Mallorca, is the largest of the Balearic Islands, an archipelago off the northeast coast of Spain and is one of the country’s top touristic destinations. Back in November, my business school friend and teammate Aashish and I were looking to go on a weekend trip destinations and saw that flights to Mallorca in March were less than 30 Euros roundtrip and booked it on the spot. A week before, our other teammate Miho decided to join us. Mallorca is probably most famous for its beaches, but being early March, we had to find other things. Luckily, Mallorca is chock-full of activities.
March 6, 2020: The Shortest Flight on My Life
The flight from Barcelona to Mallorca took 22 minutes- without a doubt the shortest flight I have ever been on. Once in the surprisingly large airport, we discovered that at least 2/3 of the flights were coming from Germany- and not just the large cities. We rented the car and drove into Palma, the largest city and capital of the Balearic Islands. Our Airbnb was located 20 meters from the famed cathedral.
It was now 11pm. On a recommendation of a friend, we went to a bar called ABACO. Not knowing what to expect, we opened the humongous wooden door to reveal what looked like a 17th century palace. Classical music was playing. Fruit was arranged on the ground like a Dutch still life. The whole atmosphere was surreal.
We sat down at a table next to a fireplace. We drank our 17 Euro cocktails and soaked in the view. All of a sudden, the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah blasted over the speakers and rose pedals started to fall from the sky. As the song continued, the pedals continued to fall at a staggering rate. This continued for the entire length of the song and even included a grand finale where the staff dumped buckets and buckets of rose pedals.
At the end, the floor was covered an inch deep in these pedals.
We then continued to two other bars. Palma is known for its nightlife and did not disappoint.
March 7, 2020: Palma and the East
I woke up earlier than my two companions and decided to do some exploring on my own in Palma. The city center is a maze of streets and alleyways full of historic buildings.
Of note was the market and a bakery called Ca’n Joan De S’aigo, which runs out a store unchanged since the 1700’s. I ordered some traditional Mallorcan pastries called ensaimadas to take back to Aashish and Miho.
At 10, we went to the cathedral- known all around Spain for its beauty. The first thing you notice is the size of the building- it is just 4 meters short of being the world’s tallest gothic cathedral. The cathedral is also famous for taking nearly 400 years to be built: construction started in 1229, but was not completed until 1601. In the early 1900’s famed Barcelona architect Antoni Gaudi helped to refurbish the church and built a most unusual canopy over the high altar.
The rose window, known as the Eye of God, is the largest in the world and allows for incredible colored lightforms to be projected in the central nave.
I left the church very impressed.
We then left Palma to drive out of town. Unfortunately, we got stalled by a protest by farmers who drove their tractors into town. I was able to dodge the tractor traffic and we headed to the east of the island.
It took us 45 minutes to reach the town of Manacor, the islands’s 3rd largest city. Manacor is an unremarkable place, but just so happens to be the hometown of the world’s most famous Spaniard: Rafael Nadal. Rafa grew up in Manacor. As a teenager, he was requested by the Spanish Tennis Federation to move to Barcelona for training, but his parents refused. Even as a professional, he has stayed in Mallorca and even today continues to train at the local tennis club.
The town’s main attraction is now the Rafa Nadal Academy, a tennis school and sports training center. It also has a museum, which of course we had to visit.
The museum has two parts. The first section consists of virtual reality games where guests are encouraged to compete against each other. “Enjoy the competition” said a virtual Rafa. The games consisted of rowing, virtual skiing, formula one racing, and of course tennis. We had fun although it felt more arcade-ish than museum-ish.
The second section of the museum contained items and trophies from primarily Rafa Nadal, but also from other sports stars including Federer, Djokovic, Michael Jordan and Real Madrid. Racquets, clothing, and a staggering amount of trophies are on display.
The museum did have its oddities. The virtual moving statues were creepy. They also played a movie and strictly reminded us to not record it. The movie consisted of partially dubbed-over inspirational quotes given by famous athletes, started playing. It was obvious that these videos were being used without the permission of the athletes!
We then drove 10 minutes east to Nadal’s current home, Porto Cristo where we unexpectedly stumbled on the most delicious Turkish doner kebab place.
Porto Cristo is the location of the Drach Caves, one of Mallorca’s most popular tourist attractions. I have been on many cave tours, but this was easily the most unique.
The tours are conducted as a large group of well over 100 people. Once in the cave, there are no signs or explanations. Rather, you are let to wander at your own pace along the concrete path to be enamored by the staggering formations.
