17 - 20 September 2008
Visit romantic Palma and the rugged Tramuntana area of Mallorca in the off-season and you will be rewarded with bright sunshine, warm Mediterranean beaches, stunning views and the best Spanish food I've ever had.
Palma old town. At dusk, Palma's old town is lit in soft yellow light and a stroll around the shadows of alleyways, the quietly chattering main square and the stunning waterfront cathedral is utterly romantic.
Banos Arabes. The Arab baths are a remnant from the city's Moorish past and are worth visiting for the soothing, leafy courtyard and the cool stone rooms with skylights cut out to let in the sky.
Palau March Museu. I love sculptures presented outdoors, especially when they are framed against picturesque landscapes. The works in the private collection of the Palau March are already intriguing, but they are enhanced by the elegant arched terrace and the sunlight glinting off the blue water nearby. Every view is stunningly photogenic and it's a wonderful place to sit and contemplate the art and the city.
Soller. A charming, languid inland town centred around a shady town square. I highly recommend it as a chilled out base for exploring the Tramuntana, as there are many cafes and restaurants and transport connections are good.
Puerto de Soller. Travel only 3km from Soller and you experience a completely different pace of life in this more tourist-orientated waterfront town. However, the views are lovely and I'm told the hike to the lighthouse is worthwhile, as you can look sit and contemplate the wine glass bay.
Deia. A picture-pretty village perched precariously on its own summit, like a little island in the valley ocean. The church and the small cemetery (resting place of writer Robert Graves) are at the highest point and provide incredible sweeping views of the town's golden stone buildings and the surrounding burnished countryside.
Cala Deia. A tiny fishing hamlet with a secluded pebble beach. A gentle place to take a dip en route from Soller to Deia.
Valldemossa. This uphill-creeping town was heaving with tourists but you just need to step away from the bank of dinky souvenir shops to appreciate its tranquility and charm. The reason for all the tourists is the Carthusian monastery, especially famous because Chopin once stayed there. The monastery still retains lush gardens, old furniture and Chopin's pianos.
Llucalcari. My lack of attention to detail meant that instead of exploring the monastery complex at Lluc, I ended up at the secluded nudist beach at Llucalcari. The bus wasn't coming for another hour, the water was clear and refreshing and I was hot - so why not? My first nude beach experience meant that I was a little unsure of the etiquette. Are you supposed to provide a good amount of distance between your towel and the next, or pretend the other people aren't there? Do you avert your eyes at the other people's nakedness or stare boldly to show that you weren't freaked out by their dangly bits? Were you persona non grata if you hadn't waxed beforehand? Anyway, the water was warm enough to paddle in and the sun's setting heat evaporated the water from my skin without a towel - it was as close to perfect as you could get.
Torrent de Pareis. I was disappointed when our boat pulled into Sa Calobra and I saw the ramshackle huts filled with paunchy sunburnt tourists and tacky souvenirs. However, I followed the crowd to Torrent de Pareis and discovered the real attraction - the 'Grand Canyon of Mallorca', with its tall craggy rock faces and small beach. The azure sea was so clear you could see fish, and the inviting coolness of the sea was topped with an icing of warm current.
Tren de Soller. The 100 year old Palma to Soller train used to be a route for transporting citrus fruits, and now you can experience its gently swaying chugalug rhythms as you climb to another side of Mallorca. For an hour, the train takes you through Palma's outer suburbs, tunnels through lemon groves and olive trees, stops at a lookout down into the valley, then rolls into genteel Soller and the Miro and Picasso exhibition at the station. At Palma you can get a combined ticket which includes a return trip on the train, the Port de Soller tram and a boat ride to Sa Calobra for 39 euros.
Port de Soller tram. I had a Judy Garland moment as the bell clanged merrily and the San Francisco styled tram trundled through Soller town square. Then it was onto views of people's back gardens, streams of riotous bougainvillea and the blue waterfront.
Take a boat. From the quay at Port de Soller there is a large boat which takes you around the craggy coastline to the tiny pebble beach of Sa Calobra and the better beach of Torrent de Pareis.
Go hiking. There are many hiking paths in the Tramuntana region, and one of the most is the picturesque 2.5 hour Soller to Deia route. I started off early, heading uphill out of the valley, around the coastline and down (and up again) to Deia. For most of the journey I was the only person around, and the sound of my footsteps crunching on the gravel was broken only by the occasional toot of the Soller train and the idyllic tinkling of goatbells.
Take a bus. It's very easy and cheap to get around Mallorca by bus to visit the major towns, but you just need to be aware of the timetables as they run infrequently. Also, having experienced some of the narrow hairpin turns and crumbling cliff drops along the coast, I think it's a much more relaxing way to travel than driving.
Tast. I wandered around the soft-lit old town until it was too dark to feel safe on my own, and ended up at Tast. This bright, buzzy tapas bar served simply the best tapas I had ever had. From my bar stool I watched the staff carefully slice thin jamon and joined in with the locals to partake in price colour-coded plates of cold tapas. My meal consisted of a juicy langoustine, really good patatas bravas, a piping hot casserole of spicy octopus and anchovies with peppers on bread. A really happy dining experience for about 25 euros.
La Boveda. How fortunate to eat the best tapas ever, not once, but twice in Palma! La Boveda is well-known and well-attended by tourists, but its wood and tile interior and obvious care with the food doesn't make this a menu turistico trap. You must try the baby squid - simply the most tender, juicy squid I've ever had. The cod croquettes were so good that I couldn't bear to leave them uneaten, so took them on the plane with me. The bill also included chorizo al vino (great with bread) and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, and came to 24.50 euros.
