Mallorca travel guide

Author: Dominique Afacan
Photography: Simon Bajada

"The first thing that I do when I'm playing in other countries, whether I win or lose in the tournament, is to seek the fastest way to go back to Mallorca." Tennis champion Rafael Nadal returns home to an island that has retained its relaxed Mediterranean charm and heritage while being polished by an influx of investment in high-end tourism in the past few years.

Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands off Spain and a short flight from Madrid. Its capital, Palma de Mallorca, or simply Palma, is small but not too small - with a population of about 400,000, including a clutch of European celebrities. It's blessed with a long city beach, cobbled streets and a magnificent landmark, the Gothic cathedral of La Seu.

Residents in homegrown Camper shoes and Massimo Dutti sweaters gather for tapas in La Llonja, the city's bustling restaurant district, and zip across town on scooters to produce markets, open-air galleries and sculpture gardens. The favoured holiday spot for the Spanish royal family, Mallorca has a permanent beach-holiday ambience and year-round blue skies. Investment in luxury hotels, boutiques and hospitality means the island supports seven Michelin-starred restaurants and developments such as the $132 million marina designed by Philippe Starck in the island's south-west and a hotel by the Dubai-based Jumeirah group in Soller, on the west coast.

At Cap de Formentor, the island's northernmost point, a 90-minute drive from Palma, is Hotel Formentor, Mallorca's epicentre of glamour. Opened in 1929, the hotel, set in landscaped gardens, was the honeymoon destination for Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier in 1956. From the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula, the neighbouring island of Menorca is visible on a clear day.

Mallorca's interior is just as impressive as its coastline. The Serra de Tramuntana mountains were placed on UNESCO's list of cultural landscapes in 2011 and are prime hiking territory. And the expanse of flat terrain behind the mountains is favoured by professional cyclists training in the cooler months.

Even Magaluf, the party town that once gave the island a bad name, is being transformed by a consortium of British and Spanish companies, heralded by the arrival of a whitewashed beach club, part of the international Nikki Beach chain, a luxury ME hotel and new pedestrian-only boulevards.

Here, then, are a few of our favourite experiences in a Mallorca that has come of age.

STAY
Hotel Cort
This lovely boutique hotel has an unbeatable central location in the historic quarter, making it a perfect base for exploration of the compact capital. It's fifteen spacious rooms have an unforced nautical theme with Spanish-influenced tiling, timber floors and maritime prints, and the penthouse Island Suite has panoramic views from two terraces, one with a Jacuzzi. Its restaurant is a Mallorquín meeting spot, with tables spilling onto a pretty square beneath a big old olive tree; regular diners come for market-fresh tapas and the oyster bar. Plaça de Cort, 11, Palma

Jumeirah, Port Soller
Many visitors to the town of Soller on the west coast are daytrippers from Palma, but the opening of the 120-room Jumeirah hotel on a cliff overlooking the fishing village enables travellers to stay longer to enjoy the town's beaches and alfresco restaurants. Though the Jumeirah group is best known for its extravagant sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai, its Mallorcan property is a much more understated affair, and many rooms have ocean views. On Saturdays, head to the town market for local produce, including figs, cheeses and jamón. Carrer de Bèlgica, 07108 Port de Sóller

Sant Francesc
The newest hotel in Palma's old town is a triumph of careful restoration. The 42 rooms in the 19th-century mansion are exquisitely decorated with custom-made furniture, commissioned artworks and original heritage features. The rooftop terrace has a pool and cocktail bar with views over the roofs and spires of Palma. Plaza Sant Francesc, 5, Palma

Hotel Portixol
A leisurely stroll east along Palma's seafront promenade is Portixol, a little harbour town backed by colourful old fishermen's houses and busy cafés and bars. On the outskirts closest to Palma is Hotel Portixol, a nautical retreat favoured by savvy travellers and Spanish holidaymakers. Guests spend their days splashing in the pool overlooking the Med, and evenings on the terrace. Carrer de la Sirena, 27, Palma

EAT
Forn de Sant Joan
Tucked away in an old bakery in Palma's La Lonja area, four-storey Forn is one of the most atmospheric restaurants in the city. The tapas are inventive - Tomino cheese, pistachio pesto and onion marmalade wrapped in Iberian bacon, say - and the kitchen is known for its roast suckling pig and grilled fish. After dinner, take a stroll into Plaça de la Drassana for a nightcap. Carrer de Sant Joan, 4, Palma

La Boveda
Occasional live music and a large selection of well-priced tapas at this cheap, cheerful and sometimes chaotic restaurant ensures it's as popular as ever with locals and travellers. If you'd rather avoid the queue for a table, there are plenty of good dining options close by. Passeig de Sagrera, 3, Palma

Sa Roqueta
This cosy restaurant in Portixol often has a crew of regulars chatting on the tiny front terrace. The menu depends on what local fishermen catch on the day, but lobster is always a draw (try the "sticky rice" dish) as are the clams with artichokes. Carrer Sirena, 11, Palma

