The best part of Mallorca. Just don’t call it posh

October 24th, 2014

By Mark Hodson, Editor of 101 Holidays

In 1929 the artist Joan Miró took his new wife on honeymoon to Mallorca. They headed not to the elegant capital Palma, but to an isolated and little-known fishing village on the north coast of the island, Port de Pollença.

In the early part of the 20th Century, the village had barely 100 inhabitants, but early visitors – including the Catalan painter Hermen Anglada Camarasa and his disciples – discovered a place of rare beauty, a long sweeping horseshoe beach overlooking a glassy bay, flanked on three sides by rugged hills.

Before Instagram, before television, before even colour photography (which wasn’t widely used until the 1960s), this was how tourism started. Artists would discover beauty spots, reproduce them in paint, and word would slowly spread.

Camarasa view of Mallorca

Ametllers en flor (1917) by Hermen Anglada Camarasa

After the artists come the writers. Agatha Christie stayed at Port de Pollença during the 1930s in an epic journey that took her to Jerusalem, Luxor and Cairo. She is said to have headed to the island’s north coast to escape the growing numbers of British and American tourists in Palma and fallen in love with this pine-scented bay.

The nascent growth of Mallorca’s tourism industry was swiftly halted by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. The island was held by Franco’s Nationalists and German seaplanes were based in the Bay of Pollença. Hotels were ordered to boot out their guests and hand their rooms over to Nazi airmen.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that tourism to Mallorca really took off – and we know what happened then. But despite the growth of downmarket resorts such as Magaluf and Arenal, the north retained its looks, and the region around Pollença is now routinely – and lazily – referred to as the “posh” part of Mallorca.

This is misleading. Although a glance in the window of any estate agency will reveal a large number of lavish villas selling for seven figures, there is nothing opulent or ostentatious about the region. Most hotels are still family run and restaurants serve traditional Catalan dishes. English is widely spoken, but so is Mallorquin, alongside Spanish.

Nor is the area marred by overdevelopment. In Port de Pollença, a promenade stretches along the perimeter of the bay. The prettiest section is to the north where there is no road and the path ducks beneath sprawling pine trees alongside a row of elegant villas. There’s a bronze bust of Camarasa, who lived on in Pollença until his death in 1959.

The promenade eventually reaches the hotel Illa d’Or where Miró and Christie both stayed. Although upgraded and expanded over the years, it retains many original features and has its own handsome charter boat, the Isabel Maria, on which I spent a gloriously lazy afternoon exploring the far reaches of the bay.

portada

The Isabel Maria moored in front of the Hotel Illa d’Or

On my visit in the second week of October the sea was 25ºC and tourists were sunbathing until 6pm. While Pollença is popular with middle-class families in July and August, the autumn crowd is very different: retired couples soaking up the rays and groups of brightly-clad cyclists on high-spec road bikes.

Cycling has a rich heritage in Mallorca, and it has long been the winter base for several elite race teams. Those picturesque hills soon turn nasty when you’re relying on pedal power and one ride – the Tramuntana Epic – starts and ends in Pollença and stretches for 168km with 2,700m of climbing.

Wherever I went in the area I saw groups of (mostly middle-aged male) bikers, sweating up hills and sipping espressos at pavement cafes. Not only does Mallorca have a well-maintained network of roads and cycle paths, but hotels and rental shops are well equipped. The Hoposa Hotel Uyal, where I stayed, had a laundry room especially for cyclists, along with a lavish breakfast buffet where budding Bradley Wiggins types could load up the carbs.

Biking isn’t the only activity on offer. There are dozens of places in the north of Mallorca where you can go canyoning, coasteering, kayaking or caving, and hundreds of kilometres of well-marked footpaths, including the GR221, which follows the Tramuntana mountains from Andratx to Pollença for 120km and takes six days to walk. In spring and autumn, Mallorca is less about buckets and spades than helmets and hiking boots. The activity season is long: only the weather between the end of November and late February is unreliable.

Cala San Vicent

Cala Molins, Cala Sant Vicenç

Just to the north of Port de Pollença, the small resort of Cala Sant Vicenç is wedged between two rocky headlands overlooking a crystalline bay. It’s a great spot for kayaking and snorkelling but walkers are also well served, with five routes leading directly out of the village. No motorised transport required.

