James Villas’ Contractor, Mark, is our resident Balearics guru, having lived there for eight years. Who better then to tell you about these three beautiful islands?
My love affair with the Balearic Islands began in 1981 on my first holiday to Ibiza, where I immersed myself in the local culture. Such was my infatuation that I packed up my UK job in 1982 to travel to Mallorca and seek work. My first three years were spent as a holiday rep, after which I parted ways with this beloved island for another adventure. However, fate lured me back in the ‘90s, when I spent five years in Pollensa.
When I did return to the UK to settle, my ties to the Balearics weren’t cut. I later found work at James Villas, with the enviable job of visiting and selecting each of our villas in the Balearics. I’m delighted to wax lyrical about these three gems to you now.
Mallorca – The hostess with the mostest!
Mallorca holds a big place in my heart. The largest of the Balearic Islands, over 200 beaches line the coast with intimate rocky ‘calas’ and long white sand ‘playas’ lapped by the aquamarine sea. On the east coast, Cala d’Or (or ‘Bay of Gold’) offers pavement cafés and a variety of beaches, while the Cala Mondrago natural park has beautiful, unspoilt coves. It’s the north eastern towns of Pollensa, Puerto Pollensa and Alcudia though, that boast the longest stretches of sand. The drive to Alcudia from Puerto Pollensa offers great views of the bay – one of the best sights I’ve seen. Further round the bay you can often see a colourful display of wind surfers and kite surfers gliding across the water.
Away from the coast, the Tramuntana Mountains and inland villages offer fascinating sights and experiences. Walking and hiking are popular here, particularly in spring when the almond trees are blossoming. In the interior countryside, traditional old farmhouses – fincas – are being restored to provide upmarket holiday homes.
Meanwhile, local restaurants and bistros are serving up fantastic Mallorcan dishes with recipes passed down through generations, such as Tumbet (a local version of ratatouille) and Escaldums (a chicken casserole made with figs or apricots). Dining in Pollensa is my personal favourite. The tapas bars are a great post-siesta pick-me-up, and there are lovely delis that offer ready cooked dishes to take back to your villa and enjoy with a glass of vino.
While talking about Pollensa, I have to mention the annual fiesta of “La Patrona”. Two weeks at the end of July sees cultural events culminating in “los Moros y Cristianos”, the epic battle re-enactment between the invading Arab Corsairs – armed with cutlasses and cannons – and the white pyjama-clad locals, bearing only large sticks or “palos”. Having had the honour of taking part I can vouch for its fervour and intensity! It is fiercely considered a privilege for locals only; I had to avoid speaking too much in case I was outed as a “forrester” (foreigner). So it’ll have to be our little secret!
Villa Vall d’en Marc, Pollensa, Mallorca
Menorca – The quiet one!
Menorca’s accents, flavours and fashions may seem similar to Mallorca, but there’s an easier going charm to the place and the people revel in their laid back way of life. It’s not all siestas and “mañana” attitudes though – during the summer months every village bounces in celebration of its annual fiesta. The liveliest, the San Joan fiesta of Ciutadella, opens the fiesta season with a bang! Three days of eating, drinking, dancing and spectacular shows of horsemanship are a privilege to experience. Of course, Menorca has other attractions too! Xoriguer Gin, a popular tipple when mixed with bitter lemon and frozen to a slush puppy consistency, is made in the capital, Mahon, and fuels the locals throughout the fiestas!
I also can’t resist telling you about the fishing – a lovely way to pootle about the cala-strewn coastline in a boat. I recently spent an evening fishing at dusk, cruising up and down underneath the music bar ‘La Cueva’ in Cala ’n Porter. The lights of the terrace reflected on the sea and the music provided a nice backdrop to the waves lapping the boat. I even caught a barracuda (vicious looking thing, it was).
But let’s not forget the real attraction of Menorca, as with all the Balearic Islands – the sun! Hidden coves with azure waters and golden sands entice holidaymakers back year after year. Myself included, although I don’t consider myself a visitor as such. Coming back to the Balearic Islands just feels like coming home.
Villa Dili Dali, Binibeca, Menorca
Ibiza – Party island? Much more than that!
Ibiza has been famed for its party lifestyle since the 60s, through various eras of music. Remember Club Tropicana – Wham? Drinks aren’t free these days, but there’s still enough fun and sunshine for everyone! Ibiza Town is one of the liveliest parts with its selection of shops, while the old town offers intimate tapas bars, fashion shops – both hippie and modern – and a buzzing evening atmosphere.
The wilder northern coast has to be my favourite though, with its hideaway coves. Here you’ll find Portinatx – a mere 30 minutes away from the club lands, yet the prevailing sound is the buzzing of cicadas in the pines. There are also little villages to discover. San Joan and San Miquel are charming, while Santa Gertrudis has a lovely little town square and a dozen quaint restaurants. In fact, if you’re a foodie you can be nowhere better. Look for restaurants outside the villages where there are local cars in the car parks. The Menu del Dias are usually excellent and can cost less than €10.
If you imagine the cuisine to be all garlic and squid, you’d be mistaken – Ibiza offers some of the best lamb chops and steaks I’ve had! So if you like to barbecue at your villa, look for local grocers with a butchers section. My favourite is in San Joan where I’ve picked up some delicious steaks.
All in all, this pine-shaded island is small enough to drive around in a day, but with enough experiences to fill at least a two week stay. One way to see it is to do what my friends and I did back in 1981 and explore by scooter, following tracks down to hidden beaches and stopping at roadside bistros. You might want to hunt out one of my favourite spots – Talamanca’s beachside restaurants offer fantastically fresh seafood – including in-season sardines a la plancha!
Villa Sa Tanca, Santa Eulalia in Ibiza