The ever-popular star of the Mediterranean, Mallorca has a sunny personality thanks to its ravishing beaches, azure views, remote mountains and soulful hill towns.
For Miró it was the pure Mediterranean light. For hikers and cyclists it is the Serra de Tramuntana's formidable limestone spires and bluffs. For others it is as fleeting as the almond blossom snowing on meadows in spring, or the interior's vineyards in their autumn mantle of gold. Wherever your journey takes you, Mallorca never fails to seduce. Cars conga along the coast in single file for views so enticing the resort postcards resemble cheap imitations. Even among the tourist swarms of mid-August you can find pockets of silence – trek to hilltop monasteries, pedal through honey-stone villages, sit under a night sky and engrave Mallorca's lyrical landscapes onto memory.
Return to Tradition
Mallorca's culture took a back seat to its beaches for decades, but the tides are changing. Up and down the island, locals are embracing their roots and revamping the island’s old manor houses, country estates and long-abandoned fincas (farmhouses, estates) into refined rural retreats. Spend silent moments among the olive, carob and almond groves and you'll soon fall for the quiet charm of Mallorca's hinterland. Summer is one long party and village festes (festivals) offer an appetising slice of island life.
Mallorca tops Europe's summer holiday charts for many reasons, but one ranks above all others: the island's stunning coast. Beyond the built-up resorts, coves braid the island like a string of beads – each one a reminder of why the island's beaches have never lost their appeal. Go west for cliff-sculpted drama and sapphire seas, or head north for hikes to pine-flecked bays. Scope out deserted coves in the east, or dive off bone-white beaches in the south. With a room overlooking the bright-blue sea, sundown beach strolls to the backbeat of cicadas and restaurants open to the stars, you'll soon click into the laid-back groove of coastal living.
Eating out in Palma has never been more exciting, with chefs – inspired as much by their Mallorcan grandmothers as Mediterranean nouvelle cuisine – adding a pinch of creativity and spice to the city's food scene. Inland, restaurants play up hale-and-hearty dishes, such as suckling pig spit-roast, to perfection, pairing them with locally grown wines. On the coast, bistros keep flavours clean, bright and simple, serving the catch of the day with big sea views.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Mallorca.
Originally an Islamic fort, this mighty construction opposite the cathedral was converted into a residence for the Mallorcan monarchs at the end of the 13th century. The King of Spain resides here still, at least symbolically. The royal family is rarely in residence, except for the occasional ceremony, as they prefer to spend summer in the Palau Marivent (in Cala Major). At other times you can wander through a series of cavernous stone-walled rooms that have been lavishly decorated. The Romans are said to have built a castrum (fort) here, possibly on the site of a prehistoric settlement. The Wālis (Governors) of Muslim Mallorca altered and expanded the Roman original to build their own alcázar (fort), before Jaume I and his successors modified it to such an extent that little of the alcázar remains. The first narrow room you enter has a black-and-white Mudéjar ceiling, symbolising the extremes of night and day, darkness and light (and only discovered during restoration in 1967). You then enter a series of three grand rooms. Notice the bricked-in Gothic arches cut off in the middle. Originally these three rooms were double their present height and formed one single great hall added to the original Arab fort and known as the Saló del Tinell (from an Italian word, tinello, meaning ‘place where one eats’): this was once a giant banqueting and ceremonial hall. The rooms are graced by period furniture, tapestries and other curios. The following six bare rooms and terrace belonged to the original Arab citadel. In the main courtyard, Patio de Armas, troops would line up for an inspection and parade before heading out into the city. The 11th century lion fountain here is one of the palace’s rare Arab remnants. Up the grand Royal Staircase are the royal apartments, a succession of lavishly appointed rooms (look up to the beautiful coffered timber artesonado ceilings). Next door to the apartments is the royal Capella de Sant’Anna, a Gothic chapel whose entrance is a very rare Mallorcan example of late Romanesque in rose and white marble. After the death of Jaume III in 1349, no king lived here permanently again. In the shadow of the Almudaina’s walls, along Avinguda d’Antoni Maura, is S’Hort del Rei (the King’s Garden).
