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Travels and Tribulations - in the Balearics: Mallorca

Including Palma de Mallorca, Puerto Pollensa, Formentor, Sóller, Port de Sóller and Sa Calobra all on Mallorca


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MALLORCA (Majorca)

I wonder why it is that different countries have to have different names for other countries and cities? I mean, why do the French have to call 'London' Londres or 'England' Angleterre? (Londreterre might be more logical! What are they angling at?) And why do visitors have to call 'Mallorca' Majorca? I tell you, this sort of thing makes international maps a linguistic nightmare given that most are quite inconsistent. I look in my atlas and see 'Mallorca' is part of the 'Islas Baleares' (Balearic Islands) just off the coast of 'Spain' (not 'España' you note). So if you're actually looking for a place, in the flesh as it were, what chance of finding the way if your map is written in the wrong language, or if just the place name is? Okay, so it might be difficult to get your tongue around place names in some languages but let's have a bit of respect here! Mallorca, however, does not seem to get upset by such matters and is happy to be called anything: providing it keeps bringing the punters in! Which it does.

The Mallorcans would like to contain bad behaviour in this region, so please co-operate

Why? Because it caters for all sorts, of course. They make little judgment. Providing you go to the right places, anything seems to go. If you want to drink day and night until you're quite unaware of whether it is day or night, and disgrace your homeland, than Majorca is the place to do it: preferable in the concrete jungles that sandwich the old capital, Palma (de Mallorca). The Mallorcans would like to contain bad behaviour in this region, so please co-operate. On the other hand, if staggering drunks and flashing neon signs do not appeal, then you might try travelling to the rest of the island, thankfully missed by those only seeking pubs, clubs, sun, sand, sangria and sex. You might like to go to the north-east coast around Puerto Pollensa, where you can enjoy the other side of true Mallorca and there appreciate its natural beauty. Having seen and experienced some of the rest of Mallorca, I'm so glad H and I stayed there ourselves.


Puerto Pollensa

More than once you'll see a naming concept applied on Mallorca: an inland town name and a nearby coastal town as its port (puerto). So there is Pollensa and nearby Puerto Pollensa (the latter also known as Port de Pollença) where we stayed. This is wedged between two rocky promontories. This is a delightful, tranquil, picturesque, sleepy sort of place that grew up from a fishing village. It is one of the furthest places from the capital and airport, but transfers are quite efficient via the new roads. There is a reasonable bus service between here and Palma so you need not consider yourself isolated - although this might not be said of some other places on the island.

Have you noticed how the leaves of shaded shrubs position themselves to best bask in the available sunlight? It seems that villas on hill- and mountain-sides do the same. So far (in 2004) this areas has not quite been spoiled by such development of the backdrop, but if they could just listen to Ed, for a minute, I would love to say: "You've started! Don't go on to spoil it, folks! This is a great little place. Do you really need to build over the mountains? If people want concrete they can go to the outskirts of Palma. It's too late to spoil that. Don't ruin your jewel by putting imitation stones in its coronet." What am I on about? Sadly, to the west, the natural outline of the rocky backdrop is gradually being invaded by new properties that are defacing and changing the skyline. What a crying shame! Where will it stop? Please stop now. And you, dear readers, best go now before they do!

Puerto Pollensa, Mallorca - click to enlarge!The main strip by the harbour is divided into two distinctly different areas and there are hotels in each half, so it would be good to know which side you want to be before you book. There are pros and cons to both, so why take pot-luck? (How lucky you are to have Ed to your rescue!) Smack bang in the middle there is a small roundabout that divides the two, this near the centre of town, and to its south lies the pictured fir- and palm-lined coastal road (this view actually looks north towards the roundabout, for the palms are on the sea-side of the road). Opposite this roundabout lies the harbour. Adjacent to this roundabout lie the principal bus stops. Believe me, if you go to Puerto Pollensa you'll pass this roundabout; you'll often be roundabout it!

The southern coastal road is busy and there are several hotels lining it. So the principal con is traffic. Not that you notice this on the wide, sandy beach of this stretch except when actually trying to cross it. But it really is worth it if you want a spacious beach near your hotel. We stayed at a charming Spanish-style hotel along here about 20 minutes leisurely walk to the roundabout and greatly enjoyed the location: despite the challenge of crossing the road. The northern strip from this central roundabout, often called Pine Walk (it, too, is flanked by pines and palms), is by far the most attractive, and the further you walk in a northerly direction the narrower and quieter it becomes - until it terminates at the military base. There are some great hotels to stay right on this walk. The principal pro is that there is no traffic - this strip is entirely pedestrianised - but the con is it hums with people in the busy part and the amount of beach is severely restricted in comparison with the southern side of town.

