Majorca, the holiday island that caters for all types of travel
If a small island in the Mediterranean has more than four million olive and almond trees, you can correctly assume that it hasn’t developed an agricultural industry overnight.
Majorca (Mallorca in Spanish) is blessed with a temperate climate and rich soil that ensures abundance. There is rain in the mountains and food in the sea. The island does not want for much.
Poet Robert Graves and composer Frederic Chopin were among 19th century tourists who discovered this irresistible combination early. “A sky like turquoise, a sea like Lapis Lazuli, mountains like emeralds, air like heaven,” wrote Chopin.
So when jet planes and package holidays were invented a century or so later, Majorca was ripe, like the orange and lemon trees that swathe the island in colour.
In the 1960s, purpose-built resorts like Formentera and Magaluf shot up. The money poured in as Britons and Germans rapidly made the island their favourite affordable holiday destination, drawn by empty beaches, sunshine and a quick three-hour flight.
Sombreros, stuffed donkeys, waterparks and English breakfasts were introduced, bars lined the beaches and Ivor Biggun wrote that song that started: “Uno, dos, tres, suzi Quattro…”
The combination still helps pull in six million tourists every year, with stag and hen parties flying into Palma airport, along with the Spanish Royal family and actor Michael Douglas (he and Catherine Zeta-Jones have got a place in Deia).
The island caters for all, and is non-discriminatory as tourism is now its biggest earner. Waterparks and beach clubs have been added to golf clubs and shopping as leisure options. It’s a holiday island plenty of activities and sights to keep visitors occupied.
But the old way of life has never been subsumed. Fishermen still potter around the harbours, a wooden train still chugs daily from Palma to Soller and 70 markets still operate across the island.
Old towns like Alcudia and Pollensa continue to be oblivious to the hordes. They’ve seen the Romans and Moors come and go: a few tourists won’t cause a fuss. Catalan and Spanish is still taught in the schools, and Majorca’s own language is a variation of Catalan.
Majorca has simply evolved, and continues to do so. Richard Branson turned four mansions into La Residencia Hotel in the 1980s to put luxury on the island map, and new boutique hotels continue to open regularly, both in Palma and across the island.
In Magaluf, hotels now boast surf simulators and infinity pools to attract a glitzier party crowd. Quality entertainment and food is now order of the day.
There are more than 2,500 restaurants on the island, from small bars to top class eateries, which celebrate the local cheeses, hams and preserves. Or try the Majorcan sausages, kidneys or sea bass with a snifter made from the island’s own white wine grape, Prensal Blanc.
The expression ‘agro-tourism’ was coined in Majorca, when grants enabled vast numbers of old farm barns and buildings to be transformed into villas and self-catering pads in the 1990s, most with pools set into gorgeous landscapes.
Many such properties were old olive farms. Given the economics, tourism won out – you’ll now see many of the century-old olive trees dug up, bagged and ready to be exported to the UK for planting in a nice country garden.
But it’s a scratch on the landscape, and Majorca is now looking to promote its natural attractions to offer a greener, leaner form of tourism. More than 40 per cent of the island is protected, with walking, birdwatching and cycling popular pursuits.
The topography of the island attracts competitive cyclists too: I’ve never seen so much lycra on the roads as in the past five years. The clean air and climate pulls in sports teams, and a swimming and triathlon training centre opened in Colonia Sant Jordi recently.
The mountainous landscape of the north and west of Majorca, covered in oak and pine, has long demanded shepherd trails that now double as established hikes, from a few hours to a week.
Then relax on beaches such as Es Trenc and Es Carbo, both close to Palma itself but with no cars allowed, so they remain relatively quiet and unspoiled.
Or rather than taking a week or two lazing on a beach, eating well or hiking the island, simply head to Palma for a break: it is one of the best cities in the Mediterranean for a relaxed weekend.
Journalists of a certain age (55+) rarely fail to use headlines along the lines of ‘Majorca has had a makeover’ - but the truth is that the island has just kept on reinventing itself to cater for all tastes. And long may it continue to prosper.
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Cheap holiday deals to Majorca
A great beach, a lively resort, a scenic lakeside setting and activities galore! This extraordinarily large resort hotel has the atmosphere of a fun-filled holiday park, and offers a fantastic choice of facilities and entertainment for the price. You’ll need a week to sample the pools alone, with no less than eight pools for adults and a few more for the kids.