Head of Hotel Partnerships Michael spent a relaxing spring week exploring the island of Mallorca with his family…
Mallorca is a brilliant, all-in-one island getaway, combining beaches, mountains and city life; and, if you know where to go, you can escape the crowds and have a gorgeous slice of it all to yourself.
Three tips to start with. First: avoid the summer holidays if you can. Second: consider staying inland, even if only a short distance, as much of the coastline has seen large-scale development. Third, and most important: choose your base (or bases) with care. Some towns have lost their Mallorquín flavour, others are just too sleepy in the off season; and there are always some hotels – even in the boutique sector – which just want to suck up your money and spit you out with a tan. Needless to say, you won’t find any of them in our hand-picked collection.
We travelled over Easter, enjoying 7 sunny days out of 8 (the last was windy but dry), and staying in 3 different inland locations. Apart from several posses of Lycra-clad cyclists on the country lanes, 2 groups of German hikers at Coll Baix and some hardy nudists on Cala Torta beach, we saw very few tourists.
We started at the gorgeous finca-hotel of Son Ametler, at the foot of the Tramuntana mountains, a swift 45-minute drive from the airport. I know owners James and Paola from their previous finca just up the valley, and they’ve managed to recreate the same wonderfully relaxed but quietly efficient house-party ambiance here. We loved it. Guests from France, Germany, UK and Spain were all welcomed by James with easy affability and impressive fluency – even down to recommending cycling routes and weekly markets. Michelin-trained Paola and her very capable British chef Leigh offer upscale, locally grown, home-cooked dinners which surpassed my previous memories. Mint-fresh sea bass, a juicy herb-crusted rack of lamb, golden spuds and soft buttered broccoli (which even our 9-year-old son devoured): everything appeared with deft ease and perfect portion sizes, our glasses magically refilled with excellent house wines by the ever-present James.
Days were spent lazing by their pool – and, briefly, in it (water temperatures in April are on the brisk side); hiking to the pine-shaded, wave-lashed beach at Coll Baix; exploring the honey-walled town of Alcudia; strolling along country lanes to the sleepy village of Caimari at sunset. In truth, we had intended to book dinner there at the highly rated Ca Na Toneta, but ultimately saw no reason to, set against Paola’s daily changing, well-priced and unstintingly delicious menu.
After 3 days we tore ourselves away, and headed across the island to the market town of Santanyi in the southeast corner. There’s more going on here – clothes and pottery boutiques, street cafés and tapas bars, churches built of golden sandstone, and local delis where you can taste flor de sal, cured cow’s cheese and hearty red wines from the barrel. The town is not exactly undiscovered: it’s home to a well-integrated group of discerning German expats, 2 of whom, Maren and Hans-Peter Oehm, have restored a pair of traditional townhouses with bohemian chic and Teutonic precision (a rare blend). We stayed in one, visited the other, and loved them both. A third is in the pipeline, too. All are perfect for a family or 2-3 couples, with chic living areas and courtyard gardens concealing small plunge pools. You can tell that he’s an architect by trade, and she a designer.
It’s only a few miles to the coast, but a world apart. At sandy Cala Santanyi, crowds were playing beach volleyball, learning to stand-up-paddle, or tanning determinedly in the spring sunshine. Over in the fjord-like inlet of Cala Figuera, a photogenic fishing hamlet that deserves an off-season visit, we wandered past tangled nets and fish-laden ice crates, admiring the wooden sloops and wondering how the summer crowds negotiate the narrow seafront promenade without elbowing each other into the sea. But it was Cala s’Almunia that stole our hearts: a blanket-sized patch of perfect sand at the head of an implausibly turquoise inlet. Maren – who nobly organises rubbish clearances and path maintenance here – had compared it to the Maldives, and you can see what she means. We stripped off and leapt in, bracing ourselves against the still-chilly sea.
Our last stop was up in the northeast corner, at the wonderfully chic agriturismo of Son Barbassa. While Maike and Oscar tested (at some length) the temperature of the stunning hilltop pool and the softness of the muslin-draped daybeds, I toured the property with manager Joan, who is also the owner’s son (it’s been in the family since time immemorial). Alongside the ancient stone farmhouse are a glass-walled restaurant, flower-decked terraces, an adults-only spa, several inviting spots to sit and lounge in the shade of carob trees, a new wing with family-friendly suites, and a separate hilltop house with its own rimless pool looking over rolling vineyards to the sea. All of it is beautifully styled at every turn.
After a gazpacho lunch, we drove and then hiked to the secluded sandy beaches of Cala Torta and Cala Mitjana: a real find. We splashed in the sun-warmed shallows, watched cormorants diving for fish, and built a sandcastle to rival the Moorish fortress of Capdepera, which we’d visited the previous day. Best of all, we had the beaches almost to ourselves – and a slap-up dinner at Son Barbassa to look forward to!