My stomach problems of yesterday had disappeared and I felt as good as new on this gorgeous late May morning. An early highlight of the day was the breakfast on our large balcony in the Torrenova Aparthotel complex. Although the hotel itself is somewhat outdated and not particularly fancy, our view over the Mediterranean was simply precious. By 10 am we had driven from the touristy coastal areas into the quiet mountain town of Calvia which stretches along the foothills of the Tramuntana mountain region. In the middle of town we stopped at the local church, Sant Joan Baptista, a late 19th century church that was built on earlier foundations from the 13th century. Calvia itself is not a very large tourist destination, but an authentic Mediterranean town where locals go about their daily business.
Side streets through rolling hills and olive groves then took us to Andratx, a quaint rural town in the shadow of the Puig Galatzo mountain. We explored the town's church and the adjoining castle where we enjoyed a spectular view of the coastline in the distance. Andratx and the surrounding area are generally very expensive territory and many Northern Europeans own villas and holiday homes in the area.
Our next destination was Mallorca's westernmost settlement: Sant Elm, a picturesque seaside fishing village with a nice sandy beach. Despite various newer tourist developments, the town has retained a lot of its old charm. Various restaurants and bars overlook the bay. Further along you get a better view of Sa Dragonera, a narrow rocky island whose jagged mountain peaks are reminiscent of a dragon's back. The island is uninhabited and has been turned into a protected nature reserve.
Tourists can visit the island by taking a ferry from Sant Elm, and many go to Sa Dragonera to do hiking. The island itself does not have any accommodation or hospitality establishments. Another local destination, called Sa Trapa, is a former mill and displays historical farm equipment. The Sant Elm area is extremely popular with hikers who enjoy the spectacular views over the northwestern tip of Mallorca.
We continued our tour back through Andratx and up into the mountains. The contrast between the busy coastline of Mallorca and the quiet mountain regions is amazing, and we only encountered a few lonely mountain bikers on the twisting mountain roads. We stopped in Galilea, a pretty mountain village perched along the slopes of the Puig Galatzo. The town church dates back to the early 1800s, and a nice-looking restaurant sits on the square right next to the church. The peaceful streets and cobble-stoned plazas give you the illusion of being far removed from the modern world.
Just a few kilometers further east is the village of Puigpunyent which is located on the eastern slope of the Tramuntana mountains. Puigpunyent is less than 15 km away from the capital of Palma de Mallorca but feels like an entirely different world. Located in a bow-shaped valley, the pace is slow, and locals and tourists alike enjoy their leisurely relaxation time on the outdoor patios of this quaint village.
We drove up on a hill in the middle of town as we noticed a huge mansion on top that had been turned into an upscale hospitality establishment called the Gran Hotel Son Net. 31 luxurious bedrooms and suites, two gourmet restaurants, a swimming pool and a wellness centre pamper the guests of this exclusive establishment. I love Spanish architecture, and this stately building from 1672 is a great example of Mallorcan manor houses. It was converted into a luxury hotel and opened in 1998. But the history of this location goes back much further: a house has been located on this site for more than 1000 years.
As an ardent architecture and history buff, I went inside to check out the main floor and admired the solid stone construction with its rounded archways and the tasteful décor and furniture. Great views opened up from the patio over the surrounding valley and a gorgeous swimming pool. One of the highlights of this historic building is the authentic olive oil press that is the centerpiece of the appropriately named Oleum Restaurant. We had stumbled across a beautiful place, it was just a shame we did not have enough time to stay around and have a drink in this inspiring environment of this first-class facility.
Instead we had to turn around and get back to our apartment in Palmanova where my travel partner Gary packed his suitcase as his plane was leaving today. In the late afternoon we drove into Palma and I dropped Gary off for his flight back to Austria. Now I had three more days left to explore Mallorca by myself.
