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The Lowdown | Mallorca

The Island that Feels Like a Continent Words by Paul Richardson

Where Balearic Islands, Spain

Quick Quote $per day

Best Season Spring and Fall

Thinking of Tapas, Hiking, Swimming, Sailing

Best Portrayed in The Night Manager

Diverse and alluring, Mallorca distills the essence of the Mediterranean. Palma, the island’s capital, is conspicuously one of Spain’s most delightful towns, successfully maintaining the traditional rhythms of a living Southern European city in the busy food markets, the open-air café terrazas, the feasts and fiestas; yet Palma is, increasingly, a hub of contemporary art and culture, too. Out of town, the island is a paragon of variety.  Its landscapes are endlessly surprising: hard to imagine, for example, that the dramatic peaks of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the peaceful flatlands of the southeast belong in the same 3,640 square kilometers. Sweeping sandy beaches share the coast with secret calas(coves) saturated in a dazzling blue. There is glamour in the great possessions (country estates) that have been transformed into splendid hotels, yet real rural life still goes on, just around the corner. 

Where to Stay

Mallorca has been at the hotel game for longer than most global tourist hubs and plays its hand with great panache. At the top end of things the choice could hardly be wider, from bijou boutiques in old-town Palma palacios to country-house hotels on grand rural estates; beach to interior; high design to traditional charm; strikingly simple to simply spectacular. A few nights in Palma: The Hotel Sant Francesc—winningly sited on an historic old-town square—ups the ante, offering serious luxury in a discreet contemporary idiom. The mix of Mallorcan heritage and sleek modernity is, so far, unique in the city. With just 16 rooms, and a design scheme courtesy of Spanish decorating doyen Lázaro Rosa-Violán, the chic and comfortable Hotel Cort is the very model of a modern boutique hotel, occupying the upper floors of a former bank building on the Plaza del Cort. Housed in a stone-fronted 17th-century palace judiciously restored by hotelier extraordinaire Miguel Conde, Can Cera combines high-end comfort with the traditional trappings of a genuine Palma palacio. The setting of the St. Jaume, an 18th-century mansion on an old-town alley, is serenely aristocratic yet the buzzing avenues of Jaime III and El Born lie just around the corner. The rest of the island: In the countryside or at the beach:

“I first came to Mallorca in 1983 as a backpacking student. On the bus up to Deià I was blown away to see the Mediterranean stretching out below Lluch-Alcari: it was a life-changing moment.”

After three decades in the artistic enclave of Deià, La Residencia is still at the top of its game. A 17th-century house in the imposing style of Mallorca’s rural estates—essentially a private palace in warm-colored local stone, set among olive groves and vineyards—Son Net is an admirably idiosyncratic, and dreamily beautiful. The Espléndido, within a pebble’s throw of the sea, offers genuinely chic style and friendly service. Oceanside rooms, some with terraces, enjoy stunning views over the Port de Sóller harbor. Son Brull, a palatial five-star, housed in an 18th-century former Jesuit monastery and located in quiet countryside outside Pollença, creates a fine romance between austere monastic stone and cool 21st-century understatement. Castell Son Claret, a 16th-century country house on the grand scale which, since it opened in 2013, has found a natural place among the island’s best hotels. The Castell’s surrounding estate—325 acres of farmland, woods, and gardens—is a place of jaw-dropping beauty. People who know about good hotels have always spoken well of Can Simoneta. Its beautiful cliff-top setting, on a little-disturbed stretch of coastline in the island’s northeast, plus its home-away-from-home service and low-impact vibe, add up to a perfect recipe for serious relaxation.

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Words by Paul Richardson Mallorca Editor

An acclaimed food and travel writer, Paul Richardson left London for Spain in 1989. He writes for some of the UK’s most prestigious publications, including Condé Nast Traveller and the Financial Times, and is the author of A Late Dinner: Discovering the Food of Spain (Bloomsbury). Paul and his husband Nacho produce their own olive oil, wine, ham, fruit, and vegetables, on their twelve-acre organic farm in Extremadura. 