This was my favourite part of town to walk - especially at night - and even in the day the welcome shade of the pines makes it really pleasant

Pine Walk, Puerto Pollensa, Mallorca - click to enlarge!This was my favourite part of town to walk - especially at night - and even in the day the welcome shade of the pines makes it really pleasant. Take a rest and be at peace with the leisurely café service: remember you're sitting here to imbue the scene not to rush: to unwind and relax. If the waiters can do it, surely you can? Here's a great place to practice the pace. Look out for the 'coffee and cake' deals. I got a great coffee and a superb cream cake towards the end of the week. (I would be fatter had it been earlier in the week.) Do walk as far as you can down Pine Walk. It narrows and gets more quaint the further you go - until you reach the military base and can go no farther. The restaurants peter out and more interesting architecture takes over, the path practically merges with the sand in places, and there is a last-chance saloon at the far end if you need light and shady refreshment in a great water-side setting.

The town square is also a great place that comes alive at night with all its eating and drinking places, music, and options from fish-and-chips and Irish pubs to Mallorcan seafood delicacies and Spanish ambience. This is not far from the roundabout: ask or follow your nose. Once you find a narrow, pedestrianised street in Pine Walk flanked by tables just follow through. This place has great beaches for children, but it is not known for its entertainment potential - although a good hotel will usually provide some offerings. Ours certainly did. (Can you imagine Tyrone from Coronation Street doing sharp, energetic dance routines with four long-legged Spanish girls? Here we saw it. I swear it was him or his double.)

The harbour, Puerto Pollensa, Mallorca - click to enlarge!The harbour, Puerto Pollensa, Mallorca - click to enlarge!The tranquil bay just here looks great when mist enshrouds the waters in the distance. On close inspection you will see it contains everything from luxury yachts to fishing vessels. The large bay is so enclosed the sea water is as quiet as a mill-pond: although the beach does shelve quite sharply, so watch the kids don't go out too far. There are many water sports to choose from including parascending (up to 3 can fly up there behind the speedboat without even getting wet). At times you are made aware of the military base by the noisy and obvious presence of a bright yellow sea-plane buzzing the bay. If it's around you won't miss it although, hopefully, you will if you go parascending!

We were give maps of a couple of walks by our rep on arrival. One was to Cala san Vincente, over the rocky mountain (I'm going to call it that for want of a more descriptive word). At the bottom of the map it said: 'To and from Cala san Vincente should take approximately one and a half hours. It is an easy walk which is a little steep at just one short point. We suggest trainers or similar should be worn.' Well, I consider it my duty to warn you about the obvious Mallorcan talent for underestimation. It might take a mountain goat this time to make the walk. It might only seem steep at one short point to those more used to setting up a base camp in the Himalayas. Maybe trainers will suffice, but consider mountain boots. Let me tell you, although this walk starts out behind the town in flat countryside, it quickly becomes more challenging and, unless you are a keen hiker, walk away! It lulls you into a false sense of security on a dusty track past an inland boatyard (I reckon that could have been planned better), then past farm houses with tall fences and fiercely barking dogs. These are quite safely contained in their compound, but it makes you wonder why they are there. Is it a security training camp for dogs? Then the track peters out and you are left scrambling up what looks like a narrow stream bed up steep climbs until it all, finally, levels out to another dusty track at the top. This joins a fine, new, wide road leading up to nowhere - although a good viewpoint across to the far sea. Head back from nowhere and then go off down to Cala san Vincente to the left. If you ever get that far.

Along the way of this hike you will see other misled and confused walkers with little children mystified by their surroundings, those with sticks (not hiking poles) who expected the 'easy walk', and varying degrees of disgruntled walkers/climbers all wondering if it will all be worth it. When I asked one on the return trip if it was all worth it he was quite candid. "Not really!" So, after passing the cliff-hanging dwellings just in sight of Cala san Vincente, one of which has a remarkably huge cactus growing on its roof, H and I decided it would be more pleasant to start the return early. We like walking, you must understand, but the bleak surroundings, difficult-going on twist-your-ankle surfaces, the heat and, in places, the not-so-discrete 'fly-tipping' all combined to not impress us much. But, of course, they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So take your eye up there if you will. Just don't say you weren't warned!

