Mallorca long ago shrugged off its image among the English as a place for sun, sangria and drunken teenagers. We finally realised what the Spanish had long known – that Mallorca offers a stylish retreat in the heart of the Mediterranean. It is the largest of the Balearic Islands, with a coastline blessed with long stretches of sandy beaches and secret coves, an interior dotted with beautiful villages, mountains rich in wildlife and a vibrant capital, Palma, that can be enjoyed all year long.
Palma is a grand city on the sea. Its diverse architecture reflects its history – from the Arabs, who called the city Madina Mayurqa, to the Christians who reconquered the island in 1229, and who were responsible for creating the imposing Gothic cathedral, La Seu de Mallorca. Inside, it has work by Antoni Gaudí, and the Gothic Eye, the largest original rose window of its style in Europe with over 1,200 stained glass panels. Brave visitors can take a tour of the rooftop, which offer breathtaking views over the city and Bay of Palma.
Three grand stays
In recent years, the various grand houses in the centre of the city have undergone a revival, many of them now wonderful fivestar boutique hotels. Hotel GlÒria de Sant Jaume, a listed 16th-century manor, sits in a quiet cobbled street just off La Rambla. With 14 elegant rooms, this stylish hotel has an indoor pool in the original reservoir, with a vaulted ceiling and spa treatment rooms. Can Cera is another fine example – a 17th-century palace hidden away in the old town. At its heart is an inner courtyard with an upstairs cocktail bar and rooftop terrace, a tranquil setting that combines antiques with modern artwork. The rooms offer understated elegance and comfort, providing a haven from the bustle of the city.
I stayed at Hotel Convent de la Missió, an innovative conversion of a 17th-century monastery in the heart of the old town that still houses some of the last surviving monks in a hidden part of the building that includes the original chapel.
The minimalist interiors are full of artwork by Mallorcan artists and the rooms are created from the original monks’ cells and retain their pared-down monastic style combined with all the comforts you would expect from a luxury hotel. My room had vaulted ceilings, a free-standing bath and large windows with shutters that overlook the old town, with further views from the rooftop pool. The hotel is also home to one of Palma’s Michelin-starred restaurants, Marc Fosh, an ideal place to kick off your gastronomic tour of the city. It serves up the best of the local produce in a contemporary style.
A tour of Palma’s food scene reveals the history of the island and one of the local food markets is an ideal place to start. Mercat de l’Olivar offers sparkling fresh seafood and a wide selection of bars and restaurants where you can sample local tapas. For a pickme- up, pop into Ca’n Joan de s’Aigo, a coffee shop just around the corner from the market, established in 1700.
The beautiful, tiled interiors provide a cool retreat with local pastries and home-made ice cream, and an almond sorbet that is refreshing and delicious. You’ll find updated versions of Mallorcan food at a number of local restaurants that have sprung up. La Rosa Vermutería (larosavermuteria. com) has some innovative daily specials, including a traditional Mallorcan chickpea stew with marinated mackerel and tortilla that’s made daily.
El Camino (elcaminopalma. es) is another recent restaurant that requires booking. It serves local dishes with a modern twist, such as delicious Sóller red prawns, from a long, marble- top bar where you can watch the chefs at work, and a selection of the best wines of the island that you can try by the glass.
The prettiest villages
The beauty of Mallorca is its size. There’s a delightful vintage wooden train connecting Palma to Sóller, but the easiest way to get around is by car. Deià is one of the prettiest villages, situated in a ravine at the foot of the Teix mountain, and popular with artists, including the writer Robert Graves. Fornalutx is another, close to Sóller, where you can enjoy roast suckling pig on a lovely terrace overlooking the valley in Ca N’Antuna.
For really breathtaking views, drive through Serra de Tramuntana, a mountain range forming the backbone to the northwest of the island and a World Heritage site. If you’re really keen, there are hundreds of paths crisscrossing the mountains for hikers and the roads are popular with cyclists, most notably Bradley Wiggins. On the way down the mountain, stop at Na Foradada (naforadada.es), a restaurant on the clifftops. Here, you can feast on seafood paella on the terrace and watch the sun set on some of the bluest seas you’ll see in the Mediterranean, while you work out how soon you can return to this magical island.
Natasha was a guest of Foment Del Turismo de Mallorca. Hotel Glòria de Sant Jaume from €220, gloriasantjaume. com; Can Cera, from €250, cancerahotel.com; Hotel Convent de la Missió, from €310, conventdelamissio.com