I took my children to Mallorca for New Year’s week. Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands, off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea. The other islands are Menorca, Ibiza and Formetera. We went, knowing that temperatures in January would be cool and this would not be the beach holiday it is known for. It was quite lovely because the weather was sunny and mild and there were no crowds. We rented a car and spent the week zooming around the island enjoying the natural beauty, pretty towns, historical places and wild coastline. A spectacular week!
Of all the places we visited, our favorites were Valldemossa and Deia, both quaint seaside villages dripping with charm. The stone houses with flowers spilling from the window boxes and lanterns beside each door reminded me of Italy.
Valldemossa is a stone village nestled between the mountains and the sea. You must walk through the narrow lanes to appreciate it's charm and history.
We toured the very old Royal Carthusian Monastery (Real Cartuja de Valldemossa) from the 1300's. It was originally called the Royal Charterhouse since it was built as a residence. The monastery functioned until 1835 due to secularization.
Inside the monastery there is an antique apothecary (pharmacy) which looks like something out of a Harry Potter film. Glass bottles & pottery bottles line the shelves everywhere. It is very intriguing.
The monastery is most famous, however, because the Polish composer, Chopin, and his lover, George Sand (she was a French woman but in those days a female writer often used a man's name) spent two winters in the former monastery (1838-1839) with her two children (they rented 2 rooms). Fascinating. I loved it. Here she wrote her book "A Winter in Majorca". People weren't very kind to them when they lived there because he was sick and because she was a woman who wrote! And used a man's name! And her daughter dressed like a boy! It was a scandal. Nobody wanted his piano when they left Mallorca because they were afraid they would catch his illness. Those were the times. The Festival Chopin is held every August in Valldemossa. www.festivalchopin.com
Ca’n Molinas - We went to this traditional bakery twice (it’s been around since 1920). The first time we bought “coco de patata” - something native to Valldemossa. They are soft buns with a dusting of flour on top. The second time we bought “cremadillos” - these are filled pastries also native to Mallorca. We bought a custard cream-filled cremadillo and one filled with “angel hair” (a kind of stringy pumpkin marmalade - it tasted like Christmas, similar to mince pie filling). Blanquerna, 15, Valldemossa
Vesubio - We ate a fantastic meal at this pizzeria (an employee at the tourist office recommended it because it is local, not touristy). Very good pizzas and the best carbonara pasta we have EVER eaten. SO good.
Avda. Archiduque Luis Salvador, 23
He also recommended the Mallorcan restaurant next door, but we enjoyed Vesubio so much we returned a couple of times.
Cappuccino Valldemossa – Very good food with indoor and outdoor seating. We dined in the pretty dining room with a fire burning in the fireplace. Enjoyable meal.
Plaza Ramon Llull, 5 (right in the heart of town).
Picturesque Deia is perched overlooking the sea. It is an artist colony. There is a lovely little beach you can walk down to where the sea is pure turquoise. Stunning! We hiked from there up to the village of Deia through small farms and gardens. Such a pretty walk.
La Casa de Robert Graves - Deia was put on the map by the British writer Robert Graves, who lived here for a number of years. He is buried in the church graveyard. His home (now a museum) is set up as it was when he lived there. The caretaker keeps the garden well and he plucked oranges from the trees for us to enjoy. It is well worth a visit.
Deia is a place I would love to stay next visit. A lovely hotel is La Residencia (an Orient-Express hotel), which came recommended by a friend.
Alternatively, there are several cottages and beautiful homes available for holiday rental.
Other places worth visiting:
Soller – Up the road from Deia, Soller is a port town. Along the port are several seafood restaurants. We ate lunch at Ca’s Mariner at Santa Catalina, 12. My carnivorous daughter ate her first meal of rabbit and loved it. The seafood is fresh and delicious.
Soller also has a beautiful cemetery. You must follow sharp corners and narrow lanes to find it, but if you like old cemeteries, it’s definitely worth a visit. I was surprised how many gravestones had fresh flowers, they are obviously lovingly tended.
La Granja in Esporles – You can easily spend half a day exploring this living museum, which was an old mansion dating back to the 1200’s. In addition to a residence, La Granje was a Cisterian convent for 200 years. It is privately owned by a Mallorcan family, and you can tour the home with it’s preserved residential rooms, gardens, and expansive interiors where so many crafts and traditions were practiced, such as wool dyeing, cheese making, olive pressing, weaving, pottery, rope-making, etc. It is quite an amazing place. We took a walk through the pine forest on the property. The torture chambers in the basement were a bit creepy, but my oldest daughter was fascinated. There is a restaurant as well. In the summers there is dancing in Mallorcan dress. This is a wonderful place to learn about the traditional Mallorcan culture and a slice of history.
Take a drive out to Cap de Formentor, the northernmost point on the island. We drove from the lighthouse on Cap de Formentor to Valldemossa along the coast. The scenery throughout the drive is wild and rugged overlooking the azure sea, truly beautiful.
Palma - The capital city of the Balearics is gorgeous and has a colorful history (founded by the Romans, occupied by the Byzantines and colonized by the Moors). The port is brimming with elegant sailboats and the boulevards are lined with shady trees, a beautiful city indeed.
The jewel of Palma is the magnificent Catedral de Palma. It was converted from a mosque in the 1200’s and emerged as one of the world’s largest Gothic cathedrals on the globe. The interior is like a jewel box. Renowned architect, Antoni Gaudi, contributed to the restoration of the cathedral, along with designing the huge candelabra inside.
Miro Museum (Fundacio Pilar I Joan Miro) - Originally from Barcelona, Miro lived the last years of his life in Palma. Here you can visit the small museum along with Miro’s studio. The studio is most interesting, as well as the small house on the property where Miro sketched ideas for his sculptures directly onto the walls.
Address: C. Joan de Saridakis, 29, Palma (closed Monday)
Lafiore – Hand blown glass factory. Lots of colorful unique glasswares, but if you want something unique, bring home a traditional Mallorcan olive oil bottle called an aceitera.
The main shop is on the main road outside of Valldemossa.
Markets – There are markets across the island all week long (fresh produce, meats and cheeses, preserves, and crafts).
Check http://www.spanish-fiestas.com/mallorca/markets.htm for the market schedule.
Getting there: We flew directly from Barcelona (short flight) to Palma. On our return to Singapore, we flew from Palma to Frankfurt, then directly to Singapore. The airport in Palma serves several cities in Europe.
Here are a couple of books I found really helpful during our visit to this alluring island in the Mediterranean.