The other walk? The map showed it was to Cala Boquer. 'Easy and takes only 45 minutes each way. STAY ON THE PATH.' It shows that after passing Boquer Manor House you go through a 'High Rock Pass' and eventually 'wild goat country'. Well, I can take a hint. Not being as adept as mountain goats, we decided not to try this one. But please. After you!

Much better to walk the Pine Walk. Technically it has other - and changing names - but no matter, walk north, beneath the pines by the sea.


Formentor

I really do like walking. Honestly! So much so that, as I gazed across the bay to the lighthouse at Cap Formentor, I was eager to walk to Formentor. I had already walked the length of Pine Walk so it looked no problem to pop up from there to the fabled, twisting mountain road and along this to the end of the headland. It looked no distance at all and simple compared with our earlier 'easy walk'. The cap'n who sold tickets for the ferry to Formentor didn't seem to think walking was a practical proposition and, when pushed, simply said he 'couldn't really tell me'. To which, I assumed, he really meant it was more than his job's worth to admit it was an easy stroll when he had bundles of tickets to dispose of. Then H stepped in. She wanted the boat trip. And boy, was that a good idea. For, after a nice drink at the restaurant that sits surrounded by water in the harbour, we were excited to see that the glass-bottomed boat was going to be our ferry! Once we got on board, however, we found that its glass-bottom was modestly out-of-bounds - perhaps she was feeling coy - and so we had to stay on the upper decks and look above water. Which was no great sacrifice, in truth, for the trip was delightful. In any case, the waters are so clear you can see into the depths directly.

Formentor, Mallorca - click  to enlarge!Once we rounded the headland on which the prominent lighthouse was located, it was clear to see that Formentor Beach - our destination - was a long way farther on. It also became increasingly clear that any chance of walking there from Puerto Pollensa was a naive dream. Thank goodness for glass-bottomed boats!

Formentor Beach, Mallorca - click  to enlarge!Formentor itself was beautiful. There is a café and a beach, but not much else for the casual visitor. You can walk right from the landing stage onto the delightful beach with its expensive straw parasols and loungers but, strangely, find yourself barred from walking inland. It took me a while to discover the reason for the impenetrable fence is that it borders the Hotel Formentor and is intended to keep riffraff out of their carefully tended and well-manicured grounds, magnet to the rich and famous. If you really want to get off the beach then head for the car park; the exit to the road also leads you to where you can catch a bus back to Puerto Pollensa along the narrow mountain road. I believe that's quite a treat for those not vertically challenged.

I saw an inviting ice cream machine near the beach and was about to treat myself to the one sure cure for a hot and sweltering day when H pointed out it would probably be much cheaper at the café. A sucker for saving money I agreed and we headed off in its direction under the shady palms. I really fancied a Mars ice cream and the machine had it. Disaster when the café did not sell the right make. But there was a machine in the car park, I was assured, so I trotted over to that, getting more and more desperate for my cool fix. There was the machine, there was the picture, but, wait a minute, no prices mentioned! The other nearby machines had prices. Could it be this machine wasn't working? What a risk to my finances! But by this point there was no way I was going to give up. I left H standing wallowing in her poor advice and hiked back to the beach and machine Number 1... only to find it wasn't even powered up! Double disaster! In the end I bought another hugely inferior - but huge - ice cream at yet another machine and, not enjoying it at all, ended a particularly unrewarding part of the day.

All went swimmingly after that - apart from initially boarding the wrong boat back; it was heading on a round-bay trip and offering food, so it was a pity I confessed I thought it a bit odd since we hadn't paid for such a luxury. (We were soon booted down the gang-plank.) No, tribulations apart, I reckon Formentor is well worth a visit - especially if you take your bathers!


Palma de Mallorca

We took the bus from Puero Pollensa to the island capital, Palma - and saw, en-route, Pollensa and Inca. Pollnsa would be worth a visit - particularly to climb the 365 El Calvari steps (Calvary Steps) to a little chapel - one for each day of the year - until they added some to confuse your year-long climb - and to marvel at the fact this tranquil town was founded in 1230; but we just didn't have time. (We'll be back.) The latter, Inca, was worth passing through, it seemed, and I was well pleased this was not our final destination. Apart from the tree-lined main street it seemed to offer little other than leather factories and seedy apartments. (Although, to be fair, its Thursday market is famous and perhaps worth a visit.)

