Saddling up in Mallorca: Cycling away from stereotypes on a holiday
Cycling can be a brilliant off-season break in Majorca, says Louis Furney. Just don't forget the Spandex shorts...
A lovely trip to Mallorca last May proved educational in more ways than one. For a start it blew two of my preconceptions out of the water. The first one was about Mallorca itself, the second about Spandex.
Among my generation of twenty-somethings, Mallorca, the largest of the three Balearic Islands, is associated with its most famous resort, Magaluf, which is famous for partying. And while I have no objection to the idea of partying until all hours, I discovered there is so much more to Mallorca than Magaluf.
One of the nicest ways to see all of that is by bike and that brings us to the Spandex and my personal re-evaluation of what I once thought of as a dream material that nightmares were made of - because it conjures in my mind the image of the "Mammal" (aka the Middle-Aged Man in Lycra.)
However, once you are faced with many kilometres on a saddle smaller than most smartphones, some strategically-padded Spandex shorts will be one of your best friends.
The flight from Dublin to Palma takes just over two and half hours and once landed we made the 50-minute drive north across the island to the town of Playa de Muro. Our hotel, the very gorgeous Hotel Viva Blue & Spa, was more reminiscent of a kitted-out apartment complex than a traditional hotel because the rooms include a small kitchen, which can prove both useful and cost effective. The rest of the hotel comes complete with indoor, outdoor and kids pools with your choice of heated or not, as well as a very complete gym and conference-esque room.
Like much of Mallorca the hotel is geared around cyclists and cycling holidays. Most visitors choose to rent a bike, which, depending on what model you choose, costs between €135-€220 a week. The food at the hotel reflects the clientele, with options to cover every taste and dietary requirement. Breakfast, for instance, had every type of milk and dairy substitute, fresh smoothies, top quality meats and eggs and everything else you could hope for, including tables for vegans and coeliacs. There are of course local bars and restaurants if you prefer to dine more casually.
Fed, watered and saddled up with our own bikes we began our adventures in Spandex gently with a guided tour of the area. The going was for the most part remarkably flat although I'm under no illusion that they brought us on a gentler route than those normally used by seasoned riders. In general Mallorcan roads are in pristine condition and offer little resistance so are suitable for most levels of cyclist. We did take some slightly "off trail" roads, and that was so we could enjoy some of the incredibly beautiful landscapes, rolling hills and truly beautiful wild flowers.
The going wasn't tough but still we felt we earned our traditional Spanish lunch before our transfer to Alcudia which is a striking 16th Century town. Dinner at Can Costa, the oldest restaurant in the historical centre, was fantastic. They serve traditional Majorcan food like roast suckling pig and tombet (baked aubergine, potatoes and peppers in a tomato sauce). Can Costa is down a little side street in the old town. It has a lovely garden terrace and is very popular so booking is advised. Main courses are priced well under €20.
Our next stay was in Playa de Palma and the Hotel Iberostar Cristina, which was not only our home for the night but it was home to the cyclists of the Six Days Cycling Series - a huge indoor track competition. Competition was due to start the next day and it was fascinating to chat to the participants who came from all over the world to essentially fling themselves around a velodrome in the hope of securing first place.
Padded cycling shorts or not, it was way out of our cycling league but it makes for a very good watch. The velodrome had been used only twice before and we were lucky enough to get a place in the VIP area to watch the final. Admittedly it took a few events for me to half comprehend the complexity of the sport but once I did it made for a really interesting watch, in particular the nuances involved in 20-odd cyclists so close together weaving in between one another where one crash could injure many.
On our final full day we had a guided tour through the island and up to the town of Soller. For me this Modernist town, right in the middle of the very lovely "Valley of Oranges" was a real highlight. The town's fortunes were built off the citrus fruit and the architecture is striking. The main building is Sant Bartomeu Church in Plaza de Constitucion, which is full of bars and cafes where you can sit and listen to the tram which links the town and its port. It also has a gallery, Can Prunera, which has a permanent exhibition of works by Warhol, Kandinsky and Picasso, a museum of natural sciences and a botanic garden.
We had an authentic paella in Es Canyis, a reasonably high-end restaurant where the rest of the menu is more like a Spanish take on international cuisine, for example carpaccio of Soller prawns. A typical three-course meal costs about €40.
All in all, apart from lessons about Spandex, I learned that over the years Mallorca has not "mis-" but "mono-represented" itself.
It is known by most as a coming of age party spot which in itself is not untrue. But this is merely a fraction of an impressively versatile island. Not only does it cater to two different groups of party tourists, Magaluf for Irish and English and Arenal which is predominantly more German, but for the most part the island has maintained its culture and heritage.
It doesn't feel like it preys on tourists, but embraces them and that allows for a much more relaxing holiday. It's also very good value so without worrying about funds you can achieve what, in my opinion is the main attraction of travelling and experiencing somewhere new: you learn.
For me Mallorca hits the right notes whatever the holiday you're looking for, be it family, romantic, active, or a mad one. I will be back.
A one-night stay in an apartment at the hotel Viva Blu & Spa costs €108 per person and includes breakfast and dinner (excluding drinks). (www.hotelsviva.com/es-es/viva-blue/)
We rented our bikes from the hotel
A one night stay in a standard double room at the Iberostar Bahia de Palma is priced from €153 based on two people sharing and excluding breakfast (www.iberostar.com/en/hotels/majorca/iberostar-bahia-de-palma)
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