I took one of the routes, climbing through a small pine forest and high onto one of the two headlands. I was passed by a heavily-perspiring German tourist, Werner, who clutched an altitude meter and looked like he was competing in some kind of race. He slowed to chat for a few minutes, telling me that he was on the island for two weeks, hiking every day. Where was his wife today, I asked. “She’s having a lazy day by the pool,” he sniffed. As Werner marched determinedly ahead, I felt her pain.

It took an hour to reach the summit, by which time the path had given way to boulders and tufts of coarse grass, the way marked only by cairns. The sun was a scorching 27ºC but the views across to the open sea were spectacular and the walk along the ridge was relatively easy. At one point I peered down from the top of sheer cliffs to a group of kayakers that looked like specks on the cobalt water several hundred metres below.

Hiking in Mallorca

Your author hiking near Cala Sant Vicenç

I lunched on pan catalan, that ubiquitous deliciously simple dish of bread, tomato and olive oil. A local guide, Miguel, explained that it’s all about the ingredients: a dense, brown, freshly-baked loaf, big ripe juicy tomatoes to smear over the bread, extra virgin oil and a generous sprinkling of salt. With a glass of red wine and a slice of sobrasada, it makes for a great meal.

If you like your cuisine more haute, there are plenty of appealing options. Among the best is Son Brull, a tastefully-converted 18th-century monastery set amongst vineyards and olive groves with just 23 rooms, a bar dominated by a huge olive press and a renowned restaurant, 3|65. The two-course dinner menu – with amuse bouche, sorbet, bread, oil and petit-fours – is good value at €49 and a bottle of cava from the estate grapes is attractively priced at €30.

On another evening I ate at Stay, a restaurant directly overlooking the bay where a three-course menu with wine, mineral water, coffee and chocolates was a snip at just €35.

On my last day I rented a bike. Alas, not one of those skinny lightweight road bikes, but a Boris-style banger, and I pootled the 6km to the town of Pollença, the whole centre of which is now a Unesco World Heritage site.

It was Sunday and the weekly market was in full swing: fruit and vegetable stalls, jamon and cheese vans, jewellery makers, chi-chi shops run by expats and, beside the door to the church, a pair of performing pigs. The streets were heaving and a band of buskers in the corner of the Plaza Mayor had drawn a crowd of around a hundred.

Considering this was the middle of October, and Spain is still mired in economic misery, the place was absurdly busy, both with locals and free-spending tourists. But spoilt? Overdeveloped? I didn’t think so. If Camarasa were alive today he’d not only recognise his beloved island, he’d still be able to paint many of the exact same canvases.

IMG_4121

House in Pollença

How to do it

Three nights half-board at the Hoposa Hotel Uyal costs from £436 per person including flights from London Gatwick to Palma and private transfers with Classic Collection Holidays (0800 294 9318). A seven-night stay costs from £704 pp. Other UK departure airports are available.

Son Brull can be booked through i-escape. Other recommended restaurants include Stay in Port dePollença and Clivia in Pollença town.

Activities in the area can be booked through Mon d’Aventura. It charges €30 for 2.5 hours of kayaking, €35 for a 5.5 hour hiking tour and €45 for a 4.5 hour coasteering adventure and speedboat tour.

For more information on the region, visit Pollenca Tourism and the Pollenca Hotel Association

Deal of the Day: 26% off island hideway in Azores

September 15th, 2014

9821cf78be67c23b3f1a5f47423c1150_936_425 282f85abd79e6ee0002d75ccd49dedec_936_425

Holiday Details: Get 26% off a week’s stay on the lush Azorean island of São Miguel. Quinta dos Curubas has a small chapel and fruit orchards, and offers stunning views over the bay of Vila Franca do Campo, which is ideal for swimming and regular whale watching, diving and boat excursions.

Price: £606 per person (saving £213 pp) based on two sharing, including seven nights self-catering, return flights from London Gatwick and transfers.

Departure Date: 18 October 2014

Book with: Sunvil Discovery

Valencia: how well do you know Spain’s third city?

