Bought to you by me! An idiot in a jaunty hat.
Those of you with a passing knowledge of European geography will be aware that Mallorca is one of the Balearics, a small group of islands that sit off the east coast of Spain. Balearics sounds a little like bollocks, and as a youth I certainly thought of Mallorca as such. In Essex at least, the kind of people who generally want to go to Mallorca are the kind of people who have nicknames like Jizzy Pete and hang around outside terrible clubs looking for ‘fanny’. Amongst the Brits, Mallorca is probably best known for Magaluf, or Rashtown as I like to call it. It’s the kind of place you can find Jizzy Pete looking for fanny.
Don’t be fooled, however, because the island is actually an absolute gem. Whether it’s beaches, mountains, good food, good wine, or just a massive piss-up you’re after, then Mallorca is probably the right place.
Hire a car. I really can’t stress that one enough. You can have a great time without one, but you’ll have an unbelievable time with some wheels at your disposal. Public transport on the island is very good, but the best it has to offer is well off the beaten track. We booked and picked up our brand spanking new Peugeot 208 on the same day, and 3 days of use came to about 160 euros. We went with Goldcar and they were pretty good, and I’ve also heard good things about RecordGO.
Sun, Sea, Psicobloc
The last time I visited Mallorca, a two day jaunt at the end of a long month travelling, we stuck strictly to Palma beach. This is a perfectly nice beach, and a bit of a tourist hub, but there are some absolute stunners out there that you really shouldn’t miss. First and foremost amongst them in my mind is the magnificent Cala Varques on the eastern side of Mallorca.
This unbelievable little cove is a must see for any visitor, and almost makes the car hire worth the cost in itself. Drive towards Manacor, noted for producing Rafa Nadal and absolutely nothing else, then head for Porto Cristo. You need to take a right onto the Ma-2015 and follow it to the end, then left onto the Ma-2014 and right after about 100m. To my knowledge it isn’t signposted at all, but is worth a little head-scratching to get to. You’ll find yourself on a dirt track, which you should park on. Follow the trickle of locals for what seems like 10 miles through the forest and scrub, before emerging in a little piece of paradise.
I was too busy avoiding weeping to take any pictures, but luckily Google has come to my aid:
Not even a good picture
Apparently every now and then you’ll be greeted by a cow on the beach being herded by a naked elderly man. This can only be a good thing. We managed to plonk ourselves down behind a group of girls, one of whom kept standing up, facing towards us, and tweaking her nipples. This can only be a good thing. I had to resist the urge to applaud loudly.
Over to the left of the bay is a little covered outcrop where an elderly lady and middle aged man, who I can only hope are lovers, serve cold drinks, cocktails and fresh sandwiches. I was driving so stayed off the hard stuff, but elderly lady made me an awesome homemade lemonade, and the girl next to me squeaked a bit when she tried her caipirinha, so I think it was quite good.
The real pleasure at Varques is up and over the rocks to the left. If you follow the trail up and over you come to one of the world’s premier psicobloc sites. For the uninitiated, Psicobloc (aka deep water soloing), is a form of rock climbing where you mill about with absolutely no ropes above a suitably deep bit of ocean. If you fall off, you only hit crystal clear blue coolness. It’s incredible, and I’d urge anyone to try it. There are also a couple of big caves around there; try swimming to the back of the left-hand one and putting your face against the hole.
Sa Rapita is another tidy little beach, this time on the south of the island; it runs into the famous Es Trenc beach but is a little quieter, and seriously beautiful. The water seems to run as a little shelf for about 50 metres out to sea, it’s only about two feet deep and like a bath, before plunging into proper, glass-clear water. Something about the length of the beach gives it a really great atmosphere; you get a feeling that you’re just a tiny speck in a vast paradise. It’s quite pleasant.
The beach at Sa Rapita.
Finally, there is Sa Calobra.
Sa Colobra is brilliant for two reasons. One is that it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. The beach is formed as the Torrent de Pareis tumbles headlong out of the mountains between two vast rock walls; the result is an unusual arrangement that feels a bit like the scene in Star Wars where they almost get squished by slow-moving walls. (Quite why they jumped down that trash chute has always puzzled me. Surely any self-respecting Death Star would have had a fire exit they could have fled through? Less dramatic I suppose…)
“Shut down all the garbage mashers on the detention level!”
The second plus point to Sa Colobra is that you have to navigate a bum-puckeringly tight set of mountain roads to get there. This is excellent if you are driving with a mortal enemy with a heart complaint: they won’t make it half way. I managed to terrify a Texan and an Essex girl with what I called my precision and they called “fucking insanity”. This can only be a good thing.
Eating. Drinking. More drinking.
There are many culinary and bacchanalian delights to be found on Mallorca, as long as you are prepared to accept that serrano ham and cheese are classed as necessities in every meal. This can only be a good thing.
Being Spain, tapas is pretty popular, and every Tuesday and Wednesday night Palma holds la Ruta. Smack bang in the centre of town you’ll find a load of tapas bars that have clubbed together to make this event successful. 2 Euros will get you a little bite to eat, there’s always a healthy selection, and a canya (small beer) or glass of wine. Not only is this dirt cheap, and good food, and an acceptable way of getting trollied, but it’s also a good way to meet people as half the town seems to come out and play. Expect the revelry to go on until at least 2, although the tapas is usually gone by 12.
Staying in Palma, the Can Juan de S’Aigo has to be checked out too. It’s been about since the early 18th Century and serves up ice cream you’ll struggle to beat anywhere. The Almendra (almond) and Fresones (strawberry, more like a sorbet) are particularly good, but at 2 Euros a pop you could eat your way through the whole selection and not feel hard done by. Half chocolate, half strawberry is a definite winner. While you’re there, pick up a freshly baked ensaimada, a local pastry which is gorgeously light and perfect for dipping into the dribbly remains of your ice cream.
I don’t know what flavour this was but it tasted like happy.
Veering out of Palma is worthwhile for some good eats. Get up into the mountains just to the west of Palma and there are some real treats. There’s a sleepy but beautiful little village called Puigpunyent. A small bar on your right as you head into town serves a great Pa amb Oli with typically Catalan service; the woman seemed genuinely affronted that we wanted to order food and drinks. I like that. Pa amb Oli is a simple yet delicious plate of lightly grilled bread doused in fine olive oil and a suggestion of fresh tomato, then topped with your choice of ham, cheese or any combination of those two. It’s a world of choice. There’s also a handful of fresh local olives and some spicy pickles to go with it. In a swelteringly hot place, it makes for a pretty perfect meal.
If you want something more substantial head up to Genova, a short trip from Palma. The place seriously enjoys meat. The most famous establishment is Can Pedro, where roast lamb in a hundred different ways is the order of the day. Make sure you’re hungry, when you order roast lamb that is literally what you get. Beware the meat sweats. There would be a picture but I was too busy struggling to breathe. One note of caution, expect to pay 20 Euros for food and drink there. It’s good, but probably touches the margins of good value.
Finally on the food front, get up to Valdemossa and enjoy a coca de patata (cake made from potata. Not as weird as it sounds) with a big bowl of dipping chocolate (chocolate a la taza or similar). It’s a good way to spend an afternoon.
Potato and cake, together at last
On that sweet thought I’m going to leave it for now. In the next episode, alcohol, activities and how to alienate friends you only just made with the help of a Peugeot 208 and a Portuguese tour bus.
P.S. I have shamelessly pilfered most of the pics in the above from my travel and drinking companion on account of being woefully inept at cameras and stuff and she is in touch with the social world whereas I still regularly forget my phone has a camera on it. Check her out! @katie_jane_rose