Tren de Soller cafe. Not your usual train station fast food joint, but a breezy high-ceilinged cafe perfect for lingering with a book. I had a delicious jamon iberico sandwich and freshly squeezed orange juice for 6 euros.
Restaurant Sa Cova. Their sign said it all - the restaurant specialised in bunnies and squid. Given the mid-20s temperatures, I wasn't really in the mood for eating rabbit, so I opted for the squid, a herring salad and a cassata-like dessert. The food was quite good and filling, though not particularly refined, and the service was Spanish-mooching slow. Overall it was an enjoyable experience mainly because I was able to linger over a three course meal in the cool shade of the main square. 30 euros.
Cafe La Vila. This restaurant was mentioned in the Conde Nast article that inspired me to visit Soller, but the write-up said that the food was Italian so I dismissed it in favour of eating Spanish food in the nearby town of Fornalutx. Well, the Mallorcan bus system conspired against me, and as I stood forlornly in front of the petrol station on the highway, no bus to Fornalutx appeared. Nevertheless, those old wives were right - in every cloud there's a silver lining. I toddled back into town and cosied myself in the main square at La Vila, sipping my peach bellini (5 euros!) as I contemplated the menu. The langoustines were particularly memorable - described innocently as 'a l'all' (in oil) but in fact a delicious dish of twelve plump prawns served with a sizzling, earthy sauce of tomatoes, herbs, garlic, chillli and paprika, served with traditional Mallorcan pan amb oli (bread with tomato and oil) (12.50 euros). The dorada with olive crust was also noteworthy for the number of large juicy fillets (15.90 euros) and the tiramisu was described as 'tiramisu as you've never had it'. Three very good courses, a cocktail and water, only 40 euros.
Finca Son Mico. A typical Mallorcan whitewashed villa en route along the popular Soller to Deia hike. It is well worth a stop - there aren't many places in the world where you can go for a long, bracing walk in the sun, then take a rest stop for some freshly-squeezed orange juice as you contemplate the fairyland valley softened with the rising morning mist.
Sa Fabrica de Gelats. A large selection of locally made ice creams - try any sorbets made with the local citrus fruits. I had a refreshing orange and mint sorbet after my day of hiking.
Ca’s Patró March. The beach hut restaurant at Cala Deia juts out from the cliffs and has a million dollar view of the secluded beach and the never-ending sea.
Es Forn Deia. Despite the fact that no less than three Michelin starred restaurants resided in the small town of Deia, I was on the move so needed lunch on the run. The local bakery sufficed with walnut cake so perfectly moist that I honestly thought about returning to congratulate them on it.
Finca Gourmet. Finca Gourmet is one of the many shops in Carrer de sa Lluna, the main shopping street of Soller. Inside you'll find deli items from all around Mallorca and Spain, including olive oil, cheese, chocolate and biscuits. I bought some sherry vinegar from Jerez for only 1.60 euros.
Hotel Residencia Araxa. I was only staying one night in Palma, so on reflection I shouldn't have picked to stay at Hotel Residencia Araxa, even if it only cost 59 euros (including breakfast). I had read the Tripadvisor reviews before booking, and while they said it wasn't in the centre of town, I hadn't appreciated that it required a 15 minute bus ride and then a 10 minute walk to get there. Luckily, the bus system in Palma is pretty frequent, punctual and cheap (1.15 euros). Another thing to note that it only has one non-smoking floor, which means my 'request' for a non-smoking room was not guaranteed. Luckily there wasn't a lingering smell of smoke in my spacious room, except when I turned on the air conditioning (which I didn't need for long as there was a balcony). The rest of the hotel was pleasant, calm, and spacious, with a pool, gym and spa.
Hotel El Guia. I highly recommend this simple, friendly hotel - it's conveniently next to the station and a short walk to the main square and my spacious room was furnished with typically dark Mallorcan furniture. As I pushed open the green shutters, my eyes fell on the flower-strewn entrance courtyard. My alarm clock every morning was the sound of the church bells pealing and I wandered down to a simple breakfast of bread, cheese and jam. 51 euros.
Banos Arabes: c/Serra 7, 07001 Palma (Mallorca), Spain
T: +34 971 721 549
Palau March Museu: Palau Reial 18, 07001 Palma de Mallorca
T: +34 971 711 122
Real Cartuja de Valldemossa: Plaza Cartuja, Valldemossa 07170
Tast Restaurante: C/ Unio 2
T: +34 971 729 878
La Boveda: Passeig Sagrera 3
T: +34 971 720 026
Restaurant Sa Cova: Plaza Constitucion. Soller
T: +34 971632222
Cafe La Vila: Placa Constitucio 14, Soller
T: +34 971 63 46 41
Finca Son Mico
Sa Fabrica de Gelats: Plaça des Mercat, 07100 Sóller
Patisseria Frau: Carrer de sa Lluna
Ca’s Patró March: Cala de Deià
T: +34 971 639 137
Es Forn Deia: C/ Arxiduc Lluis Salvador, 10
T: +34 971 639 005
Finca Gourmet: Carrer de sa Lluna, 16, 07100 Sóller
Hotel Residencia Araxa: c/ Alferez Cerda 22, 07014 Palma
T: +34 971 731 640
Hotel El Guia: Carrer Castanyer, 2. 07100 Sóller