This weekend Nacho and I headed to the Mediterranean with his cousins and their partners for some sun and relaxation. We went to an all-inclusive hotel in the Arenal beach area – a typical tourist area with wide, beautiful, white sand expanses, a lively boardwalk, chiringuitos (beach-side bars), and lots of Germans. Arenal is about 6 miles from Palma de Mallorca, the capital of the island and the largest city. Our hotel was a respectable 3 stars with a good-sized pool, jacuzzi, lots of bars, and unimpressive food offerings. So Saturday night we decided to go into Palma for dinner and a walk around the city. Hugging the curving line of the bay, Palma is a pretty city with a cozy historical quarter and an impressive duo of hilltop monuments. Sitting next to each other and overlooking the bay are the Palau Almudaina (foreground, a palace started by the Moors [not Moops] in the 13th century and later adopted by the Catholic Kings) and the city’s cathedral (background, one of the world’s largest – started in the 14th century and finally finished by Gaudi in the 20th).
Unfortunately the neighborhood around the monuments is a tourist hub and the service in the bars and restaurants reflected that. (In fact, in addition to its unique terrain, Mallorca has a unique dialect, mallorquín, which is derived from catalan. Most of the signs in the city are, at a minimum, in mallorquín, castellano, and English.) It was clear that a lot of the establishments in the area had adapted themselves to the most prevalent tourist – the northern European (German and English) – and in the process lost a fair amount of their Spanish charm. Perhaps it was a factor of the sheer number of people looking for dinner but even the typical Spanish act of getting a beer at the bar was frowned upon in a couple of the places we visited. When we finally found a good place for dinner (complete with crotchety old Spanish barman) we noticed that, interestingly enough, a majority of the other patrons were also Spaniards. It was a lesson in culture – the floor littered with toothpicks and napkins and the grumpy bartender put off most of the tourists while, for the Spaniards, those same characteristics promised good food and good prices. About 85€ for 6 of us complete with about 10 raciones, drinks, dessert, and coffee at the foot of the cathedral. Not bad at all.
Sunday we rented a car (well, a huge 9-person Mercedes Vito for the 6 of us – extremely comfortable) and headed to the northwest coast of the island. We went in search of the calas – small, secluded beaches – that pepper that coast. We headed on the highway towards the town of Valldemosa passing olive groves as we traversed the interior of the island and then began to climb the hills of the Sierra de Tramontana. We headed to the picturesque town of Deía and its famous cala, stopping along the way at a mirador for a glimpse of the ocean and its characteristic rocky formations. Unless you follow a winding road down to the water’s edge most of the coastline in this area is set on top of sharp cliffs and the views of the ocean below are breathtaking.
The first time around we passed by the handwritten sign directing us down a “road” to Cala Deía. But when we turned back and found it the trip was well worth it. We got to the cala at about 11:30am which was, though we didn’t know it at the time, perfect timing. There were only a handful of people then and the sun was warm but not burning yet. The beach was small and rocky, painful for the feet, but easy on the eyes, and the water was a perfect cool temperature. We stayed for a couple of hours and had our aperitivo (pre-lunch snack) there on the beach. By the time we left the beach was filling with people and the beachside bars were packed.
We continued along the coast to the beachside town of Sóller and its harbor and boardwalk. The town is set around a natural bay and harbor filled with sail boats, colorful houses, and citrus trees, giving it an air of the French Riviera and St. Tropez. There we got lunch and found some shade during the peak of the day. The boardwalk is lined with small cafés and restaurants that overlook the bay and the train tracks of the trolley that parallels the beach. Hugging the cliffs above the beach and the first line of buildings sit multi-million dollar mansions, with flower-covered terraces and hidden entrances.
Refueled from lunch we continued our trek towards the north in search of our final stop – Sa Calobra. We think that means la culebra, or the serpent, and refers to the hair-raising 6 mile road that leads from the mildly less hair-raising highway down to the beach. I found a picture of a portion of the road on Google Earth. What you can’t quite get from the picture is that each switchback and hairpin turn is on the edge of a cliff and the road is only just wide enough for two passing cars (on more than one occasion those two cars being our 9-passenger van and a commercial bus).
The trip down to the beach took about 30 minutes and we passed one minor accident on the decent. The entire way down we kept saying, “This has better be worth it.” It was. The cala at Sa Colobra is smaller than that at Deía but just as rocky. We arrived at about 5pm and, again, had perfect timing, as most of the people had already left for the day. I’ve since read that the beach can be quite touristy with the gift shops and restaurants and daily boat trips in from Sóller, but we escaped all of that and almost had the beach to ourselves. The highlight was a raised concrete dock, designed for the boats, and perfect for a good leap into the water. One of our companions, Peri, was by far the most graceful and I managed to snap this incredible picture.
From Sa Calobra we headed back towards the highway and on to our hotel. Even when you aren’t looking for anything in particular, you follow a curve in the road and come across another incredible sight, like this mountain lake. We snapped a quick shot and then moved on. After all Real Madrid was playing for the championship later that night…