Last autumn, we sent our Senior Editorial Assistant Melissa to assemble i-escape’s first collection of Menorcan hotels and villas. Here she introduces us to this wonderfully rural Balearic Island…
When it comes to shorter jaunts, I’ve always had a penchant for suitably bitesize destinations. An intimate city or island provides plenty to see without prompting the type of panicked, geographically challenging itinerary that so often leads to a week of disappointment and disarray.
Step forth Menorca, i-escape’s undiscovered Balearic frontier. This sleepy slice of rural Spain is the antithesis of nearby Ibiza – despite having its own branch of world-famous nightclub Space, here you’re more likely to enjoy an afternoon of rambling than a night of raving.
If you’re particularly sold on the idea of quiet streets and empty beaches, do as we did and book during the peripheral seasons. We arrived to an eerily quiet Mao airport after catching Bristol’s last summer 2014 flight to the island – there were just 14 passengers on the plane!
Our first stop was Mao, just a short drive from the airport – although you can reach any part of the island in little more than an hour, so location is not much of an issue here. Rich with military history and buzzy tapas bars, this harbour town (and island capital) has seen 2 fantastic townhouse hotels spring up in the last year.
Jardi de ses Bruixes, a blue-shuttered haven, had me head over heels from the off. Every room has been beautifully decorated and given a huge bathroom with a freestanding tub and walk-in shower (a rarity in hotels such as this). Best of all, the enchanting riad-style courtyard plays host to ad-hoc arts and cultural events, as well as relaxing breakfasts under the orange trees. We were lucky enough to catch a fantastic candlelit comedy play amid a crowd of locals.
Just around the corner, Hotel Petit Mao is a taller, funkier incarnation. It’s ideal for younger couples seeking style on a budget, and we loved it. Arriving late at night, we promptly took to the poolside deckchairs with a bottle of white from the Smeg honesty fridge. Host Nina is a delight and will happily recommend island hotspots if you fancy borrowing the hotel’s electric bikes (propped against a wall in the cool entrance lounge).
Before we embarked on any localised exploring, we ascended El Toro – the closest thing Menorca has to a mountain – to get our bearings. Standing in the centre of the island, the summit is a strange juxtaposition of industrial phone masts and a 17th-century church, but from here you can see Menorca’s expansive rural pastures and forests, as well as much of the coastline. If you want an equally central base, Hotel Ses Sucreres, in authentic Ferreries, offers a warm welcome. During our stay, we enjoyed an informal night of tasty food and ice-cold beer at a neighbouring tapas bar.
The next day we drove north to Fornells fishing village – home to Menorca’s signature dish, caldereta de langosta (lobster casserole) – for a lazy lunch, then caught a gorgeous sunset from the red sands of a near-deserted Playa de Cavalleria.
Menorca is popular with walkers and one of its biggest draws is the ancient Cami de Cavalls pathway which encircles the island; The Manor House and Binigaus Vell are particularly well placed for tracing its south-coast section. The former is a sprawling 6-bedroom villa on a 300-acre country estate with direct, private access to Binigaus Beach; from here, the Cami de Cavalls departs west towards the idyllic turquoise waters of Cala Mitjana (estimated walking time 4 hours) or east past Santo Tomás to the endless white sands of Son Bou (approx. 2 hours). Guests staying at Binigaus Vell are also within easy reach of these routes, plus the hotel has its own stables for guided riding expeditions.
If your interests are more town than country, head to harbourfront Ciutadella on the west coast. It was the island’s capital until the 1700s, and we immersed ourselves in the historic Old Town with a stay at romantic Hotel Tres Sants. Some of the hotel walls date back 1,000 years and it’s tucked behind the imposing cathedral, with impressive views from its roof terrace. Tall windows with gauzy drapes gaze over narrow pedestrianised streets, and a heavenly pool and steam room await below ground in the vaulted cellar.
Being a predominantly rural, arable island, Menorca also offers some fantastic opportunities to indulge in foodie delights amid peaceful surroundings. We spent a relaxing evening sampling the cheese and wine of Ca Na Xini – a working winery and cheese farm with super-sleek, minimalist hotel rooms – before joining a guided tour of the estate the following morning.
But our favourite foodie experience was a little more conceptual. Torralbenc is a stunning farm turned boutique hideaway, and its rustic-chic restaurant is a showstopper. Our meal here started with knowledgeable recommendations and resulted in some of the most delicious and creative gastronomy we care to remember. The theatrical dissolving seafood starter and melt-in-the mouth lamb (from the hotel’s own flock) were my personal favourites – I can still taste them now!
Finally, no visit to Menorca is complete without sunset cocktails at the stunning Cova d’en Xoroi cliffside bar. It’s just a 10-minute drive from Torralbenc, so book a late-night table at the hotel restaurant and spend dusk soaking up the sea views from this remarkable cave bar.