No weekend plans and a cheap flight from Bristol after work on a Friday? It could only mean one thing: time for a whistle-stop tour of one of the Balearic Islands’ most pretty (and underrated) cities, Palma. Majorca (aka Mallorca) has a bad rep for being home to beach party mecca, Magaluf, but really the bars and bright lights only spoil a small stretch of beach on what is otherwise a picture-perfect island. I set my sights on the coastal capital and found a classically Spanish town with everything I needed for a weekend away: ancient twisted streets that put the delightfully varied architecture on display, a stunning marina bobbing with effortlessly glamorous boats and tucked-away tapas bars galore. And of course, sun, sea and sangria.
‘But, how do I cram all of this into just 48 hours?’ I hear you cry! Here’s how I did it (and how you can do it too):
Get up early, grab a coffee and pastry to-go from any of the tiny cafés that spill out onto the streets as the sun rises, and buy a light lunch from any supermarket or corner shop to take with you. Oh, and make sure you’ve packed a swimsuit.
Set your sights on the sea
When the bright blue sea glistens and the strong sun beats down, there’s only one thing to do: head for the beach. If you want to keep things simple, Palma de Majorca does have its own beach: simply walk in the direction of the sea from anywhere in town and follow the road heading east past the marina and you’ll find a thin sliver of golden sand ready and waiting for sunbathers. But for the best place to take a dip, take a taxi (or jump on the bus) to El Arenal, just 20 minutes away. Turn your back on the crowds and walk up the coast away from the main beach; after 15 minutes at a leisurely flip flop-wearing pace, you’ll stumble across craggy cliffs that jut out over calm, turquoise waters. Pick a shallow entry point and walk gracefully in, or climb the cliffs and jump into deeper areas, it’s up to you.
Roam the winding streets
Hop back on the bus and step off in Palma to spend the afternoon getting to know the city at your own pace. Slowly roam the cobbled streets and take time to enjoy the rows of pastel-coloured houses with pot plants on their balconies and windows framed by shutters, paint peeling in that artistic-not-derelict way. Stop for a light refreshment and enjoy a little shade in the hidden courtyard of Hotel Tres. Urban furnishings and modern contemporary design meets tranquillity and an air of exclusivity. Tucked away through an archway in the heart of Palma’s old town, you’ll forget there’s a lively city just beyond the stone walls.
Take on Palma by night
There are great tapas places around every corner in old town and tables are filled every night of the week. Head to Placa de la Drassana and take a seat at any of the tables spill out into the small square. Once you’ve had your fill of tapas, duck round the corner to Bar Abaco. This regal Baroque-era house, rooms decorated with ornate candlesticks, ancient oil paintings in elaborate gold frames and tall marble columns, throws you back in time with a jolt the moment you step inside. If you can find the entrance, that is: the unmarked, dark wooden door gives away very little from the outside and many pass by without noticing. Sink back into an armchair as drinks in cut-crystal glasses clink. Smart waiters gently circle through the antique chairs of the hall bar and courtyard, classical music tinkling in the background. Elegant, dramatic and with enough authenticity to feel genuinely surreal, this is a bar experience like no other.
Do as the Spanish do and allow yourself an easy morning. Saunter to your nearest cobbled square and start the day with an espresso and a pastry. There’s no hurry: today is all about getting that well-rested holiday feeling. Once you’re content you’ve watched the world go by for quite long enough, head to La Seu Cathedral. This towering Gothic, Roman Catholic cathedral is impressive and, at up to 44m tall, hard to miss. Pay a minimal entrance fee to head inside and see the stained glass windows and a wrought iron candelabra designed by Gaudi.
This afternoon the centre of the island beckons. Since Roman times the fertile valleys inland have been used to grow grapes, and now the terraced hillsides are home to a collection of beautiful vineyards – vineyards that accept visitors. Castell Miquel is easily reached from Palma (just 35€ for a half an hour’s ride in a taxi) and wine tasting experiences start from as little as 5€. In the afternoon heat, the elegant terrace provides the most idyllic spot from which to sip a crisp, refreshing Sauvignon Blanc. Of course, the intensely deep Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are next to follow, before the sampling culminates with the party piece: a sparkling Cava. The stunning setting, peacefully overlooking the stairway of green vines, is enough to entertain long after glasses are emptied. Take a private tour of the grounds or simply wander up to the viewpoint and soak up the views unaccompanied. One thing is for sure: you’ll leave with your soul soothed – and that’s not just because of the wine.
Sangria and seafood paella
Standing alone overlooking the marina, Restaurant Café Pesquero is the perfect place for a sundowner. 5€ glasses of sangria have never tasted as good as when enjoyed under broad parasols, fluttering in the gentle breeze, as the sun sets over gleaming white boats. I stumbled across this place on an aimless stroll along the seafront and stopped for a glass, which swiftly turned into two. The fresh, steaming piles of seafood paella here are not to be missed. Reasonably priced, relaxed and unbeaten on view, the Pesquero is a great place to round off your Majorca weekend.