Mike Martin is an experienced travel journalist, who has written for Teletext and The Travel Editor for 10 years. He specializes in food and wine, culture and activities holidays, and his favorite country is France.
The island of Mallorca – also called Majorca — in March looks more like the Tour de France route through the Pyrenees these days. The island is shaking off its two-weeks-by-the-beach image, and adventurous walkers and cyclists are being encouraged to make the most of its stunning northern scenery for a holiday.
I arrived in Palma desperate for a lie on the sun lounger with a beer and cheap paperback, and there are plenty of places which offer just that. However, it really is worth packing some walking boots and cycling shorts and heading north, to the beautiful mountainous region.
A 25 km bus ride from Palma, costing a mere €2.55, took me through fields of almond, orange and lemon trees until you reach the tiny village of Banyalbufar.
This is not so much a village as a street, but it’s a good starting point to set off on a series of walks or bike rides – or both. The hotel Mar I Vent (Sea and Wind) is in the ideal spot, built on the side of the hills and with spectacular views across the sea and hills. Breakfast on the terrace is a treat, and after a hot walk a dip in the unheated pool is refreshing. Actor Errol Flynn stayed here once; there is a picture of him in the bar. You can eat here in the evening for €25, but I opted to walk further down the street to the best tapas bar in the area, Cas Batle Negro, for a treat.
Local walking maps are available for free, although they have a rather Spanish feel to them – everything is pretty approximate, but it’s all part of the spirit of adventure.
With some bread, cheese and fruit in a light backpack, and loads of water – you can never have enough – set off east or west. East goes along the coast to Es Port des Canonge, along a marked road. The Mallorcans have decided to mark their walks in time rather than kilometers or miles, which obviously depends on how fast you walk, but this one says an hour, which is about right. It winds along the coast, past rocky clifftops and some odd-looking caves, and the views across the north coast and the turquoise Mediterranean sooth the senses.
It’s always nice to have a reward at the end of a walk, and the tiny village of Canonge has one excellent tapas bar, with the suspicious-sounding name of Can Toni Moreno. A couple of cervezas and some calamari later and it’s time to walk back to Banyalbufar.
Take the Scenic Route
For a fuller day’s walk, head west from Banyalbufar past Torre des Verger, a 20-minute bike ride, and park up. From here there are several clearly marked routes up into the hills, so grit the teeth and power up for a couple of kilometers and the countryside starts to reveal itself. The farther up you walk the better the view gets, and the gradients are not so steep really. Olive trees hum in the heat, odd-sounding birds catch the ear and tiny rock structures appear around every corner. If you don’t fancy the bike ride part you can walk along the coast, up into the hills and round to Banyalbufar as a circuit, which takes around four hours including a half-hour stop for a picnic lunch, which the hotel can provide.
This part of the island is ideal for cyclists, as they can power up and down hills or stick to the flat roads, and for a real test, the cycle to Estellencs is a must. It’s only 7 km from Banyalbufar with a few gentle hills, but once you reach the pretty town you can freewheel all the way down to the beach. That’s the fun part – cycling back up to the town in first gear is teeth-grindingly tough, a real lung-bursting effort. I just about made it though, and at the top there are a couple of cafes to rest aching thighs and enjoy the pretty views across the bay.
Where to Stay
After a few days of powering up hills and pedaling through winding roads and up some steep hills, it’s time for a touch of luxury – after all, the calories have been burnt off. Back on the south coast, just to the west of Palma, is Hotel Bon Sol, one of the best hotels in Mallorca. It has everything a top hotel needs – two saunas, steam room, Jacuzzi, heated and unheated pools, tennis courts, private beach – but it’s the old-school feel of the hotel which is the real selling point. It’s full of antiques, suits of armor and Goya-style paintings, and it all feels a little ‘70s in style but in a good way. The food is seafood-based, fresh and good, and the bar only serves Spanish wines, which are worth exploring, especially the Mallorcan ones, which are hard to find outside of the island.
The hotel also has a spa, much-needed after pounding the hills. It’s a little pricey, but well worth it. There are lots of treatments available, and you can book through the hotel.
There’s not much around the hotel, so after a few days of the pool and bar a bit of culture is in order. The 20-minute bus ride takes you into Palma itself, a lively city laid out almost exactly like Barcelona with similar architecture but on a smaller scale. There’s a Ramblas street running right through the middle and down to the sea, with the superb cathedral, which is a must-see.
Hotel Dalt Murada has one of the best positions in Palma from which to explore, tucked down a quiet side street just behind the cathedral. From here it’s a two-minute walk to the shopping area, the ramblas or the cathedral, and close to two excellent museums, the Palau March and the Fundacio March. The former has a strong collection of sculptures including Henry Moores and Barbara Hepworths, and a fantastic view from the courtyard over the city.
Palma has a huge range of tapas bars and cafes, with some great chances for people watching. Just the way to wind down after a break including exercise, scenery, relaxing and culture. Mallorca has so much more to offer than Magaluf — just get on that bus and explore.
Featured Image: Yachts in Palma de Mallorca (Shutterstock.com)