“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” Lawrence Block
Mallorca is an island of two halves, there are the mass tourist towns and then there’s the rest of it. My first ever holiday abroad at the ripe old age of five was to Mallorca and I’ve avoided it ever since due to the huge growth in tourism since the 1980s. However I went back to visit a friend and discovered a side to Mallorca I never knew existed, and I fell in love with it.
The largest of the Spanish Balearic Islands, Mallorca is 1405 square miles of mountains, cities, beaches, caves, gorgeous waters and a myriad of activities. Visiting in February ruled out beaches so I focused on getting to know the real character of Mallorca.
First up was a trip to the north coast which offers quieter towns with stunning historic buildings via an old wooden tram that runs from Palma, through the Tramuntana mountains to Soller. The hundred year old trams have been beautifully restored and offer a comfortable ride with stunning views of villages and fruit groves along the 27km route.
On arrival in Soller I felt like I was in a movie. The town square is overlooked by the church, cafes and independent shops selling culinary delicacies, with a few orange and lemon trees thrown in for good measure and a street market selling meats, cheeses, breads and handcrafts.
The town square was full of seating for locals, tourists and visitors of all ages. It was such a feast for the eyes I couldn’t possibly take it all in, but I tried. We found a table in the square which captured the sun, intensifying the heat and people watched with a fresh coffee and croissants.
Our ultimate destination was Port de Soller so we tore ourselves away from the town and jumped back on the tram for the 5km ride. Lining the tracks were old Spanish houses and trees heavy with huge lemons, I could almost pick some as we ambled past. I was awestruck on arrival by a beautiful natural harbour of glistening water bordered by yellow sand and a boardwalk that runs the length of the harbour. It was warm enough for me to throw my shoes off and run onto the sand for my first sand-between-the-toes day of the year. February can be a bit hit and miss with average temperatures of 50°F/10°C, but when the sun’s out it feels warmer.
We reached the first restaurant on the boardwalk with a huge outdoor seating area right by the water. We had a lazy lunch with a carafe of wine and watched the light February traffic along the boardwalk and in the harbour amble past. It was one of those ‘I don’t want to be anywhere but here right now’ moments. The only interruption to the peace was the sound of a boat being sanded down – my Venezuelan host guessed they must be English, the Spanish don’t work on weekends!
There were a few tourist shops on the other side of the road but there was nothing more appealing to me than my views on the harbour side so we stayed where we were for the afternoon. We caught the last tram back to Palma. The track passes remote towns and mountains with off grid old stone houses dotted on hillsides so steep I wondered how the residents reached them. Valleys bathed in sunlight are filled with a collection of old houses and a church surrounded by groves and orchards. Nature at its most beautiful.
Back in rainy Palma we wandered the city’s winding streets. There are a significant number of independent shops, bars and restaurants so every time you turn a corner there’s a potential new experience. We visited tapas restaurants and enjoyed thick hot chocolate with croissants for breakfast from bakeries.
My final stop was Lloseta, a rural area bordered by the mountains north east of Palma for dinner with friends. We took the train through the countryside past fields of almond trees which were just starting to blossom. Our hosts live in a beautiful house with a pool and BBQ cabana and enough land to grow their own fruit and vegetables. We spent the afternoon by the pool and the evening warming ourselves by the brick oven as we ate fresh fish with salad of huge juicy vegetables typical of the Mediterranean climate.
By the end of my weekend I wanted to move to Soller for the summer. I would be one of many northern Europeans who have made Mallorca their home. The door to door journey can be as little as 4 hours, and even with flights, it’s cheaper to live there than in northern Europe. Food for thought!