I planned to spend the evening in Palma de Mallorca, parked my car east of downtown and strolled through the narrow streets of the La Calatrava neighbourhood towards the famous cathedral, La Seu. This district has narrow winding streets that date back to Arab times, when Mallorca was dominated by the Moors from the early 10th century until its reconquest in 1229. One of the few relics of Moorish architecture in Palma are the Arab Baths which are also located in this neighbourhood.
As the sun started to sink lower on the horizon I arrived on Calle Mirador, right next to the imposing cathedral and to the Palau de l'Almudaina. This palace was the former royal residence of King Jaume II, who conquered Mallorca back from the Moors in the early 13th century. The walls of an earlier Arab fortress were used in the construction of the Palau de l'Almudaina. With the palace and the cathedral at my back, I enjoyed a beautiful vista towards the Mediterranean Sea, past the Parc de la Mar, which features a large man-made lake and a giant mural by Joan Miro.
I strolled into the westerly sun past two additional major landmarks: the Consolat de Mar, an elegant Renaissance-Baroque building from the 1600s, which today is the seat of the government of the Balearic Islands; and La Llotja, a former stock exchange that dates back to the late Gothic period and was finished in 1456. La Llotja is unusual in that it is a secular building, while most of the architecture that is preserved from the Gothic area consists of churches and cathedrals.
The nearby Plaça Drassanes was very lively with several outdoor patios and live music. From here I started exploring the narrow streets west of the Cathedral, peeked into various restaurants, bars, jewelry shops and some of Palma's magnificent courtyards that are the hidden gems of so many historic buildings in the old part of town. I stopped at a pastry shop to look at some famous "ensaimadas"; these are Mallorcan yeast-dow cakes that are shaped like a coil. They are usually sold in gift boxes and their name actually derives from the Arab word "saim" which means "pork lard". They looked mighty delicious in their display case, but I was out of luck as the retail store was already closed.
On the Plaça del Rei Joan Carles I stopped to take in the almost Parisian atmosphere with the bustling street cafes and an accordion player. Walking south through the Passeig des Born, Palma's main shopping street, I ended up on Plaça de la Reina and headed up on Carrer Conquistador to Palma's City Hall. Located in a historic building on Plaça Cort, this is also the location of the main tourism office of Palma.
Always curious, I walked inside and admired the main entrance hall with its impressive staircase. Two huge statues of a Mallorcan man and woman in traditional dress were flanking the steps, and two more gigantic figures of a traditional Mallorcan flute player and a drummer were standing guard to the left of the entrance. The Municipal Public Library is also located in this building.
A very large, gnarly olive tree stands across from the City Hall, a popular place for tourists to take photos. I walked northwards on Carrer Colom, a trendy shopping street in Palma. Most places had already closed or were just shutting down. I caught a glimpse of a store called "Toronto", which was actually a sandwich bar. This was surprising because Mallorca is not visited by many Canadian travelers.
At the end of the street I arrived at Plaça Major, a pedestrian-only square dating back to the 19th century. Buildings on all four sides of the square have the same façade design and several bistros and cafes entertain guests on their outdoor patios. In the middle of the square a Flamenco player was enchanting the passers-by with his guitar.
It was now starting to get dark and I started making my way back towards my car through the narrow streets of La Calatrava. All of the stores had closed already, and this district seemed very quiet and deserted. Very few people were on the street, with the exception of a few American marines who had sailed into town aboard a US battleship.
The sun had already slipped beneath the horizon as I started my half hour trek back to Palmanova. Reflecting back on the day I thought that Palma de Mallorca is one of those places that would be perfect for retirement. With its great climate, diverse cultural and entertainment offerings and the beautiful surroundings of Mallorca's countryside, this Mediterranean city has a lot to offer.
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions (http://www.travelandtransitions.com). Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences & interesting life journeys, interviews with travellers and travel experts, cross-cultural issues, and many other features.
Susanne has recently published a series of FREE travel ebooks about destinations such as Spain, Cuba, Mexico, Sicily, New York City, Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, Nova Scotia and many more. Visit Travel and Transitions - FREE ebooks ( http://www.travelandtransitions.com/ebooks.html )"Life is a Journey - Explore New Horizons".
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