Magical Majorca: The holiday Island that lacks for nothing
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.
La Seu Cathedral, the house of local artist Joan Miro and Es Baluard, and the museum of contemporary art provide a solid base for cultural pursuits.
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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Temperatures in the school holidays are fierce, above 30C. It’s a typical Mediterranean climate – hot and dry summers, and mild winters. The winter averages 14C, while late autumn is a temperate 18-23C. The coast gets 300 days of sun a year, and what little rain there is will be found in the Tramuntana mountains.
When to go
Majorca is packed in the school holidays. Never mind double dip recessions, the island is still party central for six weeks of the year with Britons, Germans – and now, the. Russians. Better to travel in April/May when blossom swathes the island in scent and colour, or September/October when the Mediterranean is at its warmest.
How to get there
Flights to Majorca take three hours, and there are departures from nearly 30 airports across the UK. British Airways, easyJet, Vueling, Flybe, Jet2 and Ryanair operate scheduled flights, and several charter companies fly during the summer. The time difference is one hour ahead of the UK.
Nowhere on Majorca is more than an hour’s ride from the airport, with Puerto Pollensa furthest away of the big resorts. Prices for a private taxi range from £25 to Palma (a 20-minute journey), £50 to Soller (30 minutes) and £75 to Alcudia or Pollensa (one hour). Shuttle buses cost £5 to Palma, £15 to Magaluf and £20 to Alcudia and Puerto Pollensa.
Spain is still one of the most budget-friendly destinations for holidaymakers, and in fact regularly tops the list of cheapest places for a break in the sun.
The Balearics have a long-established reputation for abundant, cheap self-catering accommodation. Majorca offers hundreds of apartments, villas and rooms fitted out with kitchens and kitchenettes, particularly in the busier resorts of Alcudia, Puerto Pollensa and Cala Millor.
If you’re looking to save money on your holiday, opting for a self-catering break in Majorca is arguably one of your best options. For a start there is a wealth of self-catering packages available here, often at bargain prices. You can check out our Late Deals Calendar to find out the cheapest prices we’re currently offering.
And as well as the choice on offer, there’s the fact that Spain has some of the cheapest prices for food on the Continent – so your weekly shopping bill will be minimal(especially in comparison to what you would pay in the UK).
Of course, there will be times when you feel like treating yourself to some paella or tapas in an authentic Spanish restaurant - and why not. With the money you’ve saved on self-catering, there’s no need to feel guilty about an extravagant meal out here or there.