September 5th, 2014

IMG_3899

By Mark Hodson

Many people have visited Spain’s two-big-hitting cities Madrid and Barcelona, but what of its third? Some might struggle even to name it, and fewer still will have actually explored Valencia.

I recently spent a fortnight with my family staying in a village called Massalfassar about eight miles north of Valencia. It was staggeringly hot – reaching 42ºC on one torpid afternoon – but we did manage to prise ourselves away from the swimming pool to explore the city and the surrounding region.

Valencia is widely known (in Spain, at least) as home to the paella, and hosts a couple of colourful festivals: Las Fallas in the spring and Tomatina in August, which involves manic tomato throwing and is actually held in the nearby village of Buñol. For many years it wasn’t a place troubled by excessive numbers of tourists, but that has changed.

In 1957, the river that ran through the centre of Valencia, the Turia, flooded spectacularly, killing at least 81 people. The government decided to divert the river to the south and – faced with an unsightly dried-up river bed snaking through the centre – decided to turn it into gardens.

It took several decades to complete the project but now you can join the locals as they walk, skate, cycle and jog along six miles of beautifully landscaped gardens, pathways, fountains and playgrounds. The ancient bridges across the river remain, along with some new ones, several of which were designed by the Valencia-born contemporary architect Santiago Calatrava.

Calatrava was also commissioned to design the City of Arts and Sciences, a collection of cutting-edge museums that stands at one end of the Turia Gardens. This provides a new focal point to the city, a counter point to the elegant old town, which lies to the north-west.

IMG_8022b-1024x682

To orient ourselves we took a cycle tour with Solution Bike which is based in the old town. Despite the heat, Valencia is a great city for cycling – it’s very flat, has a large network of dedicated bike paths and it’s not long before you find yourselves in the Turia Gardens away from all motorised traffic.

Like all visitors, we stopped to gawp at the futuristic structures of the City of Arts and Sciences, though our guide Alvaro was keen to point out that one of the buildings was already missing all of its white tiles. Pointing at a huge wall of grey concrete he said: “They just fell off and nobody knows if the city will have enough money to put them back up again. Like all of Spain, we’re broke.”

Valencia certainly rode the wave of prosperity for the last couple of decades of the 20th Century. It played host to the America’s Cup, for which an expensive new marina was built, and the Spanish Grand Prix was held on a track around the docks (though this has since gone back to arch-rival Barcelona). Its taxpayers are still picking up the bill.

We cycled to the marina and found it a little lifeless, despite the fact it is still home to the America’s Cup teams. A few super yachts were moored up, but some of the buildings were starting to look a bit tatty. A flagship modernist building was empty. Alvaro pointed to the tiles above our heads and pulled a face. “Best not stay under here, just in case,” he said.

It was only a short ride to the beach which was much busier. Valencia is lucky enough to boast a long wide sandy beach lined with seafood restaurants and cafes. Though there are finer beaches a few miles down the coast, you wouldn’t complain if you had to spend an afternoon there.

With our bearings in place, we returned to the city on several occasions, both in the daytime and at night. Eating out was a highlight. One day we whet our appetites by wandering around the food stalls of the Central Market – a high-ceilinged modernista building – before lunching at La Pilareta, a tiled tapas bar in the old town that is so famed for its mussels that it has buckets under the bar where you are encouraged to throw your shells. These mussels are not like the big flabby mejillones found elsewhere in Spain, but a smaller and tastier local variety known as clochinas. Served in a plain broth of lemon and garlic, they are superb.

On another day we ate at Bar Cantina La Lonja Del Pescado, an atmospheric seafood restaurant in the docks. This is not some tarted up dockland area, but a working dock, so it’s fairly gritty. The food was sensational though, particularly the spaghetti with seafood pictured below.

IMG_3937

We spent one long hot day at the City of Arts and Sciences, which contains a science museum, an IMAX cinema and Europe’s biggest aquarium. The science museum was particularly impressive with endless buttons to press and games to play, while the movie about outer space we saw at the IMAX was entertaining, if not quite as technologically impressive as the architecture suggested.

The aquarium, Oceanogràfic, was busy with families looking to escape the heat outside and it would take a particularly jaded palette not to be wowed by the sharks, walruses, beluga whales and sea lions. I had my doubts about watching a show of performing dolphins, but I was outvoted by the rest of the family, and it turned out to be a highlight of the day.

