Mallorca is a haven of wildflowers, wildlife and a host of fascinating food and drinks producers
We’re not in Kansas anymore. Witnessing a flush of flamingos through my binoculars, I feel a world away from the common garden birds in my north Dublin enclave. Is this the Everglades – or Mallorca?
The largest of the Balearic Islands isn’t the only place in southern Europe to receive these gangly waterbirds that flock from Africa every spring. Ibiza has them, so too Alicante, France’s Camargue region, Italy’s Sardinia.
I’m not chiefly here to bird-spot though, but to learn more about the Salinas d’Es Trenc (lordesal.com) upon which these exotic migrants feed – and where I sample the most wonderfully lip-smacking salt I’ve ever tasted.
Ibiza is better-known for its “gourmet” sea salt but actually this historic spot in Es Trenc Salobrar de Campos Maritime-Terrestrial Natural Park, south of Mallorca, is a much bigger cheese.
As per centuries past, water is channelled from Es Trenc beach a few kilometres away and flooded into a series of basins, with the sun and wind evaporating the water to, eventually, produce salt. Here it is organic, hand-harvested using age-old, minimal-intervention techniques.
It is also produced in naturally flavoured editions, including saffron, rose and olive, lavender and lemon – all extremely potent when slicked up by local olive oil on crusty bread. No wonder it’s highly prized by top chefs and gourmet retailers.
The flamingos, though, prefer the salt farm’s artemia salina – the tiny brine shrimp that turn their feathers as pale-pink as the Slice of Pleasure rosé our group is sipping outside Flor de Sal’s cafe and shop on an unseasonably blustery afternoon in May.
We later feast on a procession of delectable dishes embellished with this very salt at the Michelin-starred restaurant Es Fum in the recently renovated five-star St Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort.
Here chef de cuisine Miguel Navarro unveils a well-paced seven-course dinner that’s as visually dazzling as it is delectable – from five dashes of multicoloured flavoured butter (prepare to fight over the mushroom and tomato ones) for slathering on pillowy focaccia, to playful petit fours.
The wine pairings are also excellent – many Mallorcan – but try and leave space for a nightcap in the beautifully revamped Regis bar, where glossy green ceramic tiles, red leather stools, snazzy lighting, puckish artwork and bohemian textiles make for a pleasing, relaxed frisson.
We’re not staying here but at a sister property, the Castillo Hotel Son Vida, a 15-minute drive inland, in a neighbourhood astutely coined “the Beverly Hills of Mallorca”. Huge Modernist and traditional finca-style villas stud the hillside and overlook splendid arboreal views that stretch out to Palma and beyond.
There are so many trees leading down to the Bay of Palma, in fact, you could easily forget you are in golf country and pretend instead that you’re staying on lush private woodland that extends all the way to the capital’s famous cathedral, monumental on the horizon.
The five-star Castillo Hotel Son Vida is adults only – two words that can’t help but summon images of couples dropping keys into a bowl. Except there’s nothing remotely sleazy about this stately five-star that has hosted film stars, dignitaries and international royalty since transferring from aristocratic residence to hotel in 1961.
During my stay it’s mostly golfers, older couples and young corporate groups milling around this historic property, its swimming pools and high-quality breakfast buffet.
From the Castillo our group takes a trip further inland to Raixa (around 16km north; raixa.conselldemallorca.cat), a spellbinding country estate that dates back to the Moors.
My self-guided audio handset doesn’t work properly, and with wall mounts mostly in Spanish and Catalan, I glean little about the neoclassical and Italianate-styled estate, and former bodega and olive oil farm. However, a lack of context does little to dampen my pleasure at exploring the vertiginous gardens that command views over the Serra de Tramuntana valley. Goldfinches tinkle above, the blue flash of a jay’s wing. It’s exquisite.
There are green corridors aplenty on this island, with wildflowers abundant on road sides, roundabouts and even among the olive and citrus groves themselves. Clusters of broad-leaved cacti remind me of how high temperatures can get, but otherwise this is one green and pleasant land – and a summertime playground for swifts that dance overhead.
A half-hour drive east of Raixa in Consell is Bodega Ribas (bodegaribas.com), Spain’s oldest family-run winery – a must visit. It’s not the biggest of vineyards – 49 hectares, so a low yield of grapes that equals one bottle per plant – but it is certainly venerable, and its new white and rosé production facility and subterranean barrel room has been designed by the gilded architect Rafael Moneo.
Ribas, 10th generation winemakers, find it “not difficult” to be organic. It’s certainly a USP on an island with more than 100 wineries, and the bodega is in the process of moving to solar energy. Glass, corks and labels are sourced within a 2km radius of the winery, while 65pc of its wine is sold within Mallorca.
Look out for it: the Ribas rosé and Sió red in particular are fantastic, while the 18th century site itself is full of rustic nooks and crannies for leisurely sips and snacks of charcuterie and cheese boards.
Mallorca’s capital Palma is – of course – a must for sightseeing days and tapas-grazing nights. It’s a truly elegant, clean and relaxed city combining Spanish and Moorish architecture – look up for gorgeous Art Nouveau flourishes and down labyrinthine alleyways for Arabic influences.
Stall holders line the walls around the Catedral-Basílica de Santa María: no homogenous tat here but tasteful jewellery, clothing, homewares, food and drink. Even the knock-off designer handbags around the S’Hort del Rei public gardens look to be of fine quality.
The shops themselves are a mixture of global and national brands, most with handsome shop fronts. I get a lust for ice cream as the sun starts to split stones, and, as if by magic, I come across a small Flor de Sal outlet on Plaça de Cort, in the cool shadow of the 17th century town hall. Here, I pepper rose salt over an unctuous dollop each of pistachio and mascarpone. Divine.
The city is just a 20-minute drive back to the hotel and before I know it I’m having a dreamy facial in the modern spa.
Later I sit on my balcony and drink in that glorious panoramic view. Sparrows chirrup in the eaves above, whooshing like a pack of briskly shuffled playing cards hither and thither.
In the far distance, the sun turns the cathedral a honeyed, rose gold and my thoughts drift to those flamingos and swifts. I don’t blame them either. I too would gladly spend every spring and summer on this verdant island.