Majorca beyond Magaluf
To the surprise of many first-time visitors, Majorca has a coastline of often exquisite natural beauty and a local population keen to correct preconceptions, says Graham Boynton
'What goes to Magaluf stays in Magaluf," says the cab driver, as we head off the main road leading to the notorious resort and take the winding stretch that brings us down to Puerto Portals. He hasn't finished. "In Magaluf, they eat and drink rubbish. The bar staff are all English. No-one there speaks Spanish. This is not Majorca."
He is responding with appropriate exasperation to my crude line of questioning, which centres on the island's mass-tourism resort, about which many tabloid column inches have been written in recent years. As we pull into the small, bustling Puerto Portals, he relaxes, then points his finger at this pretty port and says: "You see, this is Majorca." It's cool and sophisticated, where rich European yachties rub shoulders with ordinary Majorcans, and there's not a tattooed Brit in sight.
"This is the real Majorca," says the cabby emphatically, "and tomorrow you must drive into the country, the heart of Majorca. Go to Deià, to Sóller, to Fornalutx. Forget about Magaluf."
In fact, by the time I have finished my meal in Flanigans, Puerto Portals' most famous restaurant and a favourite of the Spanish royal family, two hours later, all thoughts of Magaluf have been banished.
It is, of course, well known that this sprawling, mountainous Balearic island has for decades, even centuries, been a retreat for the rich and famous. Around a quarter of properties here are foreign-owned, and for the likes of Michael Douglas and -- whisper it quietly -- runaway celebrity newsreaders such as Selina Scott, who has lived here for 20 years and just written a Peter Mayle-type book on the subject, it is a Mediterranean retreat non pareil.
The following morning, I meet up with Miquel Morell, who will be my guide for the next few days, and convey the cabbie's patriotic instructions. It turns out that inland is precisely where we are heading. The delightful Miquel points our vehicle in the direction of Valldemossa and off we go, his gentle Majorcan incantations providing a running commentary along the way.
From Valldemossa we drive along the winding north-west coast to Foradada, one of the island's great beauty spots, near which Michael Douglas bought his then-wife Diandra a stunning house. Miquel is not very interested in the Douglas dynasty and immediately launches into a lecture on the original house, which was a villa designed by an archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire who, at the turn of the 19th century, "wrote nine volumes on the Balearic Islands in words and pictures. He came here as a 20-year-old and was here for 45 years.
"Very interesting man -- he was bisexual, had many illegitimate children and was in love with a peasant girl from Valldemossa, who he took on his voyages to Egypt."
From Foradada we drive to Deià, the picture-book village made famous by the residence of Robert Graves. Miquel says that although Graves lived here until his death in 1985, and was buried in the local church of St Joan Baptista, he learnt no Spanish and lived in an "English-speaking cocoon".
From Deià, we drive to Fornalutx, whose reputation as the most beautiful village in Spain is borne out on this glorious, sunny day. It is located in the heart of the Serra de Tramontana, dates back to the Catalan conquest of the island in 1229 and is a symphony of tiny cobbled streets and pink and brown stone houses surrounded by terraces of orange groves. It has a grand total of 469 residents.
But time is tight, and after a brisk walk through the village we are off again to nearby Sóller, set in a neighbouring valley that is famous for its orange groves, hence the derivation from the Arabic word suliar, which means golden bowl. From there, we drive down to Port de Sóller. "You know, of course, that Sóller prawns are the best in the world? Well, here we are," says Miquel, with a triumphant smile.
On this whistle-stop tour of the island there is no time to take the train from Sóller to Palma, an hour-long, 28km journey in vintage rolling-stock on a line built in 1911 to transport oranges and lemons. It is a much-recommended trip and I shall most certainly take it on my next visit.
Instead, Miquel takes me to a local café for the best ham roll I have ever had. Upon such small details memorable journeys are built. The day is done and we drive back to the Hospes Maricel (see Need To Know), satisfied that I have had at least a first taste of this lovely island.
In the following days, I take advantage of the comforts of the Maricel and spend some time exploring Palma. It is, of course, a capital rich with history, with intriguing architecture and with great cultural reference points.
There are touches of Gaudí, flourishes of Miró, cobbled streets, Gothic buildings and La Seu, the great cathedral that looms large and magnificent over the city.
On my last night, over a Senzone Martini at the Maricel, the much-travelled barman, Oriol de Mesa, tells me how much he loves living in Majorca. "I have worked and visited places all over the world," he says, "but this place is the perfect size and I will always come back here. It is like living in a big family."
A big family with a great sense of its history, I would say, a rather compelling geographic backdrop and a rich cultural tapestry to boast about.
A most appealing mix.
Aer Lingus (0818 365 000; aerlingus.com) flies from Dublin to Palma.
Hospes Maricel (0034 971 707 744, www.hospes.com) is on the coast, 4km from Palma, and a good base from which to explore the island. It has 29 rooms in the main building and a further 22 in the new spa-wing annexe across the road. The main building is where you want to stay.
The Bodyna spa is very good, the tapas dinner excellent and the aforementioned barman, Oriol de Mesa, serves up a brilliant Senzone Martini, which is worth the journey alone.
On a remote peninsular in the north east, 70km from Palma, the 122-room old Hotel Formentor, once a favourite of Churchill, has an idyllically quiet location, with gardens running down to a shady beach.
Doubles are €320, B&B (0034 971 899 100, www.barcelo.com).
Where to eat
Flanigans in Puerto Portals (0034 971 679 191) is known for its excellent fish (try the dorado) and, in autumn and winter, for its excellent cocido (a stew of meat, chickpeas and lentils).
The wine bar La Bodeguilla (Calle San Jaume 3; 0034 971 718 274; www.la-bodeguilla.com) serves very good tapas -- the menu de tapas costs €24 and the baby lamb is excellent.
There is an extensive wine-list, from a 1999 Petrus for €1,542 to the local Bodegues Ribas Sio for €25, particularly recommended.
Take the tour
Miquel F Morelli Villalonga conducts a basic four-hour tour by car for around €183 (0034 971 617 341).