stay, it was a miserable winter and the couple fled back to Paris soon after. Their stay in Mallorca was all too brief!

From Valdemossa, we drove along beautiful but narrow and winding roads (great for serious cyclists, of which there are many) to the gorgeous village of Deià, to see the home of Robert Graves, English poet and writer (“I, Claudius” is perhaps his best-known work). He lived in Deià from 1946 until his death in 1985. His very pretty house is now a museum, featuring much of his memorabilia.

Further on, we came to the Puerto de Sóller, which lies in the curve of an almost circular bay. This is the major seaside resort of the north coast. We had an excellent lunch on a terrace overlooking the harbour.

After Sóller, the road winds firstly through Fornalutx (called the prettiest village in Spain) and then through a weird and desolate landscape of steep, jagged rocks past Puig Major, Mallorca’s highest point (1,445 metres), to the 13th century Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de Lluc (pronounced Yuck). Somewhat like Fatima or Lourdes, a young shepherd found a statue of the virgin on the site and a shrine was built. La Moreneta, as the dark stone Gothic statue is known, is patron of Mallorca.

Beyond the monastery lies the amazing Formentor peninsula, with spectacular views of great rock promontories. We would have liked to explore the south coast, with its hidden beaches and many unbelievable caves, but we just didn’t have enough time. A good reason to plan another trip!

If Mallorca appeals to you, try to go in the November-March period, when there is very little tourism, but the weather is still good. You might even run into Rafa Nadal – he lives, in the tennis off season, in Manacor.

By Larry Hampton

Photos: Larry Hampton

The Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma, known as La Seu
Arabesque fountains at one end of the rambla El Born
The Llotja, a 15th century commodities exchange on the Palma waterfront
A typical Palma courtyard in the old city
La Almudiana, once a Moorish fortress and now the official summer residence of the King of Spain
A bust of Frederick Chopin in the monastery gardens of Valdemossa
A bust of Robert Graves at his former home –
now a museum
The village of Deià, where the English writer Robert Graves lived
The Gothic statue of the virgin, called La Moreneta, at the Monastery of San Lluc