My previous post highlighted surf and sand in Mallorca, showing only the periphery of this stunning isle. Although the platjes and calas might satisfy the majority of visitors, the locals know that a place is not defined by its leisure culture alone. It was the city of Palma and the myriad of picturesque villages that really stole my heart and my imagination. These were the places that made Mallorca livable and less of a packaged sun holiday, and they were beautiful to boot. What amazed me was how much open land still exists in a place as highly desirable to live in as the Balearic Islands. There are miles of rugged and undeveloped coastline, and a vast interior dedicated to olives, almonds, goats and sheep. When we first arrived, picked up our car rental, and ditched the density of Palma for the countryside and its farms, I was taken by the old windmills on cylindrical or squared stone towers, and patches of orchards divided by crumbling, rock walls. We drove off the interstate onto narrow, winding roads, with vistas of distant craggy mountains and golden fields. there was not a beach in sight, only the knowledge of its proximity. It really felt like it was possible to get away from all of the touristic clamor.
Manacor was the nearest town to Peter’s finca and our first introduction to “small city” life. Dan spent most of his evenings here at a co-working space, missing out on a darkening tan. The kids and I spent one afternoon at Manacor’s weekly market, which invaded the streets, turning the center into a sprawling pedestrian zone. We dined on carocoles (garlicky snails) and pa amb oli (piles of toasted bread served with tomato and aioli spreads, olives, charcuterie, and grilled meat or veggies).
*Special mention: We had a great meat feast at the large and popular C’an Torrat, thanks to the recommendation of our friend, Gisel.
Classy Palma was a revelation. I was not expecting its fine architecture, bustling commerce, luxurious marina, or sophisticated avenues, plazas, and storefronts. Soaring above all other edifices is the massive Gothic Roman Cathedral, known as La Seu, the Catholic heart of Majorca. We wandered where our feet led us, admiring the glitz and glamour, but dreading our swelling need for “things.” I coveted pearls, flowing summer dresses, nautical espadrilles, and wished for a pedicure and salon-coiffed hair.
Another morning we visited the famous Cuevas Del Drach, with its lit-up stalactites and stalagmites, and pools of teal water. At the end of a walking tour, we entered the largest cavern with an underground lake, and sat in a tiered arena where we were serenaded with a live concert. Five musicians were rowed on a boat in the near blackness of the cave, playing classics such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
The medieval town of Alcudia made me question my preference for blue doors and white walls (a la Greece). The emerald-green and pale-sage shutters against light gold and rosy, stone walls, were a most pleasing palette to behold. This walled city was almost too perfect and pristine. I wondered who really lived in its narrow, Arab quarters (a layout left by the Moors), once all the tourists had gone home. The outdoor cafes were full of Spanish seniors in stylish garb, sipping cortados and greeting friends. Money in the form of designer sunglasses, chunky watches, and dangling jewelry made me assume that Alcudia was home to wealthy retirees.
From Alcudia, the Formentor peninsula is near, but we split our visit over two days. Abandoning city for nature, we drove the northernmost length of Cap de Formentor, stopping to climb miradors in search of the perfect panorama. Our drive ended at the tip of a rocky finger, where a lighthouse shines a warning to sea-faring vessels. Below the steep cliffs were yachts and sailboats, many anchored in pristine and private coves. We were anxious ourselves to dip in the azure seas, and stopped at Formentor beach with its pine-shaded sands.
La Granja in Esporles, is an old, 17th century mansion, surrounded by lush gardens, a natural spring of cold water, and an animal farm in the Serra de Tramuntana mountains. It has been preserved as a museum to showcase what Mallorcan life was once like on a wealthy, agricultural estate. The kids learned about traditional crafts, like yarn dying, weaving, perfume and paper making, expelling olive oil, pressing wine, and processing grains. We toured the grand home with its kitchen(s), parlors, bedrooms, surprise billiards table masked under a dining table, and its creepy dolls, but what most shocked Gabriel were the dungeons and torture chambers beneath it all!
Perhaps, my favorite village was hilly Valldemossa, a lovely, blonde-stone town of flowerpots, tall cedars, gnarled olive trees, and gracious oaks. It was hot, but the dappled shade of trees and cool-covered patios offered respite. We fortified ourselves with coffee, an almond frappe drink, and coca de patatas, a sweet cake made of boiled potatoes, before visiting its most famous landmark – a 13th century Carthusian Monastery. This is where the French writer, George Sand, and her lover, the Polish composer, Frederic Chopin, holed up one miserable winter in 1838-9, adding to Valldemossa’s notoriety.
From there, we continued our drive through Mallorca’s rocky backbone, the mountain range of Serra de Tramuntana, lunching in Deia, on the way to Soller and its port. If I have an opportunity to return, this is the part of Mallorca that I would like more time to explore. I would visit in the fall or spring, when the heat is not unbearable, and hike between these villages. It was in these parts that my romantic heart was inflamed. My eyes teared up, as the immensity of Mallorca’s beauty caused me literal pain.
Until next time…
(For those of you who do not personally know my Stella Mar, this photo encapsulates her personality better than any others!)