The British package holiday was pretty much invented in Mallorca and my parents went here on their honeymoon in the late sixties. That was when you couldn’t leave the country with more than £50 in your pocket and big aeroplane’s still had propellers instead of jet engines. Over time perceptions have changed and to be honest I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I arrived for my first visit to the island.
After a two hour flight from the cold wind at Gatwick, the Balearic air in Mallorca felt like a warm hairdryer blowing in my face. Renting a car is easy and there are providers like StressFreeCarRental.com with a range of options for all budgets. A pleasant forty-minute drive from Palma Airport later I arrived in the small North Eastern town of Puerto Pollensa (Port de Pollenca). Apparently even in the peak Summer months this part of Mallorca never gets too busy and the relaxed pace of life is as intoxicating as the local green aniseed flavoured liqueur, Hierbasm they serve here. My hotel, the Illa D’or is perfectly situated with stunning panoramic sea views at the end of a gentle 15 minute coastal walk into town.
Hotel Illa D’or
The Hotel has some impeccable history, this is where Agathe Christie stayed when writing her novel ‘Problem at Pollesa Bay’ and it’s actually referenced (under a thin veil) in the story. The book was first published in 1935, the Hotel itself opened six years before that and you can see the pictures of its long history on the first floor landings. They’ve updated and expanded over the years including a recent major refurbishment, but it still has a lovely nostalgic aura surrounding it.
My room is overlooking the hotels private jetty and I can’t help but imagine how it must have been all those years ago when Agathe stayed here. I have dinner in the Hotel restaurant, a brand new a la carte menu features dishes such as ‘Prawn Tails in saffron & Pastis sauce’ for starters and main dishes like ‘Hake Poached in White Wine served with sea-weeds and Chinese Mushrooms’ or ‘Braised Salmon with a pistachio crust and lemon grass cream’.
The standard is far higher than the usual half-board and a lot of the hotel guests choose to dine at the restaurant too. A quick look at review websites will tell you all about Illa D’or’s legendary customer service. Miquel, the Hotel Manager wanders happily conversing with guests like they’re old friends, and some probably are as many return here every year.
The hotel has built it’s success on the personal touches, the excellent facilities and location are just added bonuses. In addition to the 120 Hotel rooms there is also 24 apartments available as short term rentals and it can be hard to get a room in peak periods. Over the Summer dinner is served outside on the Hotels private patio restaurant ‘La Terassa’ on the edge of the still waters, it’s a perfect location to relax and de-stress. After 3 days in Mallorca I felt like I’d been there for weeks.
The next morning we were hoping to follow the coast west around from the North East tip of the island by sea, but despite the pond-like smoothness of the water in the bay a bit further out the sea is too choppy for our small motor boat. Instead we hug the coastline while admiring the huge villas nestling snuggly into the hillsides.
Miguel our friendly guide from Mond’Aventura has prepared a pre-lunch picnic of bread, tomatoes, samphire (a Norfolk special too), olive oil together with local cheese and Serrano Ham. Dining alfresco on ‘Pa amb oli’ in such a beautiful location is simple and perfect. Mond’Aventura specialise in organising group activities in Pollensa including Kayaking, Caving, Canyon Tours, Coastering and special walking and cycling tours. (see below). It’s a great way to meet the locals, learn about the history and enhances the usual holiday-maker experience to a whole new level. Tours can be customised to suit your parties abilities or interests and prices start from €25 for a guided hike.
For more info visit www.mondaventura.com
WALKING / CYCLING
These days people want to actually do things on holiday and not just sit on a beach for two weeks. With 300 days of sunshine, steep mountain climbs and spectacular scenery, Mallorca has found increased popularity recently with cyclists and walkers of all abilities. There are over 400 km of hiking trails and 176 km of signed cycling routes on the island and ‘Team Sky’ now have a permanent cycling base on the island. Look out for Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome as they are regular visitors. When I visited an Iron Man endurance event was taking place through Puerto Pollensa involving a 1.9 km swim / 90.1 km bike / 21.1 km run (apparently that is only half distance!). The local authority put together an excellent booklet with a number of suggested routes for cyclists and walkers, have a look at www.pollensa.com for more information.
Because of the fairly limited quantities of Mallorcan wine produced each year it’s fairly scarce in the UK. That’s a shame as there are some fantastic growers on the island. I visited a small vineyard called Mortix that is run as a co-operative, their vines are grown 400metres above sea level in the heart of the Tramuntana Mountains and they produce a mixture of grapes, including the traditional Malvasia variety in addition to Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Among the highlights of their range is a fruity ‘Rosat’ (the 2008 vintage is the one to look for) and my personal favourite, a sweet dessert type wine called ‘Dolc de Gel’ that was delicious served ice cold under the Mallorcan sun. I’ve heard M&S are beginning to stock some Mallorcan wine so if you can find a bottle give it a try.
A great way to sample some of Mallorca’s delicious Tapas dishes is to try a pub crawl with a difference. Every Thursday from 7-11pm during the peak months sixteen of the local bars in Puerto Pollensa host ‘Ruta Del Tapeo’, offering a glass of Vino or Cerveza with a tapas dish for just €1.50. Each bar has their own specials and showcase the local produce to wonderful effect. My personal tip, anything with anchovies or basil.
SHOPPING / MARKETS
Most of the villages hold weekly markets and there is a popular one every Wednesday from 8am in Sineu right at the center of the island. There are good factory outlets scattered across the countryside and Mallorca is home to some excellent pottery and fabric manufacturers. Many will post larger items back to the UK to save you trying to get them in your hand luggage at customs. A good shop for local produce is Galeries Vicenc (S.A Rotonda Can Berenguer www.galeriesvicens.com) and there is also a chance to see the traditional looms with a tour of the factory behind the store.
The town of Pollenca is popular with expats living in Mallorca. It’s home to a number of friendly bars and cafes and children play happily while parents enjoy a mid afternoon drink in Plaça Major, the town square dominated by the 13th-century church Esglèsia de Nostra Senyora dels Àngels. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed and it’s easy to see the attraction of setting up home here. Most of the buildings are from the 17th and 18th century and the narrow lanes are a cool refuge in the hot temperatures. It’s notable for the 365 steps leading down into the square from a chapel on top of the hill known as Calvary. On Good Friday it plays host to a traditional ceremony commemorating the Stations of the Cross. Ideally get someone to drop you off at the top and walk down.
Sun lovers should head for Cala Barques Beach a short distance along the coast line from Puerto Pollensa. There is a bar / restaurant overlooking the sand on the low cliff that serves the freshest fish possible. They do have a menu, but it’s better to ask what they’ve just caught and go with that. We had Scorpion fish with squid, fresh mussels and prawns. With fresh local bread and a cool glass of wine to accompany. Bliss.
Classic Collection Holidays (0800 294 9315) offers 7 nights at the Illa D’Or in Puerto Pollensa, Mallorca from £1146 this July. Price is based on 2 adults sharing on a half-board basis and includes return flights from Gatwick to Palma and private transfers.
For more info visit www.classic-collection.co.uk