Making the Most of Mallorca
An Air France strike (what else is new?) threatened our ability to get to Palma Mallorca (a.k.a. Majorca), but fortunately Air Europa, Spain’s third largest airline after Iberia and Vueling, got us there relatively unscathed — only an hour late. This was the first time for both my daughter and I to visit the Spanish island, a change from my usual annual vacation on the French island of Corsica.
We rented a three-bedroom apartment/house in the 13th-century village of Pollença (a.k.a. Pollensa) — a town founded by the Catalans six kilometers from the coast to avoid pirate attacks. The charming streets are narrow and void of any greenery except for one or two long tree-lined streets that seems out of place to the others, but there are a number of squares with outdoor cafés and most notably, an impressive 365-step stairway leading to a chapel on the top of the hill.
It is here on the stairway that every year on Good Friday the community re-enacts the Stations of the Cross and a mock crucifixion with a torchlit parade of the body of Christ through the town — paraders in costume of cloaks, masks and pointed hats. Yes, just as you were thinking…the costumes resemble those of the Ku Klux Klan…but fortunately have no connection.
Of course, I didn’t know any of this before being there — we just found the rental home online like any other tourists without knowing much about the area and discovered its history and advantages. We also discovered that this is the time for the annual music festival in Pollença, making it difficult to find parking or get a table at one of the local restaurants as it swells with celebrators.
Founded in 1962 by the renowned violinist Philip Newman, performances fill two summer months right here in this not-so-sleepy little town. Our second night enjoying dinner in the town center was a surprise to find everyone wearing white (except us), not a table to be had in any of the restaurants, and a DJ playing dance music in the town square. The next night coming home late from an all-day excursion across the island to the Es Trenc beach, left us driving around town for what seemed like forever to find parking and ended up parking illegally for lack of anything better.
The kids were out in full force for several of these nights, most of the young girls were wearing jeans shorts…for what reason we never understood other than fashion, but white was also the color of choice for all the others (later to discover these were the ‘goodies’ — or the ‘Christians’) and we felt so out-of-place in our Paris black, but wore it anyway.
August 2nd was one of the most popular days of the festivals — La Patrona. At 6 a.m., I was awoken by a band playing loudly on our street and then from the windows I could see hordes of these kids walking together quickly down the street — this was after a 5 a.m. announcement about the celebration following a dance the night before when the band plays “Alborada.” The town waits all year for this special moment…but this was all new to us!
A Mass was held in the church at 11 a.m. beginning with a procession through the town. That night there was a mock battle held between the Moors (the ‘baddies’ dressed in pirate costumes) and the Christians (the ‘goodies’ dressed in white) in the main square to commemorate a battle that took place in May 1550 — the most important pirate attack ever experienced…so the youth of the village came dressed in Moorish pirate costumes (and the other townspeople in white), who drank enough after the ‘battle’ to get themselves pretty plastered.
My old friend, Christa Kollig, wanted a photo of herself with one of the pirates to send to her husband back in Bonn (to make him jealous), so she scouted one out and he complied easily with her request. At midnight, fireworks followed the event which we watched from our perfect vantage point from the terrace of our house.
As beach vacations go, finding the best beaches is our primary focus. As non-stop as I can be in Paris, on the beach I turn into a lizard, moving only to float in the water from time to time, or head to one of the seaside restaurants for a leisurely lunch. Mallorca has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Cala Formentor is only a few kilometers from Pollença and therefore was our first stop. It’s a “Blue Flag Beach” — an international award “given to beaches, boats and marina’s that meet excellence in the areas of safety, amenities, cleanliness and environmental standards.” The beach-goers at Formentor were largely British and German — a real change from the French and Italians that vacation in Corsica.
Day Two took us all the way across the island for a driving adventure through the tiny towns and past beautiful haciendas to Es Trenc to meet up with some of Erica’s international friends. Located on the south shore of the island, it is thought to be Mallorca’s most famous beach, unspoiled by hotels and restaurants. The water is so shallow that you can walk out for what seems like forever and still only have water up to your knees, but the bottom of the sea bed is riddled with big rocks and while it was certainly beautiful, I rated it much less than perfect for serious floating time. Guidebooks say there are several marked sections for naturists, but there only a few topless women that we encountered. It was here that the beach-goers were more Spanish than not.
One of our beach days was a bit disastrous, discovering that the six-kilometer Blue Flag Muro Beach, or at least the part we were on, is primarily for the posh resort hotels that are situated there. Walking through the very expensive resort with the many swimming pools, dining rooms and other facilities, I wondered if its guests even knew where they were besides some posh resort in Spain. I did not envy them and couldn’t wait to leave their sterile environment.
Four of us had split opinions over which of the several coves at Saint Vincenç we liked best. It is only a few kilometers from Pollença and the drive is fast and easy. In fact, the roads in Mallorca are very well tended and driving anywhere on the island is quite easy. We tested the two largest coves over two days and while my friend, Christa, and I most enjoyed the one with the soft silky sand (Cala Molins), my daughter and her friend preferred the rocky one with a pebble beach (Playa Cala Barques). Both had good restaurants and lots of chaises longues and parasols to rent.
On our last day we opted to spend it at Cala Molins, but the winds were so strong that the sea was a violent storm and the beach impossible to maneuver. The difference from one day to the next was shocking. Instead we spent the day at Puerto Pollença, having a leisurely lunch portside, doing a bit of shopping and beaching it right there in front of all the portside hotels.
Just listening to the tourists, one could discern which beaches are frequented by what types of tourists. There were a handful of Americans, but largely the tourists are Spanish (of course), then the British and Germans mixed with some Russians. Everywhere we went there were hordes of children, albeit well behaved, but this is clearly a family vacation spot — at least this part of the island…and it’s White with a capital W. We saw only two women with headscarves and almost not a single person of color except tan and even at that, more pink than bronze.
We ate seriously well throughout the week, both at the beaches and in the towns, particularly Pollença. Christa and I have a nose for the restos that the locals frequent and those are the ones for which we do a B-line. We learned that without reservations, you’d be relegated to the more touristy lower quality restaurants. Aioli, olives and bread are a staple served at the table before one orders — impossible to resist slathering the garlicky spread onto the bread. Drinks are ordered first, unlike France where your drink order is given last. The wait staff were always friendly and accommodating…but service is slow — three times slower than in France — allow a good two hours for any meal.
Tapas was our cuisine of choice and there is plenty of great tapas to be had. There is also paella just about everywhere and Italian shows up frequently. At Eu Centro I ordered “caracoles” — snails, swimming in oil and butter…one of my favorite dishes (you can take the girl out of the swamp, but not the swamp out of the girl). One of our best meals was Café Mara in the village of Sineu while headed home from Es Trenc. Simple, casual, Spanish and authentic, it was inexpensive and delicious. Il Giardino on the Plaça Major (main square) of Pollença with French-Italian cuisine was notably fine and in a great spot to view whatever’s happening in the Plaça.
Will I make it back to Mallorca? Not before testing out Sardinia (next year), nor going back to Corsica where my island heart really belongs.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(with Erica at Puerto Pollença)
P.S. Anyone interested in a home exchange to New York City from Los Angeles? Erica Simone would like to exchange her West Village studio (sleeps 2) for three to six months with an equal apartment in Los Angeles beginning in January 2017. If you are interested, email her at [email protected]
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