Although Valencia remains an eccentric destination for a two-week summer holiday, it would certainly make an outstanding place for a city break in spring or autumn. There is plenty to see in two or three days, the food is sensational and the weather is reliably sunny, and if you don’t have kids in tow, you can explore the hip bars and cafes of the Ruzafa district close to the train station. Next time, maybe.

Find out more from the tourist board.

IMG_3884 IMG_3964 IMG_3931 IMG_3935

P.S. It’s claimed the building pictured below in Valencia’s old town is the narrowest in Europe at just 109cm. The mind boggles.

IMG_3962

 

Deal of the Day: 30% off last-minute luxury Turkey villa

August 15th, 2014

Villa-Lavaya-36Villa-Lavaya-5Villa-Lavaya-65

Holiday details: Simpson Travel has a last-minute deal on the stylish luxury Villa Lavaya (sleeps 10) in Kalkan, Turkey, which is ideal for a large family or group of friends. The property has five bedrooms, private infinity pool, Jacuzzi and outdoor terrace and is close to Kalamar Beach Club.

Price: £703 per person (was £1,005 pp) based on 10 sharing for a week, including flights from London Gatwick and car hire (two air-conditioned cars for a party of 10). Higher prices are available if fewer people stay.

Departure date: 25 August 2014.

Book with: Simpson Travel.

Deal of the Day: 7 nights for 6 in Tenerife

August 14th, 2014

BAHIA_1 BAHIA_2 BAHIA_3

Holiday details: Prestige Holidays are offering seven nights for the price of six at the Grand Hotel Bahia Del Duque Resort in Tenerife. Enjoy the spa, which includes Thalassotherapy, a garden café restaurant, spa suites, five Thai treatment rooms, hairdresser and gym. Alternatively resort is just a three minutes’ walk from a shopping centre and 10-15 minutes by car to five golf courses.

Price: £1161 per person (a saving of £361 pp) for a garden view room on a half-board basis including flights from London Gatwick and private transfers in resort.

Date: departing 25 September 2014.

Book with: Prestige Holidays or call 01425 480400.

Deal of the Day: 35% off September sun in Turkey

August 13th, 2014

Asfiya_jacuzzi1_640 Asfiya2014_640x480_01 Asfiya2014_640x480_02-1

Holiday details: Save nearly 35% on a week-long stay at the Asfiya Hotel in Kalkan, Turkey. Guests can enjoy access to the nearby beach club where they will find a restaurant, sun-loungers, umbrellas and Turkish day-beds overlooking the water front. Further to this is a freshwater pool as well as a Wellness & Spa Centre that offers a range of holistic therapies.

Price: from £569 per person (a saving of £293 pp) based on two adults sharing on a bed and breakfast basis and includes scheduled return flights from London Gatwick.

Date: departing 30 August 2014.

Book with: Anatolian Sky or call 0844 273 3586.

Deal of the Day: 48% off five-star Mauritius retreat

August 12th, 2014

belle-mare-plage-golfweb-2 belle-mare-plage-mauritiusweb-2 bmpdsweb-2

Holiday details: save 48% on a week-long stay at the five-star Constance Belle Mare Plage, Mauritius. Enjoy the seven resort restaurants, spa, swimming pool and activities available including scuba-diving, water-skiing and kite surfing.

Price: from £1,199 per person (a saving of £1,125 pp) based on two adults sharing a room on half-board basis and include scheduled return flights with Air Mauritius from London Heathrow.

Date: departures between 1 and 15 September 2014. 

Book with: Tropical Sky or call 0843 249 5361.

 

Deal of the Day: £1,000 off luxury Ibiza villa

August 11th, 2014

1019_1 1019_2 1019_5

Holiday details: rent out Escandell on The Balearic island of Ibiza. This four bedroom, three bathroom rural hideaway sleeping seven has its own private pool, table tennis, landscaped, tiered garden with lawn, citrus and olive trees, covered dining terrace and sun terrace.

Price: £1995 per rental (a saving of £1000). Return UK flights and car hire are extra, but these can be arranged on request.

Date: departing 31 August 2014.

Book with: Vintage Travel or call 01954 261431. 

Try another site