hidden europe 40

Island hopping through the Balearics

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: La Seu Cathedral dominates the waterfront of Palma de Mallorca (photo © Elena Zarubina / dreamstime.com).


To understand Menorca and its history, you have to arrive at Maó by ship. There is no better way to do this than by taking the weekly sailing from Palma di Mallorca to Menorca, along the way passing the island where Hannibal was born and another island where prisoners of war were held captive.

At an hour when most inhabitants of Mallorca are still asleep, the Albayzin steams out into the Badia de Palma. Folk rise late in Palma on a Sunday — unless, of course, they are taking the weekly boat to Maó. The voyage between these two island ports, capitals of Mallorca and Menorca respectively, takes six hours and makes a fine sightseeing tour — one that takes in those two islands and others besides. Yet this is a journey rarely made by visitors to the Balearic Islands.

Just a few minutes after the Albayzin has left the quayside, there are striking views north towards Palma’s magnificent cathedral dominating the old city. That one striking building, which looks south towards Africa, is locally referred to as La Seu. It helps redeem a coastline scarred by mass tourism. Around the bay, from Magaluf in the west to s’Arenal in the east, the coast is lined by hotels.

White villas march senselessly up the hillsides immediately behind the hotels. But Mallorca is big enough to escape the visitors, and all the more so if you can take to the water. Within half an hour of leaving Palma, we are skirting the austere headland of Cap Blanc with its squat white lighthouse. This is a moment that puts Mallorca in perspective. With a scatter of other islands now visible off the starboard bow, one can no longer ignore the fact that Mallorca is part of a much larger archipelago. Drive the roads of the island, or ride the train across to Manacor, and everything is so self-assertive, often brash, that you might think that Mallorca occupies half a continent. It has little by way of island quality — and it is the only one of the Balearics where that island ‘feel’ is so conspicuously absent.

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