Mallorca: Introduction

  • © Wolfgang 64,

    © Wolfgang 64,

Discover Mallorca!

Loud chatter of cicadas in your ear and the scent of pine in your nose, the sun burning down on you – and from below, shimmering through the green of the treetops, a turquoise bay with its white rim of sand: the Cala Mondragó is only one of hundreds of small sandy bays dotted all around the island. And of course this fits in perfectly with the dream image of sun, sand and the Mediterranean. That this area is also hardly built up and has been declared a strictly protected natural park shows ecological insight of a kind rarely encountered in the Mediterranean.

Mallorca is a magnet, and the largest island in the Balearics pulls them all in: kings, artists, pop stars, drop-outs and downsizers – and most of all tourists. No other Mediterranean destination is as varied and as versatile. Infamous as a holiday destination for the masses in the early years of tourism, the island has developed into a multicultural microcosm with excellent infrastructure and high-quality gastronomy, without ruining Mallorca’s most important resource: its overwhelmingly natural beauty.

Visitors wanting to experience this have to be prepared to leave the hotel, the swimming pool and the resort beach, and to strike out on their own: on foot, by bike or motorbike, by local bus, train or hire car. Mallorca’s road network is exemplary, prices for hiring a car no more expensive than elsewhere, and distances from east to west or from north to south don’t exceed 90 kilometres.

The history of tourism on Mallorca has been both stormy and eventful. For Mallorcans, tourism became the economic miracle with the state-run expansion programme ordered by General Franco in the 1960s, a massive construction boom along the coastlines of Spain – and Mallorca in particular. Farmers and fishermen turned into service personnel, receptionists, waiters, chefs, restaurateurs, hotel directors, bus drivers, travel agent staff and guides. Today, tourism and associated sectors of the economy account for about 80 per cent of gross national product.

30,000 beds in accommodation of all categories are available, from village guest houses through to beach hotels with all-inclusive offers and luxury spa resorts. Add to this the countless private lodgings in apartments, villas and fincas – serving the about 7 million tourists who visit the largest of the Balearic Isles every year.

One of the most exciting and most beautiful drives in Europe 

What visitors can see across 3640 km² is far more than fits into a two-week holiday: in the north, the large double bay of Pollença-Alcúdia clasped between the two fingers of the Formentor and Isla de la Victoria peninsulas, the S’Albufera wetlands and the beautifully restored historic towns of Pollença, Alcúdia and Artà. In the east, the pretty hills of the Serra de Llevant with countless small paths lead down to just as many fjord-like coves, beaches and ports pretty as a picture.

The hot and flat south, with its dune beaches and pine groves left in their natural state, and its salt lakes, is reminiscent of the neighbouring island of Ibiza even further south. Last but not least, the cherry on the island’s cake: the wild west with the imposing high mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana, counting over 40 peaks over 1000m, fathomless gorges and sky-high steep rock faces, not forgetting one of the most exciting and stunning drives in Europe.

Last not least the centre of Mallorca, es Pla, a high plain with a number of still somewhat sleepy villages, the cereal basket and vegetable garden of the island. There is also of course the capital, Palma, one of the most beautiful cities of the Mediterranean, which succeeds in preserving the old whilst creating something new, and which keeps reinventing itself around the clock – with museum pieces from an island history spanning 3000 years and trendy operations such as yoga and spa centres, and shops stocking the latest fashions or cocoa boutiques.

The cleanest water in the Mediterranean

Most summer visitors only spend one day in the capital; they have come for the sun, sand and sea and they will stick to it. Over 150 sandy beaches with a total length of some 50 km are available to meet this wish, particularly as the water around the Balearics is considered the cleanest in the Mediterranean. There is hardly a beach not flying the Blue Flag, and hardly any section of the coast with effluents trickling into the sea. In any case, the island is a Mediterranean pioneer of active protection of the environment, even if that is still not quite enough for the green hardliners. With massive pressure exerted by the GOB environmental protection organisation in the 1980s following intense construction activity, the island government and the local population started rethinking the issue.

The trend now is away from further urban spread through more and more new hotels and other tourist infrastructure towards a more environmentally sound, soft tourism; away from an overbearing foreign influence from outsiders towards preserving indigenous cultural values. These days, the GOB is no longer fighting alone, as more and more private and also public initiatives are promoting sustainable development for Mallorca.

Over the past decades, estates already sold to private buyers and investors, including whole bays, beaches and islands, have been bought back by the island government, and particularly threatened habitats such as the S’Albufera wetlands or the Cala Mondragó were declared protected areas. Last but not least, any construction in the entire Tramuntana, which after all constitutes a third of the island, is subject to very strict limitations. The island council’s application to have the mountain range included in the UNESCO World Heritage list is part of this concept. Entire villages, such as Biniaraix, are listed, and 2010 saw the opening of the first carefully regulated organic weekly market in Palma.

A fascinating interplay of mountains and sea

Leaving aside skiing and sledging, there is nothing that you can’t do on Mallorca. There are over 40 marinas, and water sports enthusiasts will find a wealth of facilities for sailing, windsurfing and diving. Visitors who don’t want to be their own captain can book a boat tour from half an hour, with a simple pedal-powered boat through comfortable sightseeing tours aboard a pleasure steamer to an entire week cruising around the island on a yacht. One holiday is not enough to try out all 23 golf links. Both cyclists in colourful shorts and bikers enthuse about all the bendy mountain roads, and hikers just can’t get enough of the fascinating interplay of mountains and sea.

Culinary treats for every taste

Over 6,000 restaurants, cafés and bars offer a broad range of culinary treats for all tastes and budgets. Gourmets can feast to their heart’s content (and expensively) in half a dozen top restaurants, while in any coastal resort those on a tighter budget will find enough cafeterías serving good-value menus that change daily, or a large variety of tapas. Some like to pop the bubbly in cool beach clubs, others stick to the Happy Hour at crowded resorts. What do the Mallorcans have to say about this? Not much. Sometimes they take a drive to watch the tourists.

Over the centuries, Mallorca has experienced a lot of occupation and foreign influence, with the Romans, Vandals and Arabs, with the Byzantines, and with Spaniards from the mainland. Acceptance and integration were always more the way of the island dwellers than resistance, even less so hatred. The foreign element was taken on board and slowly turned into something belonging to the island. What some criticise as the phlegmatic Mallorcan mentality others will see as tolerance. And in fact the island dwellers display a characteristic friendly reserve; interference and indiscretion are frowned upon. For the visitor this creates a friendly atmosphere, with at the same time an agreeable kind of distance. 

First-time visitors to Mallorca often can’t help carrying some prejudice in their baggage; there have been too many reports, often too cliché ridden, about the island. That VIP visitors to the island and normal owners of holiday homes talk about ‘their island’ after only two or three trips may well reflect their personal perception. However, they are unlikely to have got to know the real character and variety of Mallorca: the true charm of the island and its people can’t be unlocked in a flash; it is asking to be discovered poc a poc, slowly but surely, the Mallorcan way.

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