Like a former it girl who used to booze it up at Mahiki and China Whites but now spends her days walking the dogs in the Cotswolds, Mallorca wants you to forget about its sordid past.
The Balearic island has copped a bad reputation thanks to that most dubious of nicknamed places Shagaluf (aka Magaluf) where the streets are paved with vomit and discarded fish bowl cocktails. But head to the northern part and the chances of seeing a ‘lads on tour’ t-shirt are highly unlikely. The beautiful tree-filled capital Palma and its surrounding towns and villages are all a reminder that much of this island is still devastatingly beautiful – and that you don’t even have to head to the beach to appreciate Mallorca’s beauty. It’s like the wag finally realising she can cover her legs and cleavage and still be attractive – in fact, even more so. Yes, Mallorca has the Mediterranean sea but it also has the UNESCO protected Trumantana mountain range.
For an instant introduction to the mountains, we take the train from Palma city to Port de Soller, our first destination. The railway between Palma and Soller dates back to 1912 (an equally quaint tram then takes you on the last leg of the journey to the port). Out of the window look at rows of olive trees and mediterranean pine trees. I spy men loading lemons from nearby trees into a three-wheel van, the fruits’ zingy scent floating through the open windows.
Admittedly, you’ll save neither time nor money with the railway but it’s worth taking it on at least one leg of a journey. Public transport is the last thing on our minds however at 5 star resort Jumeirah Port Soller. Its clifftop position ensures guests have fantastic sea views and although access to Port de Soller is easy enough, it’s very possible to spend a couple of days at Jumeirah without moving much more than between its two pools (the infinity pool is the most popular: staff bring sunbathers mini smoothies, frozen watermelon and ice lollies to keep cool), Jumeirah’s own spa (the outdoor thalassotherapy pool has amazing views of the Trumantana mountains), two restaurants and sunset bar. Sundown cocktails here are a must: the orange sky as vivid as our Aperol Spritzes.
We don’t make it to the sea, (viewing and smelling it is enough) and only venture out of the resort for dinner each night. Sabarca restaurant in particular is a welcome surprise serving a pumpkin and mussel soup amuse bouche and our whole baked sea bass is expertly filleted for us table side.
While Mallorca may not be known for its restaurant or foodie scene, it is blessed with fresh produce which cannot help but taste delicious: from fig ice cream in Valldemossa to seafood at the Port. The inland town, about a 15 minute taxi ride from Port de Soller, is compact and easy to explore in a short time. Try and time a visit on a Saturday when the whole centre, and the roads that snake off it, transform into a massive market. Leather bags, scarves and cheap fashion items are sold alongside crafts and fresh produce. An old couple deep fry doughnuts next to a stand of lurid coloured jelly sweets. In the central square, stands sell freshly squeezed orange juice for just 1.50 euros, the hollowed-out orange halves stacked on top of each other like a fresh fruit game of Jenga. We order coffee in one of the cafes and watch a Menorcan music and dance group perform traditional dances and songs in front of Soller’s pretty church – the same musicians who I heard rehearsing the night before while sitting out on the balcony at our hotel, L’Avenida.
The musicians, staying at the next door Casa de la Musique, Soller’s arts centre laugh, joke and clap as they practice, the strummings of mandolins, guitars and the clatter of castanets drifting up at midnight. I’ve never been happier to be kept up by noisy neighbours. l’Avenida, an adults-only boutique hotel, is housed in a turn of the century building. Just 10 years ago the old house was a ruined shell, which has now been lovingly restored: complete with ornate plaster ceilings and marble staircase.
After an afternoon sunbathing and dipping in the hotel’s own small pool we make the oh-so short two minute walk to Casa Alvaro tapas restaurant, both this and next door Pinxos come highly recommended by L’Avenida. Instead of candles each table has a granny smith in the centre and the light fittings are made from white colanders while wooden crates are mounted onto the walls as shelves; these touches and our beards-and-braces waiter wouldn’t look out of place in east London but the clientele is a mix of tourists and Spanish – the latter always a good sign.
From Soller to the pretty village of Valldemossa. The main tourist attraction here is 13th century monastery Real Cartuja de Valldemossa, which has links to Frederic Chopin. The Polish composer spent a winter here during 1838-39 with French lover and writer Aurore Dupin, better known by her pen name George Sand. The blonde stone of the town and the pretty cafes and galleries offer a relaxing afternoon but, time-wise, not a lot longer is needed. Staying in a charming house in the centre of the town, found on AirBnB, our host Sarah is off for the evening to an art exhibition in Palma. We, on the other hand, drink cava and dine on Lays crisps over a game of scrabble on her beautiful whitewashed terrace. A delightfully, understated Mallorcan evening.
A morning in Valldemossa should always involve a class of horchata, a refreshing cold almond milk drink, together with the town’s speciality ‘coca de potato’, its prized potato cakes. Don’t be deceived by the starchy ingredient, these cakes are so light it’s a wonder the icing sugar on top doesn’t collapse them. At the same time as we enjoy our sweet breakfast, hungry cyclists sit at pavement cafes, energy drinks and jamon baguettes in hand – a worthy reward after taking on the Trumantana’s hairpin bends.
Travelling the same bends but on four wheels we come to our final destination of our Mallorcan mountain adventure: Puignepent and the Gran Hotel Son Net. Aside from the beautiful pool, with private cabanas available for guests and the hotel’s own farm, the treehouse restaurant is the big pull here. Available for private hire, it’s frequently booked out for special occasions but it’s still worth checking availability in advance as hotel guests are given priority booking. A tasting menu, which changes with the seasons, costs from 75 euros per person or 102 euros with wine pairing (highly recommended). Beef carpaccio with black truffle is a standout but you could be eating a Big Mac in this treehouse and it would taste amazing thanks to the mountain views.
High up in our temporary home, the sights of Magaluf et al seem far, far away.
For more information about the Jumeirah Port Soller, including reservations and offers, visit www.jumeirah.com.
For more information about the Gran Hotel Son Net, visit www.sonnet.es.
For more information about Mallorca, including what to see and do there, news, events and webcams, visit www.seemallorca.com.