Here I am in the midst of palms and cedars and cacti and olives and lemons and aloes and figs and pomegranates… The sky is turquoise blue, the sea is azure, the mountains are emerald green … all day long the sun shines and it is warm, and everybody wears summer clothes.
– Chopin, letter to Jules Fontana during his sojourn in Mallorca, 1838.
The entire Balearic archipelago off the coast of Valencia in Spain feels like a natural country club. Tiny, exclusive coves, pine-covered trails, long sandy beaches, emerald indigo sea, perfect summer skies… After six months of intensive Flamenco training in Andalucia, I fly direct to Palma and plunge into what the Mediterranean has best to offer. The poet’s way of living should be so simple that the most modest influences cheer him, his joy should come from a ray of sunshine, air alone should be enough to inspire him and water enough to intoxicate him, writes Ralph Waldo Emerson. For three sublime weeks, I subsist on breezy early summer air and the lagoon blue water in idyllic Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera, hiking, bathing, and soaking it all in…
All the Colors of Mallorca
From Palma to Cala d’Or, the airport shuttle takes swooping three hours, offering a scenic bonus tour. Visitors ooh and aah as each turn reveals glimpses of little hidden calas/coves with crystal clear water. Welcome to Islas Baleares that require no introduction. The divine colours are already part of your memory!
Before returning to continental Europe, I had spent three months hiking and swimming in twenty two islands from the Cape Verde to the Canary Islands, Madeira, and the Azores, but the calas and colours in Mallorca are something else. No need to fly to Tahiti, everything one needs to be happy is here! The crown jewel sits in the Mondrago Natural Park where one meanders along the scenic coast to arrive at playa s’Amarador in an utter state of wonder. Maybe even heaven is less perfect than Mallorca!
No visit to the island is complete without setting foot in the majestic Serra de Tramuntana. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the 168-km GR221, Ruta de Pedra en Sec/Dry Stone Route from Port Andratx to Port d’Pollensa traverses a unique Mediterranean landscape famous for its picturesque medieval villages and cobbled paths, lighthouses and defence towers, terraced fields and dry-stone walls, old churches and sanctuaries. I begin my excursion up North from Pollensa to Playa Formentor and Alcudia, a gentle foray into enchanting Tramuntana…
Banyalbufar is my favourite place, my Mallorcan friend, Toni, says and I can see why. An ancient stone path connects Esporles and Banyalbufar along fragrant pine forests, olive groves, fruit orchards, and terraced fields, ending in a surprise, surprise cobalt blue cala! What a blessed place! One feels in complete harmony with the universe each step along the way…
Little wonder artists love Mallorca. In the winter of 1838, Chopin sojourned in Valldemossa and composed the timeless Raindrop Prelude as he imagined tears falling from heaven straight onto his heart. The hike up along the Camí de s’Arxiduc, built by the Archduke Luís Salvador of Austria, through tracts of oak groves in a private finca is absolutely exquisite before the trail plunges into Deia, with superb views of the coast and enticing playas. From there, Port Soller is only a short bus ride away where one can enjoy an amaretto gelato as a handsome reward for a hard won day!
My favourite spot on this side of Mallorca is the tiny island of Dragonera where environmentalists put up a good fight against a mega project of building a hotel, casino, and luxury mansions half a century ago. Thanks to them, endemic lizards continue to roam today and the world’s largest flock of Eleonora’s falcons make a pit stop here each Fall en route to Madagascar. Mark your calendar: return at the end of September/beginning of October. There might be just you and the awesome falcons in Dragonera! For the best view of the island, scramble up a section of the Tramuntana with vertical drops on your left to reach an abandoned Trappist monastery where another eternal Mallorcan sunset awaits you…
Camí de Cavalls: The Refuge of Menorca
It was all pure coincidence, Erwin Broner, the German artist who moved to the Baleares, wrote. Or, maybe nothing ever is. To punish the island for its Republican stance in the Spanish Civil War, Franco starved Menorca of public funds for infrastructure development for over four decades, making it feel like a dwarfed sibling to neighbouring Mallorca. Maybe for the better: fewer resorts, less crowd, happy hikers. For a week, I base myself out of tranquil Cala Galdana, making daily excursions along various sections of the 186-km GR223, the ancient Camí de Cavalls encircling the island, one of the most scenic coastal trails I have ever been. On a lucky day, there are just the sky and the sea, the bees and the flowers, and you in a tiny corner of magical Menorca…
Day 1: Stages 4-1, from Port Addai to Mahon via Albufera Natural Park, 30km. Awaking at 6am and three bus rides later, I find myself in the serene coastal town of Port Addai. The morning unfolds with one surprise after another: marshes and salt pans, pine woods and undulating dunes, and the largest freshwater lagoon. Pristine beaches and gorgeous calas – d’en Tortuga, Rambles, and sa Torreta – line the Albufera Natural Park until Es Grau. What an introduction to the Camí de Cavalls! No bus to Mahon till mid-June, so 10km more to go. I put on my headphones and listen to The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, planting one step before another…
Spirituality begins when you decide that you’ll never stop trying. Spirituality is the commitment to go beyond, no matter what it takes. It’s an infinite journey based upon going beyond yourself every minute of every day for the rest of your life.
– Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself.
Day 2: Stages 12-14, from Far de Cap d’Artrux to Cala Galdana, 20km. Another perfect morning begins with attending to two growing blisters. I plaster my feet with vaseline before putting on two thick socks and head to the station. Three bus connections later, I am at Cap d’Artrux, this time with hundreds of marathoners and trail runners who have flown from around the world to run the entire Camí de Cavalls, all 186km nonstop in two days! My 20km feel like a weekend stroll, passing through some of the best beaches and calas in Menorca: Son Saura, Talaier, Turqueta, Macarelleta, and Macarella. No time stress today as Stage 14 ends in Cala Galdana where I descend leisurely to town in time to take a refreshing dip in the pool before sundown…
Day 3: Stages 14-15, from Cala Galdana to Cala Trebaluger, 8km round trip. It is Sunday and no bus is running. Time to chill by just walking over the hill. Forget about Sant Thomas and Son Bou. In Cala Trebaluger, I call it a day and retrace my steps, ending up spending all day dozing and dipping in cute little Cala Mitjana, my favourite in Menorca!
Day 4: Stages 8-11, from Cala d’Algaiarens to Ciutadella, 22km. Grabbing the last seat on bus 62, I get to the trailhead at Cala d’Algaiarens for an easy two-hour walk to scenic Cala Morell. After the mega running event, the trail is emptied out. Eerie megalithic burial stone mounds dot the parched landscape from the Punta Nati Lighthouse to Ciutadella where I catch the last bus and doze all the way to Cala Galdana. My legs get stronger by the day and the number of blisters keeps growing still!
Day 5: Stages 5-6, from Cala Tirant to Cala Pregonda, 20km round trip. Just one last hike up the wild North before flying out to Ibiza. From Cala Tirant, it is a gorgeous walk to expansive Playa Cavalleria and Binimela before arriving at the red sand dunes and lunar landscape of mesmerizing Cala Pregonda with crystal clear water… Oh, Camí de Cavalls, you literally take my breath away!
The Other Ibiza
Landing in Ibiza, the world’s clubbing capital, is a total shock. Bachelors’ parties start right at the airport! San Antoni is not exactly my kind of paradise but a convenient base to explore what the other Ibiza might have to offer. Dalt Vila is a picturesque UNESCO World Heritage old town atop Ibiza with commanding views of the marina. The Museum of Contemporary Art is a little gem to see the avant garde paintings of the Grupo Ibiza 59 founded by Erwin Bechtold and others who have left such a lasting impact on art in the Balearic archipelago.
Up North in Puerto de San Miguel, there is a cool smugglers’ cave, Can Marca, where small “lakes of desires” give a magical fluorescent green glow. The nearby coves are a perfect setting for a picnic stop, a world away from the partying spots!
You must go to Cala d’Hort to see Es Vedra, my Ibizan friend, Luis, said. It is amazing how rocks can be spiritual. Some say it is the third most magnetic spot on earth, after the North Pole and the Bermuda Triangle. Others think it is the sirens of Greek mythology who lured sailors to their death with songs causing them to shipwreck. No matter what, this island is a high energy place that continues to draw revellers as well as seekers. Om Mani Padme Hum, the jewel might well be in Ibiza!
There is no shortage of beautiful beaches in Ibiza. Up north, those around Portinatx are my favourites, especially the secluded diving hotspot in Cala d’en Serra. Nearby, Playa Benirras is famous for its hippie market and brilliant sunsets. Out west, I like the wildness of Cala Comte where seagulls surge above the crashing waves, happy to snap a piece of your salami sandwich…
Then there is the most famous beach in town, Playa de ses Salines, where champagne and caviar flow at all hours, only ten minutes from the airport. Why not drop by a quickie clubbing night before heading back to work two hours later in London, Barcelona, or Frankfurt? Where’re you heading tonight? Amnesia, Ushuaïa, or Pacha?
Time to escape the crowd by hopping on a 30-minute ferry to Formentera. Hardly worth the trouble to hike its length (20 km long and 2 km wide), for its treasures lie within the few kilometres between the world-famous playa de ses Illetes and Es Pujols. Coastal pine and juniper groves, salt pans and dunes, lagoons and Posidonia sea grass meadows, and, as always, turquoise water in brilliant Mediterranean temperatures… I know why some people never leave!
When I close my eyes, all the sensations come back to me. The gentle morning breeze and dangling smiling pines, chirpy birds singing and warm embrace of the sea. But the Balearic islands are far more than these. For three blissful weeks, I discover entire ecosystems and age-old secrets of happy, wise island living. Without having planned to, I hiked over 230km of GR221 and GR223 in Mallorca and Menorca, and then in Ibiza and Formentera, for there is no better way to experience these gorgeous islands. And there is nowhere else I would have liked to be…
Robert Graves is right: So hard to say goodbye to all that!
This is my world, my land, and my sea,
I have known it always.
All of the fish and fruits I know by memory,
they have formed part of my cultural landscape
since I was a child.
– Miquel Barcelo, Mallorcan painter.
Next: Barcelona or Madrid!