Entered via a cloistered garden, the monastery is a huge complex, dating mostly from the 17th to 18th centuries. Off the imposing central courtyard rises up the grand façade of the late-Renaissance basilica, behind which is a rather gloomy interior and a fine altarpiece by Jaume Blanquer; the Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus statuette is contained in a room behind the altar. The church received an ornate, baroque-style revamp in the early 20th century, based on plans drawn up by Gaudí. The dark effigy of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus (holding a book open with the letters alpha and omega inscribed upon the pages) attracts formidable piety from the frequent line of pilgrims who file up the steps to face the statuette in prayer and who often then make a donation in the tray. The statue is known as La Moreneta (the Black Madonna) because of the statuette’s age-darkened complexion. If you're lucky, you might hear the Els Escolanets (also known as Els Blauets, the Little Blues, because of the soutane they wear), the monastery’s boarding-school boys choir. This institution dates to the early 16th century. The museum is well-worth visiting, showcasing prehistoric finds including Talayotic artefacts, folk art and crafts, religious icons and a stash of vibrant paintings by Catalan Impressionist Josep Coll Bardolet. An English-language card detailing the contents of each gallery is available at the museum front desk. The Lluc ticket gives entry to the museum, the extensive Jardí Botànic (botanical garden) and the swimming pool (at the conclusion to the botanical garden, no lifeguard) in the monastery's serene grounds. The monastery also offers, fittingly austere, accommodation (guests are required to make their own bed). The Magnolia Garden, just before the central courtyard, contains four specimens of magnolia grandiflora, which flowers with huge velvety petals in summer.
Palma’s vast cathedral ('La Seu' in Catalan) is the city's major architectural landmark. Aside from its sheer scale, treasures and undoubted beauty, its stunning interior features, designed by Antoni Gaudí and renowned contemporary artist Miquel Barceló, make this unlike any cathedral elsewhere in the world. The awesome structure is predominantly Gothic, apart from the main facade, which is startling, quite beautiful and completely mongrel. The stunning rose window is the largest in Europe, see it up close by visiting the roof terraces. The Catedral occupies the site of what was the central mosque of Medina Mayurka, capital of Muslim Mallorca for three centuries. Although Jaume I and his marauding men forced their way into the city in 1229, work on the Catedral – one of Europe’s largest – did not begin until 1300. Rather, the mosque was used in the interim as a church and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Work wasn’t completed until 1601. The original was a Renaissance cherry on the Gothic cake, but an earthquake in 1851 (which caused considerable panic but no loss of life) severely damaged it. Rather than mend the original, it was decided to add some neo-Gothic flavour. With its interlaced flying buttresses on each flank and soaring pinnacles, it's a masterful example of the style. The result is a hybrid of the Renaissance original (in particular the main doorway) and an inevitably artificial-feeling, 19th-century pseudo-Gothic monumentalism. For an additional €4, visitors can enjoy the cathedral's roof terraces which includes the bell tower, buttresses and corridor between the two main towers, all affording magnificent views of the city and sea. Note that there are around 280 steps and no available lift. The one-hour visits are guided at set times and must be booked in advance as numbers are limited. Mass times vary, but one always takes place at 9am Monday to Saturday.
The 688-hectare Parc Natural de S’Albufera, west of the Ma12 between Port d’Alcúdia and Ca’n Picafort, is prime birdwatching territory, with 303 recorded species (more than 80% of recorded Balearic species), 64 of which breed within the park’s boundaries. More than 10,000 birds overwinter here, among them both residents and migrants. Entrance to the park is free, but permits must be obtained from the visitor centre, which is a 1km walk from the entrance gates on the main road. The so-called Gran Canal at the heart of the park was designed to channel the water out to sea. The five-arched Pont de Sa Roca bridge was built over it in the late 19th century to ease travel between Santa Margalida and Alcúdia. The park is considered a Ramsar Wetland of National Importance and, in addition to the bird species, around 400 plant species have been catalogued here. In spring, wildflowers bloom, bringing vibrant splashes of colour. The visitor centre can provide information on the park and its birdlife, and is the trailhead for several walks through the protected wetlands. From here, 14km of signposted trails fan out across the park. There are four marked itineraries, from short 725m (30 minutes) routes to 11.5km (3½ hours) trails, two of which can be covered by bike. Of the six timber birdwatching observatories, or aguaits – come inside and watch in silence – some are better than others. You’ll see lots of wading birds in action from the Bishop I and II aguaits on the north side of the Gran Canal. Buses between Ca’n Picafort and Alcúdia stop by a small car park near the park entrance.
South of Pollença, off the Ma2200, one of Mallorca's most tortuous roads bucks and weaves up 1.5km of gasp-out-loud hairpin bends to this 14th-century former nunnery, which sits atop 333m Puig de Maria. If you come pilgrim style (the best way), the stiff hike through woods of holm oak, pine and olive will take you around an hour – Pollença shrinks to toytown scale as you near the summit. Be sure to avoid the midday heat and pack some water. No taxi driver is foolhardy enough to venture here, which speaks volumes about the road, but if you crank into first gear, take it steady and say your prayers, you might just make it to the final parking bay, around a 20-minute walk from the refuge. At the top, take a contemplative stroll through the refectory, kitchen, heirloom-filled corridors, and incense-perfumed Gothic chapel of the former nunnery. That's if you can tear yourself away from the view. Though modest in height, this fist of rock commands one of Mallorca's finest outlooks: to the west the hauntingly beautiful peaks of the Tramuntana range, to the east the gently curving bays of Alcúdia and Pollença and the jagged Formentor peninsula. You can stay the night in a converted hermit's cell to rise at an ungodly hour for a spectacular sunrise, or simply enjoy the silence over a bite to eat. The paella is one of the best you'll get in these parts, but place your order well in advance. Life moves slooowly up here.
