Long overlooked, Palma is now a hot destination in its own right. Following a costly restoration programme in the Old City, it gets better each time we visit. Chic boutiques, avant-garde art galleries, modernista architecture, a magnificent cathedral, 2 harbours lined with mega-yachts, leafy promenades, pavement cafes, tapas bars, excellent restaurants and buzzing nightlife. And best of all, Palma is small enough to explore on foot. Easy access makes it perfect for a long weekend away.
The focal point of the city - you can't miss it - is the magnificent Gothic cathedral, La Seu, which dominates the waterfront. Its foundations were laid in 1230 under the instruction of Jaime I and took 500 years to complete. Now the sandstone walls and flying buttresses, spotlit at night, tower over the old town and the adjacent Almudaina palace. From here, wander the maze of narrow lanes, stopping for coffees and creamy ensaimadas, or Sullerica beer and pintxos if it's that time of day; you'll always find your way back to the cathedral.
Head down along the tree-lined Passeig del Born, and beyond it towards Av. Jaime III, for upscale boutiques from Massimo Dutti to Michal Negrin: you'll find fashion, jewellery, leather, and home wares galore. Rialto Living is an institution of tasteful design, El Corte Ingles is the original and best Spanish department store.
If you want to escape town, grab a cab (or an open-top bus) up to Bellver Castle, on a pine-shaded hill 3km to the west, with great views over the city and its harbours. The 14th-century royal fortress, still well-preserved, was built for Jaime II; the ground-floor houses a modest City History Museum.
Photo credits: Andres Nieto Porras, Cezary P, Hedwig Storch, Jose-Luis Filipo Cabana, Thomas Wolf
Simply Fosh at the Hotel Convent de la Missio (Carrer de la Missio, 7A): exquisite cuisine in minimalist surroundings, under the culinary direction of Marc Fosh - one of the best chefs in Spain. Think marinated tuna with avocado, coriander and white tomato consommé, or red-pepper-crusted hake with white beans, saffron and fresh clams. Inventive desserts include preserved lemon cream with sweet dukkah and a cherry-rosewater sorbet, or chocolate and olive oil truffle with flor de sal and raspberry-red pepper jelly.Their fixed price lunch menu is great value. Closed Sundays.
Palma's arts scene is booming. Cultural centres are constantly opening in restored historic buildings, housing temporary exhibitions, cafes and bookshops. One of our favourite installations recently was Rebecca Horn's 'Glowing Core' in the church of La Llotja (pictured), where circular mirrors, golden cones and blue light beams transected ancient columns and threw out infinite reflections. More contemporary art can be found at Es Baluard (closed Monday), a 16th-centry fort housing an impressive collection of international and Spanish works, including some by Miró, Matisse, Picasso and Dalí. Sculpture fans should head to the Palau March Museum for works by Rodin, Henry Moore and Eduardo Chillida, housed in a large mansion near the cathedral (Palau Reial 18, closed Sundays).
La Boveda (c/Boteria 3): probably our favourite eatery in Palma, serving great tapas. Try the excellent Iberico ham platters, dates wrapped in crispy bacon, small fried fish and delicious clam and white bean stew. Good value, but very busy. To avoid the queue, get there just before 8.30pm for a stool at the bar or book ahead for a table. If it's full, or you want to sit outside, try their sister Taberna de La Boveda at Paseo Sagrera 3 by the seafront - it has the same menu and the same opening hours (note they're closed Sundays), and is only a couple of blocks away by the seafront.
You can't get more achingly hip than the Opio bar in the Puro hotel. Over the course of the evening, it morphs from a chic Asian-Med fusion restaurant into a buzzy bar with champagne and craft beers, before crescendoing (on Fridays and Saturdays, at least) into booming beats with sociable dancing into the small hours. To make it easy on yourself, book a room upstairs, sleep it off till lunch, and then head to their beach club - equally hip in a blue-and-white, flip-flop-and-linens sort of way - to rehydrate and top up your tan.
Lovers of Camper shoes should head to their downtown shop on Av. Jaime III, or to their Amat-designed flagship store at c/ San Miguel 17 (north of the centre), for the latest range of gorgeously quirky footwear, plus some older styles at reduced prices. Or head to their factory outlet in the town of Inca (closed Sundays) - half an hour away by car, a bit more by train; the store is on c/ Quarter, 500m east of the station, near junction 25 of the Ma-13. Note: other brands are available, including the exquisitely crafted Farrutx at Plaça Mercat 10, next to Swarovski - so you can blow maximum cash with minimum effort.
Celler Sa Premsa (Placa Obispo Berenqer de Palon, 8)
This trad Mallorquin restaurant, situated in a large warehouse filled with old wine vats, is family-run and popular with locals. The style is cheap and cheerful - expect snails, suckling pig, tumbet (vegetable rataouille), proper seafood paella and hearty sangria, plus large portions and very friendly service. Closed Sundays.
Jazz Voyeur Club (Apuntadores 5): a small and intimate jazz venue with mellow live music in La Llotja area. There are tribute bands, trad jazz, experimental, flamenco, blues, rock and the occasional jam session. Popular with locals and open 'till around 1am weekdays, or 3am Friday and Saturday. Hard to find out what's on - their website isn't much help - so best to head on down there and see if you like it. There's no cover charge, which helps - though you pay for it through the cocktails.
Simply Delicious (Placa Navegacio 5): this veggie and vegan-friendly daytime restaurant in the Santa Catalina district lives up to its name. It's run by the artistic and lovely Ronan Levy, who hails from Israel but has lived in China and the far east; his cuisine - falafel, hummus, wraps, salads, baba ganoush, baklava - combines both of those influences using simple, fresh ingredients. Open approx. 11am-5pm Mon-Sat, and popular for brunch.
This tasteful tapas crawl in Palma's Gerreria district offers cut-priced pintxos (delicious little open sandwiches) or tapas, with either a beer or glass of wine, for a couple of euros a pop. It started out as an initiative to get locals out on a Tuesday evening - hence the name ('martes' means Tuesday; nothing to do with Martians) - and now it runs on Wednesdays as well. It’s very popular with Mallorquins, and you'll discover some lovely authentic bars. To get started, head for the area between Plaça d’en Coll, Plaça de la Quartera and Plaça del Mercadal – just below the Placa Major on a map – and follow any thirsty-looking locals.
If you want some fresh air and broader horizons, hire a bike and cycle east along the promenade (there's a cycle path) following the bay around to Portixol (about 2km from the cathedral). There's a marina, a seafront lined with cafés, and a great restaurant for lunch at the Portixol Hotel - which also has a pool.
Not far enough? Jump on the old wooden train to the pretty town of Soller (1 hour), on the other side of the Tramuntana on the spectacular northwest coast. It's a fantastic ride, including a tunnel through the mountains; you can stop off at the Alfabia gardens en route, and swim at the sandy beach of Port de Soller when you get there. There are 4-6 trains per day - timetable here.
Cafe Garito (Dàrsena de Can Barbarà s/n) has been a favourite of ours for over 10 years, and it's still going strong. Come early (before 11pm) and you can get a surprisingly good tapas dinner, with classy cocktails (or mocktails) over ambient jazz. But it's from midnight that things start hotting up, with live DJs, dance music, and a tight scrum of beautiful people partying the night away until it shuts at 4am. Closed Sun-Wed outside summer.