Where to Eat

Palma: Zestful and creative food and one of the city’s finest terrazas: small wonder De Tokio a Lima is the hot property in the Palma dining scene. There is something delightfully laissez-faire about Tast Club, a Spanish speakeasy, where upscale tapas can be nibbled with a glass of Cava, a dry Martini, or a Mojito. Gaudeix Bodega, in the heart of old-town Palma, run by longstanding local restaurateurs Maria Moreno and Cristina Diaz, is deservedly popular for its lively atmosphere and clever cooking. The basic formula at La Rosa Vermuteria, a white-tiled bar, is vermut on the rocks and a splash of soda, plus salty snacks (olives, chips, cured anchovies) to make the appetite sit up and take notice. The Mercado San Juan, installed in the handsome modernistaS’Escorxador building (c. 1905), is less a market than a gastronomic food court for happy snacking on jamón, pinchos, croquetas, tortillas, cocas, upscale hamburguesas, Thai and Japanese tapas, and a whole lot more. The stylish and atmospheric Fera Restaurant & Bar features old stone archways, eclectic interiors and curated artwork. Austrian born, Executive Chef, Simon Andreas Petutsching, takes his “MeditterrAsian,” style of cooking, to the next level with fresh and seasonal dishes.

Rest of the island: If La Residencia in Deià is among Mallorca’s benchmark luxury hotels, its in-house restaurant, El Olivo, beautifully accommodated in the estate’s old olive mill, occupies the same lofty heights of glamour. Precious few places on the island offer this degree of sybaritic dining pleasure. At Es Raco de Teix, German chef Josef Sauerschell puts a Michelin-starred spin on local ingredients. Sa Fordada, a long-held secret until the recent BBC series The Night Manager let the cat out of the bag, is a dreamlike chiringuito (beach bar) perched among the rocks above a remote bay, and reachable only by boat. In 2017, Argos received a Michelin star and chef, Alvaro Salazar, was awarded chef of the year in Spain and the Balearics. The restaurant is only open for dinner and offers three unique tasting menus and Spanish wine. At Ca Na Toneta, in the pretty village of Caimari, in the foothills of the Serra de Tramuntana, Mallorca-born-and-bred Maria Solivellas and her sister Teresa work in a modern-rustic idiom based on island-sourced ingredients and strict seasonality. 

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Palma by Day Shopping and Art

Palma isn’t all stone-built mansions and medieval monasteries: this prosperous, well-connected city also lays claim to a vibrant contemporary culture with its origins in the modernist movements of the early-20th century. For modern and contemporary art visit Es Baluard, which occupies part of the city’s late-16th-century defensive walls and bulwarks, and Fundaçio Juan March, housed in a 17th-century mansion with work by Miró, Juan Gris, Dalí, and Picasso, among many more. Check out the Kewenig Gallery and Horrach Moya for current contemporary art. Stroll along the Paseo Del Borne for some high end shopping and be sure to stop in at the impeccable Rialto Living for a coffee and a look at their well-curated objects. 

Island Highlights

Explore the Serra de Tramuntana––a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2011, a mountain range lying along Mallorca’s northwest coast which contains rustic villages, grand country houses, swaths of unspoiled coastline, and some of the island’s most spectacular scenery. A topos of luxury tourism, culture, and conservation, the peninsula of Formentor juts out from Pollensa bay, reached by 18 kilometers of twisting road through dramatic scenery. Take a dip at lovely Cala Formentor, then sip a beer in the legendary hotel (built in 1928). Sóller is a car ride away from Palma, but the best way to go is by train. It’s become a genuine tourist classic; but so what? The 27-kilometer journey on this 1912 wood-paneled train, as it trundles placidly along through fields and orange groves, is delightful—and not to be missed. The wine region––Mallorca’s wine scene has exploded in recent years, with ever-improving quality and a new emphasis on local varieties like Manto Negro and Callet. Dry-stone walls wind among fig trees and almond plantations; the sea shimmers in the distance. Discover the rough magic of the island’s southernmost corner with its sleepy, storied towns such as Ses Salines and Santanyí (don’t miss the Wednesday market here). Then pack a backpack for an exclusive boat trip to the untouched island of Cabrera, jewel in the crown of Spain’s national parks. 

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