This house, palatial by any definition, was one of several residences of the phenomenally wealthy March family. Sculptures by 20th-century greats, including Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin, Barbara Hepworth and Eduardo Chillida, grace the outdoor terrace. Within lie many more artistic treasures. Not to be missed are the meticulously crafted figures of an 18th-century Neapolitan belén (nativity scene). Entry is through an outdoor terrace display of modern sculptural works, of which centre stage is taken by Corberó's enormous Orgue del Mar (1973). Inside, more than 20 lithographs by Dalí around the themes 'Alchemy and Eternity' catch the eye, as do the 1000-plus detailed figures of the belén, ranging from angels to kings, including shepherds, farm animals and market scenes, which make up a unique representation of Christ’s birth. Brought from Naples in the 1970s and originally kept away from public view, aside from at Christmas time, you can watch a short video documenting the painstaking installation of the display into its current home in 2007. Upstairs, the artist Josep Maria Sert (1874–1945) painted the main vault and music room ceiling. The vault is divided into four parts, the first three representing three virtues (audacity, reason and inspiration) and the last the embodiment of those qualities in the form of Sert’s patron, Juan March (1917–98). The dining room is decorated by large paintings of local bird life, also by Sert.
Built with flair and innovation into the shell of the Renaissance-era seaward walls, this contemporary art gallery is one of the finest on the island. Its temporary exhibitions are worth viewing, but the permanent collection – works by Miró, Barceló and Picasso – gives the gallery its cachet. Anyone turning up on a bike is charged just €2. The 21st-century concrete complex is cleverly built among the fortifications, including the partly restored remains of an 11th-century Muslim-era tower (on your right as you arrive from Carrer de Sant Pere). Inside, the ground floor houses the core of the permanent exhibition, starting with a section on Mallorcan landscapes by local artists and others from abroad; the big names here include Valencia's Joaquín Sorolla, Mallorca's own Miquel Barceló and the Catalan Modernista artist Santiago Rusiñol. Also on the ground floor and part of the permanent collection is a room devoted to the works of Joan Miró, while on the top floor is an intriguing collection of ceramics by Pablo Picasso; after viewing the latter, step out onto the ramparts for fine views. In sum, it's an impressive rather than extraordinary collection that's well worth a couple of hours of your time.
It's a fantastic ramble to Platja des Coll Baix – and what a bay! Snug below sheer, wooded cliffs, this shimmering crescent of pale pebbles and translucent water is soul-stirring stuff. The catch: it's only accessible on foot or by boat. Come in the early morning or evening to see it at its peaceful best. From Alcúdia, it's about 8km to an open spot in the woods where you can park. Follow the purple road signs for the Museo Sa Bassa Blanca, aka Fundación Yannick y Ben Jakober, and keep on for another 2km. From this spot, you could climb the south trail to Talaia d'Alcúdia, then follow the signs to Coll Baix, a fairly easy half-hour descent. The main trail will lead you to the rocks south of the beach, from where you have to scramble back around to reach Platja des Coll Baix.
Casa Robert Graves is a fascinating tribute to the British writer and poet who moved to Deià in 1929 and had his house built here three years later. It's a well-presented and rewarding insight into his life and work; on show you'll find period furnishings, a detailed film on his life, love life and writings, and sundry books, pictures and everyday objects that belonged to Graves himself. A prologue to the three-storey stone house, Ca N’Alluny (House in the Distance) is a thorough biographic film shown in a building near the entrance. Graves left hurriedly in 1936 at the outbreak of civil war, entrusting the house to the care of a local. When Spanish authorities allowed him to return 10 years later, he found everything as he had left it. And even now, the whole place is set up as if Graves had just stepped out for a stroll. His voice rings out through the rooms as his reading of his poem The Face in the Mirror is played in a loop of seemingly eternal playback; the effect is curiously powerful. Each room – whether it's the entrada, the kitchen, the printing room, Graves' study (cool in summer and nippy in winter) or the studies of Laura Riding and Beryl Graves – has a plastic-laminated introduction in English. On the 1st floor, several rooms have been converted into a museum, where his works are displayed alongside other ephemera from his life. Famous for such works as I, Claudius, Goodbye to all That and The White Goddess, Robert Graves also wrote reams of verse and a book on his adopted homeland, Mallorca Observed (1965), and the prologue to his The Golden Fleece is set in Deià. A handful of his 146 works is available for sale at the ticket office, and ask there also for the 'Reading Suggestions' information sheet.