The ceiling of the Drach Caves have tens of thousands of stalactites. I have never seen so many stalactites on my life! The sight was awe-inspiring.
Eventually we reached a large lake- reportedly one of the largest underground lakes on earth. We sat down on benches in a setup similar to a large amphitheater. After the entire group sat down, the lights went out. Soon after, beautiful classical music started playing. This was not from a speaker, rather from musicians playing on a rowboat on the lake. So there you have it: my first underground boat concert.
At the conclusion of the concert, we were invited to take a short underground boat ride. The ride lasted just 3 minutes but the novelty factor was there. We then walked out of the cave. The entire experience lasted about an hour.
On the way back to Palma, we saw what looked like a festival going on in Manacor. It turned out to be a 5K race. Only in Spain would there be a 5k at 6pm. Since we already struggled to park the car, we decided to wander the city. The city was pretty and tourist-free but nothing special. The main church was completely empty.
Back in Palma, we ate dinner at a popular restaurant serving local food. We dined on local specialties such as sobrassanda (soft sausage with paprika) and Mallorcan “soup” (more like boiled vegetables than a soup) and seafood paella. Everything was delicious and quite different from anything I have had in other parts of Spain.
After a stop at a nearby cocktail bar, we called it an early night.
March 8, 2020: Into the Tramuntana
While Mallorca has many many sights, it only has one UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Serra de Tramutana mountain range. Interestingly, this is a cultural site and NOT a natural or mixed site. That means that the towns themselves are the highlights. Our plan was fairly open-ended but there were two towns we were determined to see: Valldemossa and Soller.
Valldemossa was the closer town to Palma- just 25 minutes away. The drive was flat for the first 15 minutes until we hit the mountains. At that point, the road became extremely windy and beautiful. After rounding a corner, the beige town of Valldemossa appeared on a distant hilltop.
Unfortunately, Valledmossa was super busy. The main parking lot was taken over by the weekly farmer’s market and many of the streets were closed for the 5k being held later in the day. That meant that there was almost nowhere to park a car. We waited nearly 30 minutes before finding a spot. It was terrible.
After eventually finding parking, we were able to wander the town. It was beautiful, but unfortunately since it was Sunday the city’s main attraction: the Chopin/George Sands museum was closed. Without the museum, there is realistically 15 minutes of wandering you can do. The highlight for me was a small chapel that was the birthplace of Saint Catherine of Palma, patron saint of Mallorca.
Continuing on, the road got even more dramatic. We were suddenly driving on steep mountainsides over the ocean. The views were spectacular. 20 minutes later, we reached the town of Deia.
Deia was quiet and felt abandoned. We walked up through the village to a cemetery at the top. From there we were greeted with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the blue Mediterranean.
Continuing on for 15 more dramatic minutes, we reached Soller- the most populous and popular town in the area.
Soller is considerably larger than either of the two towns we have visited thus far. It is also connected to Palma by a railroad, making it a popular tourist spot. The church and main square were pretty, but to be honest, the town did not offer much. We did stop at a gelato factory. I ordered sorbet made from the local orange and lemon trees.
15 minutes away from Soller is its sister town Puerto de Soller. This town sits on the north coast of the island. It contains both a beautiful beach and harbor connected by a boardwalk. The town had fantastic restaurants too! We stopped at one of the beachfront restaurants for tapas.
It was now 3:30pm. The next town, Lluc, was 45 minutes away, which did not give us enough time to see the town and make it to the airport in time for the flight.
So instead, we continued back towards Palma. After going through a long tunnel, we reached the Jardins d’Alfabia. Based on the name I could deduce that this was a garden founded during the Muslim occupation.
My suspicions were correct: this finca was originally the home of the Arab viceroy in 1170. The property contained a more modern (1700’s) villa and some stunning gardens. My favorite section was a series of fountains hidden in a walkway. They activate only when pressing a button. If someone was in the wrong spot, they would be trapped by the fountain.
With a little more time, we stopped by a beach near the airport. This beach was quite different from anything else we had seen in Mallorca. Medium-rise hotels crowded the packed beach area. This was why the Germans came to Mallorca- the beaches and warm weather.
With that we headed to the airport to head back to Barcelona.
I was pleasantly surprised by Mallorca. I came in with low expectations, but the island proved to have many varied attractions. There is enough on Mallorca to easily occupy 5-7 days of your time- especially if its beach season.
I would love to go back and explore more of this and the other Balearic islands.
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