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The Gems of Mallorca

Today’s highlight was the antique wooden train that rides on a narrow gauge track and has been rolling along since 1912 across the 27 kilometers from Palma to Soller. This old timber-paneled bone shaker winds along Palma’s streets before heading through gorgeous countryside that reveals rows of olive trees with tiny ochre colored villages in the distance; all nestled in the surrounding mountains. The occasional curves in the track offer a wonderful look back at the port of Palma below. There are a series of tunnels that present themselves before eventually we arrived in a clearing across a viaduct and then one last tunnel entrance before the slow roll down into the absolutely charming town of Soller.

Soller Mallorca Pete on wooden train 2 061014

In Soller, it is time for a café cortado and a wander through the charming streets that spoke out of the central plaza. Then we grabbed the tram that took us all the way down to the port. How charming the port was with its beautiful beach, the promenade with lovely restaurants, and spectacular views across the bay with the promise of more isolated beaches on the other side. At this point, it is possible to take the boat to Salobra and then head all the way back to Palma by sea. However, we elected to take the bus to the towns of Deià and Valldemossa.

Deia Mallorca staff 061014

The drive to Deià was spectacular, adding to the Gems of Mallorca. There were a series of sharp turns against the mountain backdrop of the Puig des Teix. The rocky landscape is terraced with dry stone walling and there are miraculous groves of citrus fruit, almond trees, and olive trees.

We headed to La Casa de Robert Graves – a beautiful three-story stone house sitting amongst colorful gardens which serves as a museum of the writers’ works. The home is also a fascinating look at the home interiors, his writing studio, and a compelling video of his life of works that spalls endlessly as part of the show.

la casa de robert graves collage 061014

Graves moved to Mallorca in 1929 and abandoned the house in 1936 due to the Civil War. He then moved back 10 years later to find that his housekeeper had kept it perfectly intact as if he had simply popped out to the store. I could have stayed there longer. This was the house where “I, Claudius”, one of my favorite books, was written. However, the day was running out on us and we had yet to visit Valdemossa.

Valldemossa is another gem on this beautiful island. The Real Cartuja de Valldemossa, the monastery, dominates the town and all of the cobble streets point towards it.

We had picked up our guide in Soller amidst groans from the group. Although he was fairly unspectacular, I had grown to ignore him and replaced his droning of dates with fanciful images of a time gone by in this beautiful place. As is the case with so many guides, he was not cut out to present facts and figures in any way, shape, or form that would make it interesting or curious to the casual bystander. On the contrary, he was determined to drone on about dry stone walling and the Moorish invasion that took place in 1906! We were not sure if he was talking about immigration problems or if he had slipped up by a 1,000 years! But he was happy and we did not question it.

Valdemossa Collage 061014

As we walked through the monastery, it was easier to imagine and discover for oneself this place where Frédéric Chopin and George Sand stayed during a particularly bad winter in 1838. Even though George Sand wrote unfondly of her time there in the book “Un hiver à Majorque,” the town has made its name on the basis of the miserable six months that they spent there.

Her unkind words have been translated into millions and millions of tourist dollars as the town makes the most of the composers name and honors him each year with a festival. You can even visit the monastic cell that the two bohemians stayed in during that time. It was quite the scandal and sadly they did not stay to enjoy the gorgeous summer months that surely would have prompted a more positive book called possibly “Un étè à Majorque”! Oh well!

History has a way of righting itself and we had to get back to Palma for another 10:00 pm dinner with a drink and conversation along the waterfront. Such is life in the Balearic Islands.

Mallorca overseas staff 2 061014

New Thoughts on Mallorca

I had many misgivings about visiting Mallorca mostly because it brought up images of holiday charters from the UK and Germany, full of pasty skinned tribes of beer drinkers and football shirts! It is the largest of the Balearic Islands, sitting just off the coast of Spain, equidistant between Valencia and Barcelona, and has been a holiday retreat for the Brits and the Germans for many years. However, my dear friend had bought a house in the northern part of Mallorca some years ago and had sent back wonderful reports. Maybe this island was not quite the Costa Blanca nightmare that I had imagined. It was time to investigate.

Its sister island, Ibiza, is party central. That old expression about Las Vegas surely applies to this place as well. If Ibiza is sex, drugs, and rock and roll, then Mallorca, from what I had heard, was fish and chips and lager with not much Spanish required.

First and foremost, Mallorca is easy to get to. Flights from London are plentiful and flights from most other European countries are relatively easy although they require a stopover in Barcelona or Madrid. There is also a ferry service from Barcelona to Palma de Mallorca. But the cost of the ferry versus the speed and cheapness of the flight makes that a less desirable option unless you do not like to fly.

When we arrived in Palma, we had some concerns. Ten charter flights were in the process of being cleared and every single one of them was a German charter plane. Maybe the Brits had moved out but the Germans had moved in. They like their lager just as much as the Brits do.

Mallorca cathedral 060514

The drive from the airport to the center of Palma was easy and we were able to pass along the harbor which was jammed with very expensive boats that reminded me of the setup in Marbella in southern Spain. The first iconic sight that we caught was the Palma Cathedral up on the hill. It is a beautiful yellow ochre stone structure which dates back to 1300 A.D. It’s a fantastic sight with its flying buttresses and a Renaissance portal, and it towers above the city and the port below. Inside, there are designs by Antoni Gaudí and the renowned Contemporary artist, Miquel Barceló. It just is not what you would expect

We checked into the hotel and headed straight back towards the cathedral and to the beautiful lanes that make up this old city. For me, the wonders of Spain are the influences of the Moors. In southern Spain, the jewels of Seville, Cordoba, and Granada and the white villages that served as fortresses all the way to Jerez de la Frontera, leave us with a spectacular snapshot of a civilization that brought literacy and learning to this country. Palma has been occupied since the Roman times. By the 12th century however, Medina Mallorca was one of the most flourishing Muslim capitals in Europe. After the re-conquest in the 13th century, it prospered as one of the great cities in Spain. The language here is first and fundamentally Mallorquin; a dialect of Catalan. Although English and German are widely accepted as well as Spanish!

We visited the Banys Arabs that were nestled in the old lanes. Although small in size, these Arabian baths are the most important survivors of the Muslim settlement. They are quite charming and were probably attached to a private house. It is a paid entrance but the gardens that surround the baths are a delightful place to sit, read, and imagine the great history of that era. Out and about and into the lanes a little more, we grabbed some almejas and manchego before walking back along the port to the hotel.

Mallorca Arab baths collage 060514

Palma is indeed a livable city. This is a gorgeous climate and beautiful Mediterranean colors pop up everywhere across the island. Bougainvillea and oleander provide reds, pinks, and whites alongside the old buildings, and the scent of orange blossom was still hanging in the air. There is good transportation inside of the city including running trails and bike trails that reminded me of the promenade along Copacabana. There are beautiful beaches just a few kilometers to either side of the harbor.

I have new thoughts on Mallorca, all in all, it really did take me by surprise. I never once found a fish and chip shop and never saw an English football fan in a Liverpool shirt (thankfully) but it had a buzz to it. We booked our restaurants every night at 10:00 pm and bars stayed open until the early hours without giving the impression of disco mania. Mallorca clearly had conceded that title to Ibiza. Tomorrow we would investigate some other parts of the island but today I sort of fell in love with the place and could not wait for my next date.