Simply Fosh
In a restored 17th-century convent in the town centre, acclaimed British chef Marc Fosh produces dishes with seasonal ingredients and light, clean flavours that have won the restaurant a Michelin star. Expect the likes of arroz bomba, the rice done here with loin of rabbit, langoustine and parsley-liquorice chlorophyll. The three-course lunch menu features dishes such as pork fillet with cranberries, orange, rosewater and macadamia nuts. Carrer de la Missió, 7, Palma

Sa Farinera de S'Horta
Serving some of Mallorca's best grilled meat from an enormous barbecue, this is a rustic old place full of character in an old flour mill. Guests sit outside on the terrace in summer and beside fireplaces inside in winter. Sa Farinera's location near the airport also makes it a good pre-flight dining choice. Lugar Volta 6, 6 41, Horta

Ca N'Antuna, Fornalutx
A meal on the vine-covered terrace of this restaurant, with views to the Tramuntana mountains, is a good reason to visit the pretty village of Fornalutx, an hour's drive north of Palma. Start with the sopa Mallorquín, a thick vegetable stew, and follow with generous plates of roast suckling pig and roast lamb. Ca N'Antuna, Carrer de Arbona Colom 14, Fornalutx, +34 971 633 068

Mercat de l'Olivar
Palma's busy indoor market is a great place to grab a snack. Pull up a stool at the oyster stall and enjoy a glass of white Rioja as you watch locals buying fresh fish and produce for supper, or try the sushi bar near the entrance. Then head to the nearby department store El Corte Inglés for some retail therapy, and refuel with a coffee at Gran Café Cappuccino on Carrer de Sant Miguel. Plaça de l'Olivar, 4, Palma

Vent de Tramuntana
Tucked away on a back street behind Port Andratx, a 35-minute drive west of Palma, this family-run restaurant is filled with regulars who come for a seat on the terrace, flanked by lemon trees, and first-rate boquerones, Mallorcan red prawns and garlic-crusted rack of lamb. The almond cake, a typical Mallorcan dish, is particularly good. Carrer de Can Perot, 9, Port d'Andratx, +34 9716 71756



DRINK
Ruta Martiana
The Ruta Martiana is a tapas-fuelled bar crawl that takes place once a week in the Sa Gerreria district in Palma. Multiple bars and restaurants in the area, just behind Placa Major, throw open their doors on Tuesdays from 7.30pm until midnight, offering a caña, a small glass of beer, and a tapa or pinxos for just $3 a pop. Follow the crowds spilling onto the footpaths to work out which bars participate.

Ábaco
In a 16th-century converted palace in La Lonja filled with piles of fruit and flowers, courtyards and bubbling fountains, this bar serves pricey cocktails in gloriously unusual surroundings. Calle San Juan 1, Palma

Agua
This is the closest you'll find to a dive bar in Palma. Tiny Agua is run by two former New Yorkers and features live music most nights. Sunday is open mic night. Carrer de Jaume Ferrer, 6, Palma

Puro Beach
Located on Palma Bay with ocean views and designer good looks to match its clientele, Purobeach is the hippest beach club on the island. Guests spend their days by the pool or in the day spa, and stay on to party until late. Pagell 1 Cala Estancia, Palma

Tim's Bar
Port Andratx in the south-west is a stunning spot, home to both gleaming super-yachts and rusty fishing boats. Prince Harry popped into harbourfront Tim's Bar while on holiday a few years ago, and the crowds inevitably followed. It's a popular spot for sundowners and open until late. Avinguda de l'Almirant Riera Alemany, 7, Port d'Andratx +34 9716 71892

SEE
La Seu
The size of Palma's mighty cathedral, with its soaring sandstone walls and enormous external buttresses, is a surprise in what is otherwise a compact and understated city. Started in the early 14th century, it was built over a period of 400 years and includes additions by Gaudí in the early 20th century. Don't miss the rose window - at 12 metres wide, it's one of the largest stained-glass windows in the world. Plaza Almoina, Palma

Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation
This museum holds a collection of Miró's sculptures, sketches and paintings. His studio has been left untouched, with open tins of paint and half-finished works. The gardens are perfect for a picnic afterwards. Carrer de Saridakis, 29, Palma

Deià
This idyllic town clings to a cliffside on the west coast and is known for its beautiful hotel, Belmond La Residencia - an old favourite of Princess Diana's - and for its rich literary history. Among its residents was the British poet Robert Graves; his house is now a museum. There's a pretty beach for swimming and two beachside restaurants, which means you can make a day of it.

Sineu
Most of Mallorca's attractions are coastal, but there are rewards for those who travel inland. The town of Sineu is at the centre of the island, about 40 minutes' drive north-east of Palma. It has one of the island's biggest markets, open on Wednesdays, featuring locally grown olives, tomatoes, flowers, lace, leather and Mallorcan pearls. And livestock. There's a surprising number of restaurants in town, making this a good destination for a daytrip with lunch.

Dragonera
From the village of Sant Elm in the south-west, a ferry leaves every half-hour in high season to this uninhabited island, said to have been a refuge for pirates. These days it's a nature reserve with hiking trails, good snorkeling and swimming spots. The wall lizard is endemic and abundant.



GETTING THERE
Iberia Express, Ryanair and Air Europa operate regular direct flights to Palma from Madrid (about 90 minutes); Ryanair and Easyjet fly direct from London (about two hours and 15 minutes).



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