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THE JEWELS OF THE BALEARIC ISLANDS
 
(2016 - Spring/Summer Issue)

Writer: DEBI GOODWIN



If you don’t have time to visit all of the Balearic Islands, off Spain’s east coast, then go to Mallorca, the grande dame, as sophisticated and polished as the pearls it manufactures, and Ibiza, its wild cousin, most playful and tolerant of all.

Our visit began in the old town of Mallorca’s capital, Palma, built upon layers of history dating back to Iron Age dwellers and Roman and Arab invaders. Strolling through narrow laneways, we peered through iron gates at “patios” built by homeowners to allow natural light into their homes and show off the majestic architecture of their dwellings. In the 18th century, these patios were semi-private spaces important to the social life in the city. Today, they’re still evidence of the wealth on this island.

A City of Beauty and Wealth

High above Palma’s harbour sits the Cathedral of Santa Maria, one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in Europe. Built on the site of a former mosque, centuries of construction began under King James I of Aragon in 1229 after he defeated the Arabs. Inside, we instantly understood why it’s also called the Cathedral of Light. Morning sunlight poured through rose windows creating a rainbow effect on the floor, the columns and even the visitors walking down its aisles. 

Part of the cathedral’s appeal is its connection to the famous Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi. After earthquakes destroyed much of the cathedral, Gaudi was brought to Palma to restore the building. From 1904 to 1914, he tried out ideas that would later appear in his masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona. Touches of his whimsy are everywhere here in the garter-like iron light fixtures around the columns and the unfinished “magic carpet” altar canopy.

Artists have long been attracted to the mild climate of Mallorca. One of the most famous residents was Joan Miró who left a legacy behind him. At the Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation, his studio remains intact with unfinished paintings resting on easels. There’s also an impressive gallery of his works and the works of new artists.

But Palma is, above all else, about luxury. Lunch at the Hotel Nixe Palace on the Mediterranean’s edge is an affair straight out of a James Bond movie, complete with sparkling waters below and sparkling cava on the balcony. Later, when I strolled from the ultramodern OD Port Portals hotel located on the outskirts of the city, I came across one of the most expensive marinas on the island. There, I walked past row after row of yachts worth hundreds of thousands of euros on one side and stylish bars and restaurants on the other.

Countryside Pleasures

Outside the city, life and pleasure seem simpler. We happened to visit the agricultural village of Petra the very day their famous son, Brother Juniper Serra, was canonized by the pope. There was none of the glamour of Palma here, just a beautiful, serene village. Walking down its narrow cobblestoned streets, it’s easy to get a sense of the time when Saint Serra lived in a narrow two-storey house before setting out to create the missions of California.

Later, we visited the Caves of Arta, a vast cavern of stalagmites and stalactites. These enormous formations inspired Jules Verne, Picasso and Gaudi, an example of how nature influences art. At a nearby restaurant we enjoyed a country lunch of frito mallorquin—a combination of potatoes, peas, peppers and piglet chunks—and berenjenas rellenas—eggplant stuffed with meat.

Whether simple or chic, dining in Mallorca is taken seriously from the platters of thinly sliced ham worth up to 200 euros per kilo and sobrassada—spiced sausage—to the spiral-shaped pastry known as ensaimada. Expect to eat five courses and gain weight.

Perhaps one of the most delicious treats was the pan con tomate we sampled at a hilltop “picnic lunch” at the Belmond La Residencia in the mountain village of Deià, where we learned how to make it ourselves. Plenty of garlic and fresh olive oil was involved but the key ingredient was the tomate de ramallet, a meaty tomato that keeps for three weeks. Each tomato is cut in half and rubbed across the toasted bread until all its juices soak in.

One of the most fascinating towns in Mallorca is Soller with its two distinct parts. Its port was once the hub of the seafaring trade and is now the home of luxury hotels including one developed by the Jumeirah chain of Dubai. The town of Soller is set back below the mountains, far enough away from the waters to keep residents safe from the pirates who routinely attacked the harbour. Nowadays, the town, with its tapas bars, outdoor cafés and ice cream shops, is more about strolling than security.

An island of Surprises

When we left Mallorca I couldn’t imagine why I would want to go on another island, especially one known for its partying, loud tourists. However, Ibiza was full of surprises.

From our location in the centre of the island, at the peaceful Can Lluc Boutique Country Hotel & Villas, we were able to explore in all directions and experience the many facets of Ibiza. “You can make up your own Ibiza,” our guide, Shana Lacroix told us. “While some people come for the nightclubs,” she said, “others head for the detox spas. Backpackers can live cheaply in hostels, yet others choose to dine at Sublimotion, which, at about US$2,500 per person, is among the most expensive restaurants in the world.”

In the “Dalt Villa,” the old town of Ibiza city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 3,000 people live within its Renaissance walls; wealthy and poor share space with shops selling the white cotton clothing of Ibiza and pirate T-shirts.

Now called the “white island” because of the flat-roofed houses painted with lime, Ibiza was once known for its ochre dwellings, which blended into the landscape in an attempt to remain undetected by invading pirates. By the 1960s, the invaders were hippies. They left their mark in nude beaches and markets that sell sixties-style memorabilia and clothing. The Hippie Market, known as Las Dalias, is a great way to spend a Saturday morning. Musicians play old rock songs; long-haired vendors sell leather bracelets and jewellers create the perfect talisman for you.

Ibiza has always drawn those seeking spirituality. The limestone island of Es Vedra is said to have been home to sirens that lured Ulysses from his ship, home of a lunar goddess and a landing spot for aliens. Es Vedra is just one of the many spots on the island where people gather to watch the sun set.

After two days of kayaking, biking and wine tasting we ended our last day at Platges de comte. We had to push our way through the traffic to make it there in time but it was worth the drive. As the sun set over rocky archipelagos, young people laughed and joked, couples hugged and families ate their suppers from baskets. Then, as the day ended in Ibiza, the sunset audience moved to the beach restaurants for a glass of cava and another five-course meal.

Travel Planner

For more information on Mallorca and Ibiza, visit infomallorca.net and ibiza.travel.

For accommodation, consider:

Belmond La Residencia, Deià: belmond.com/la-residencia-mallorca

Can Lluc Boutique Country Hotel & Villas, Ibiza: canlluc.com

Hotel Nixe Palace, Palma: h-santos.es

OD Port Portals, Palma: od-hotels.com

 
 
 
 
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