Do get yourself a map. This is a big city - around half the island's population lives here

The bus terminated outside the Palma train station - making an easy landmark to find when returning - and after that you are on your own to lose yourself: possibly literally, if you don't run to a map. If you don't, there is a tourist information office near the station. Do get yourself a map. This is a big city - around half the island's population lives here, some 325,000 people. The roads are well marked, however and, with the recommended map, navigating should not be too much of a problem. The old quarter and the huge cathedral lie en-route to the sea, the liner terminal, and the port itself with its plethora of rich-looking yachts.

Palma de Mallorca - click to enlarge!Cathedral at Palma de MallorcaYou would do well to pass through the enclosed central square known as Plaça Major, with its cafés, craft stalls and street entertainers. Further south lies the Old Quarter and the gothic cathedral - one of the finest churches in Spain. Known as La Seu, this was begun in 1230 - and I can report they're still working away on it! The long-distance view, as in the picture, shows its great support of the buttress - and the great support of the buttress. Once you have abandoned all hope if finding an opening door into the latter you will discover a ticket office that admits you for a fee. But do not begrudge it, they have expenses. Judging by the enormous silver urns you discover shortly after this - frankly there is room for B&B accommodation inside each of two matching silver items - it will take a lot in polish and labour just to keep the shine on these alone, not to mention the interior refurbishments. The interior is impressive (the cathedral, not the urns), and the wing-like nature of the huge candelabra near the alter quite fascinating.

Courtyard in the Cathedral at Palma de Mallorca - click to enlarge!Even the inner courtyard, seen as you exist the cathedral, is impressive. From here we made our way down the tree-lined road towards the sea, stopping for a welcome snack at one of the pavement cafés. The waiter spilled coke all over the pristine white T-shirt of a girl at the next table - he had excellent aim - and then demonstrated his skill as a dry-cleaner by spraying her, and himself, with an aerosol that, it transpired, was quite successful in taking out the stain once it had been rinsed. I didn't understand his Spanishly profuse apologies and offers of help to the poor girl - no doubt offering to wash her T-shirt himself - but all seemed well in the end. A good job she was on vacation for she was far more laid-back that day than I was later to become in a crisis. (But more of that later. This is a chronological account.)

Palma de Mallorca Harbour - click to enlarge!The port can take the big liners, courtesy of a stone jetty that extends far out into the bay, one side of the huge harbour. There is a bar-café at its end where you can sit next to the water and across from the latest largest liner and imagine you are about to begin your cruise. Walk back to land and along to the west and you will see the flotilla of yachts that are moored in the harbour. Looking through their expensive rigging you see, in the distance, the concrete jungle of hotels and apartments that begin the western drag of suburban bay side areas that draw those seeking the city and not the island. Further around the coast in this direction you eventually reach such prime spots such as Palmanova and Magalluf - where I would fear to tread.

Mind you, H and I suffered fear to tread even the more finely architectured streets of Palma itself after our little crisis there, somewhere near Plaça Major. I was just enjoying a street guitarist and looking at his range of classical CDs when there came the familiar distress cry of a greater-panicked wife unable to find her purse. Rifling through her open handbag she searched... and searched again. No purse. Now this is not, you must understand, a completely new experience. Why, I guess you girls often think you've lost your purse. After all, it might take 20 minutes or so to explore every recess of your handbags so I was calmness itself, at first. After joining her in the handbag for a while, however, the horrible truth began to dawn. A vital clue was the fact that she found her handbag unzipped. True, there were plenty of warnings about pickpockets near the cathedral and in these quarters but, of course, this sort of thing never happens to you, does it? This sort if thing only happens to those careless individuals who positively ask for it. Yet H does not ask for it. I am constantly aware of the possibility and usually have hand-on-wallet in crowds. I often try to walk on her handbag side to ward of intruders: causing her to move the obstacle between us to the other shoulder, the first move in my little city dance.

In efforts to ward off such problems we try to travel light. So light I did not have my mobile (cell) phone with me (safe in the hotel safe) and, with a credit card known to have gone missing with the purse, we had urgent calls to make. I bought a phone card so I could make the necessary calls back to England - only to find it refused to work in hundreds of different phone kiosks (or so it seemed). This card did work another day, in another place, but then, when I really wanted it, it refused. It was only the kindness of a lady in a shop who was not allowed to let me phone abroad on her phone - but did - that got me out of the jam. I did not have the emergency credit card number on me (safe in the hotel) so it was only by phoning my daughter back in England and giving her the immediate problem that we ended this particular crisis.

