Spain’s Balearic islands are hard to beat for Mediterranean charm. Carolynne Dear and family touched down in Mallorca
It’s a tough gig picking a Mediterranean holiday destination. From Lisbon to Lesbos, most European summer hotspots seem to tick the ‘aquamarine sea, sandy beaches and delicious food’ boxes. So where to head?
We ended up plumping for Mallorca because a) once upon a time I could speak Spanish and I quite fancied giving it a go again; and b) the photos online looked great.
We didn’t pick it based on previous experience – both myself and my husband had used the Spanish island to party hard during the mid-1990s, not an experience I particularly wanted to repeat and I certainly didn’t want to give our teen daughters any ideas. Word to the wise, avoid Magaluf and Mallorca’s south west coast unless you want to max out on English fry-ups and all-night discos.
Overwhelmed by accommodation websites, we opted for a villa in the tiny town of Portocolom nestled along the island’s east coast on the advice of my French sister-in-law, who views Mallorca as a second home.
And we were not disappointed. One qualm I did have about visiting the popular Balearics were the crowds. To be honest it was pretty busy back in the ‘90s and with visiting cruise ships these days not making things any easier, I was worried we’d be shunted off the sand. As it turned out, whilst it was bustling, it was also enjoyable. There were a couple of moments when the crowds got a bit summer-in-Shek O-on-a-Sunday, but mostly it was ok. And Portocolom was a jewel – more locals than tourists and absolutely charming.
We’d used the break to catch up with UK-based family, all of us comfortably accommodated in villas walking distance apart, and we quickly fell into a relaxed ‘beach, back to the villa for a BBQ lunch, afternoon by the pool, local restaurant for dinner’ kind of routine.
The local beaches were just a stroll from our cliff-top villa along shady lanes, with two handy beach bars serving up a fine line in fresh fish, salads and sangria. Lazy, local days were punctuated with trips to nearby markets and beaches further afield, but to be honest, Portocolom with its protected harbour, little sandy coves and amazing swimming opportunities, suited us all just fine.
Worth the trip was a drive up to Inca in the north for its famous market. We took the teens but left the littlies with their grandparents and enjoyed a fun morning browsing the stalls (think fabrics, hand-woven baskets, shoes, bags and local foods – the breads and cakes were amazing). A good tip would be to arrive early – parking was scarce by midday and the market stalls shut in the early afternoon. The drive across the island was picturesque and we stopped in Sineu, the ancient geographical heart of the island, for refreshments on the way home.
We also journeyed up to Mallorca’s mountainous northwest after a chance remark on Facebook unearthed a close university friend of my husband’s holidaying in the hill village of Soller. Stunningly pretty, Soller charmed us all as we enjoyed catch up beers (and giant ice cream sundaes for the kids) in the town square and then jumped on the tram down to the attractive port. Here we tucked into an evening meal and more drinks in one of the many restaurants lining the harbour as a fiery red sun set over the ocean. Memories are made of this.
A slight low point was a trip to the white sands of Sa Rapita on the island’s south coast. “It’s a stunning beach!” my sister-in-law had raved. “You must go!” Backed up by online reports claiming it to be one of the most beautiful beaches on Mallorca, we drove for an hour, sat for an hour in a traffic jam as we slowly wound our way along the single lane track to the beach car park, and then hit the beach just as a local mistral blew in. Sand whipping our ankles, we quickly retreated back to the car and an equally painful traffic jam attempting to exit Sa Rapita across the flat wetlands of Ses Salines.
More successful was a local boat trip exploring the calas, or coves, that punctuate the turquoise waters of the east coast. This is quintessential Mediterranean territory – white sandy beaches, aquamarine waters and shimmering mega-yachts bobbing in the bays. The highlight of the day for the kids was anchoring back in Portocolom and a giant inflatable slide being unfurled into the sparkling sea. It knocked our Hong Kong junk experiences for six.
On our last day we had promised the teens a shopping trip and headed into Palma, the island’s capital. This impressive ancient city dates from Roman times and the shopping district is located along the old, cobbled streets and quiet squares of its historic heart, making for a much more attractive shopping experience than Asia’s sterile malls. We had a quick look at the city’s famous Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma, which dominates the town, and then browsed. Temperatures were hitting the forties by mid-afternoon so we were happy to retreat back to the villa and a quiet dinner by the pool.
The holiday had met everyone’s expectations and we returned home refreshed and ready for a new term in Hong Kong. And not only that, to my astonishment (and delight), my ropey Spanish had seemed to pass muster as well.