Posted on August 24, 2013
I had only visited MAJ-ORCA once before in 1988 in the company of our five teenage children, foolishly believing that we would have a quiet family holiday by the sea. Was I mad? The holiday turned into a nightmare with the flight overbooked and packed to the gunnels and the resort resembling Stalag 7 with the family scattered around clay huts that would not have been out of place in rural Africa. The sound of karaoke every night, evening meals of fish and chips, chicken and chips and the occasional spag boll did little to endear me to the island and I swore I would never return again.
In search of rest and recovery after an operation had gone seriously wrong, I was therefore, somewhat apprehensive about returning there twenty years later, although I was assured that Northern Mallorca was much more demure and attracted a different class of holiday maker to those who seemed to have a penchant for falling off balconies in Magaluf. My holiday, however, did have a somewhat inauspicious start with my private taxi failing to turn up at the airport and my luxury room at the back of the hotel resembling. A small cupboard. I slept fitfully, cursed myself for returning there and eventually succumbed to overwhelming tiredness.
In the morning, however, Puerto de Pollenca unfolded in front of my eyes. A broad, sweeping bay, a backdrop of green mountains and a clear, blue sea lapping against sandy shores. A small, town hugged the shoreline and the smell and fragrances of bougainvillea and pine trees filled my nostrils. Fishing boats chugged out to sea and my fellow guests scattered their towels and lounged on the veranda, soaking up the morning sun. I was to discover a region of untold beauty, of dramatic scenery with some of the highest peaks on the island and a coastline dotted with small bays and villages. No wonder it was the favourite haunt of writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, Robert Graves and the notorious George Sand who wooed Frederic Chopin in Valdemossa.
Mallorca is essentially an island of two halves. The South dominated by a flat plain called Es Pla stretching from the capital, Palma, which is the island’s prime agricultural centre; and the North and West, which is dominated by the magnificent mountain range, the Serra de Tramuntana, with peaks rising as high as 1463 metres at Puig Majo and stretching from the Southern shores to the dramatic Cap de Formentor, which is the northernmost spur of the mountains, jutting out towards the smaller island of Menorca. It is a hiker’s paradise, with the long-distance hiking trail-Ruta de Pedra en Sec running from Soller all the way to Pollenca. The route is one of the prime walking areas in Spain and is well served with hostels en route. For those feeling more energetic, it is also fabulous cycling country especially if you are fit enough to climb to the top of the peaks and savour the twisting and winding descent round hair-pin bends.
For those of a less energetic disposition, it is worthwhile hiring a car and taking the Ma-1110 west of Palma, which takes you through stunning countryside and beautiful, picturesque villages. It’s one of the best day trips from Palma de Mallorca.
Only 15 kms North of Palma is Valdemossa, famous for its Monastery, bequeathed to Carthusian monks and now one of the island’s most popular destinations, not only because of its beauty but because it was home to the notorious, trouser-wearing, cigar-smoking George Sand who lived there with Chopin in 1838-39. A visit to the cells is a must if only to view Chopin’s piano. The village has a wonderful ambience, with winding streets, art galleries, chic shops and cafes and restaurants crowded with visitors.
To the north of the town, the road passes through the picturesque village of Deia, immortalised by the writer, Robert Graves, who lived there in the 1930s and after the Second World War and penned many of his most famous works including I Claudius. The village was to become a centre for writers and artists and owed much of its fame once again due to the notoriety of Graves’s partner, Laura Riding and their mystic group, the Holy Circle. His house has been beautifully restored at Ca N’Alluny just out of the village.
From Deia, the road twists and turns along the coast before descending rapidly to Soller, almost enclosed by the dramatically high peaks of the Serra de Tramuntana. A picturesque town, with activities centred around the Placa Constitucio, its main claim to fame is that it is connected to Palma by a 28 kms railway and is then linked to the seaside resort port, Puerto de Soller, by a tram, which shuttles regularly between the town and the resort. The train ride from Palma is well worth the €10 price just to experience the climb through the tunnels and the steep valleys.
Puerto de Soller is also one of the most popular spots on the coast with a beautiful, secluded horseshoe bay, clear, blue seas and a backdrop of verdant mountains. In May, it is also host the famous Sa Fira I Es Firo, commemorating the victorious battle of the Mallorcans against marauding pirates.
From Soller north, the Ma-10 traverses the highest point in the mountains and the views are dramatic if somewhat unnerving to the novice driver. The road twists and turns round hair pin bends, through tunnels, passing Puig Major before emerging into the Gorg Bleu, the Blue Gorge, where three reservoirs have been created by the construction of a hydro-electric power scheme. At the Embassament de Cuber, a footpath winds its way around the lake teeming with birdlife. Dominating the reservoir is the Puig de Massanella (1365 metres).
The road continues its ascent to its maximum point before eventually turning downwards and heading through beautiful countryside to the picturesque town of Pollenca. Built inland to avoid attacks by pirates, its main tourist attraction is the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross), a steep, 365-step stone stairway from the centre of the town climbing up the Puig de Calvari (Calvary Hill) with its magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. Again, a certain amount of stamina is required to make the climb but it is well worth it. Pollenca also has its own thirteenth century church, Nostra Senyora dels Angels just off the Placa Major with a beautiful rose window and painted ceiling, a welcome respite from the midday sun. It is also host to the Museu Dionis Benassar, which has a collection of the artist’s famous paintings, with beautifully coloured landscapes that capture the beauty of this region.
Whilst the mountains provide a sanctuary from the high-rise buildings that still litter the southern coast, Puerto Pollenca itself offers something unique with its stillness and tranquillity and its absence of cars. An ideal location for families with shallow waters and sandy beaches, it also offers links to even more secluded beaches such as Platja de Formentor, which can be reached by road or preferably by sea with the catamaran only taking thirty minutes. Here, the one kilometre of sandy beach is a haven from the town across the bay. Turquoise blue waters, the backdrop of pine trees and freshness of the sea breezes induces a state of almost total relaxation. Such was the appeal of this area that a wealthy Argentinian, Adan Diehl, purchased the whole peninsula in 1928, built himself a hotel, Hotel Formentor, and used it as a retreat for the wealthy and famous including Charlie Chaplin and Agatha Christie who wrote Problem at Pollensa Bay there. His intoxication with the area has had some very positive effects in that there has been scarcely no development there despite the fact that it is now owned by the Barcelo chain.
No visit to this area is complete, however, without a drive to the very end of the island at Cap de Formentor but be prepared for cyclists training for the Tour de France hurtling round the bends. The drive is however, worth every penny with dramatic viewpoints down the sheer cliffs with a twisting, winding road up to the lighthouse dominating the headland. From here, you can see Menorca in the distance and the mountains behind Puerto de Pollenca.
I left Mallorca overwhelmed by the scenery and the amazing contrast between the mountains and the coastal towns. Gone were my apprehensions about lager louts, fish and chip shops and high raise hotels. Instead I was left with a memory of turquoise blue sea, soft white sands and the magnificent backdrop of the Serra de Tramuntana.