A few lessons were learned that day. A few new policies were introduced. And you, dear readers, think on. Put in place your own emergency measures that still work when you're travelling light. H was quite distressed - as you can understand. Why was she singled out as a target? Did she look an easy touch? I kept on explaining these were professionals, they looked at bags not faces, but she took some convincing. Don't let yourself be next. For what it's worth, we think the steal probably took place at a pedestrian crossing. What better place for a thief to move in when people are watching traffic and traffic lights, all huddled close together. It makes us see red! So don't be green; make sure how you go!


Elsewhere

There's a lot more to this island than I can do justice to and I am already running too long for a single piece. So I shall conclude with our little island tour from Puerto Pollensa, billed as the 'West Coast Island Tour'. You could do this tour under your own steam but the efficient synchronisation of buses, train, tram and boat might prove too tricky to be enjoyed in a single day. Thid tour makes it possible - although you do pay for the convenience, of course.

Soller train - click to enlarge!The little wooden train from Palma, through the mountains to the north to Soller is a must-do on the island: Tourist Attraction #1. The much more expensive morning trip with a viewpoint stop is even better. Some of the literature we were enveloped in by the rep on arrival suggested this tour would include the equally famous trip on a tram like those in San Francisco - this from Sóller to Port de Sóller - but, in the event, it did not. (A good job I did that in 'Frisco. ) A bus took us between the two. Notwithstanding, it was still a splendid day out and is well recommended. Just one suggestion. Take some nibbles to have while on the boat. By then you'll be needing them. And water, of course. But do you need telling to take water in hot places? I trust not.

Mallorca mountain valley scenery - click to enlarge!We were taken to a station just outside Palma to board the charmingly charismatic wooden train with its shining brass light fittings. This railway was built in 1912 and the polished wooden carriages were originally hauled through the mountain scenery and endless tunnels by a steam train. One can only imagine what was like in the longer tunnels - ladies were known to have made sure the owners did not have to imagine how they found it - so it was electrified long ago. Not that an open window does not have its drawbacks in some tunnels although, on balance, it is to be recommended for ventilation. You pass through mountain villages whose microclimates produce fine oranges, lemons, olives, and other good things. I saw hay gathered from fields containing fruit trees, a splendidly bountiful and attractive combination. The scenic halt - if you've paid for the expensive trip - is just above Sóller: an excellent photo-stop. (Mind you, I doubt many would think these few minutes worth what, I gather, is twice the normal fare: but check this out yourself!)

Port Sóller - click to enlarge!If you do get the chance, take the Orange Tram for its scenic trip from Sóller to Port Sóller and thereby peek into people's gardens with their own little fruit orchards. This is the largest bay to the north and, while the beach is nothing to write home about, it is a nice little place - except in the height of summer, apparently, when the heat becomes unbearable.

Sa Calobra - click to enlarge!We took a boat trip from Port Sóller east along the mountainous north coast to Sa Calobra, a charming little port that has little more than scenery and a few, like-priced cafés to offer - but this is more than enough! (By now you will wish to avail yourself of refreshment.) But wait, before you run out of time, you must head down the sloping path to the left (with your back to the sea) and enter the long pedestrian tunnel through the mountain in order to reach the enclosed gorge - the island's answer to the Grand Canyon - known as Torrent de Pareis (River of the Twins).

Torrent de Pareis - click to enlarge!Torrent de Pareis - click to enlarge!This canyon leads out to a bay and, being essentially dry, is sometimes used for concerts, such are the splendid acoustics of the rocky walls. Half-way along the narrow tunnel there is a window through the rock wall onto the bay itself, a charming frame to waters that house the floating homes of the more ambitious traveller.

The Snake, Mallorca - click to enlarge!After that, apart from the mandatory stop at a leather factory in or near Inca, the main attraction is the torturous nature of the mountain road as it winds its way around the highest peak known as Puig Major (1,445m/4,740ft).This trip takes in The Snake, a twisty piece of road that climaxes itself by turning and bridging itself in triumph as it finally gets you around the mountain. After that it's all downhill, back towards the inland plain, Inca and its leather products, and finally your starting point. Apparently the island is a major source of leather and many famous manufacturers get their products from here. I bought myself some sandals in the mandatory factory, and H a purse. Now call me suspicious if you like but why, I wonder, did the latter have a little tag in it saying 'China'?

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