Best of the Balearics: four Spanish islands to visit from the green list – The Guardian

Posted By on June 27, 2021

A lot of us have been dreaming of plunging into the Balearic Islands glittering seas over the last year, and with a bit of luck the fantasy may become a reality before too long.

Floating in the Mediterranean isnt the only thing on our Balearic wishlist though. We are thinking of staying in small hotels in inland villages, eating in restaurants that use the produce found in the surrounding countryside, and drinking wines from local vineyards. Of course, we still want to lie on the beach, but we might also want to explore by bike, paddle around the coast in a kayak or reboot on a yoga retreat.

You can do all this and a lot more in the Balearics, whether you choose Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza or Formentera. All the islands are equally if not more enjoyable outside the peak summer months, so think about a walking or cycling holiday in Menorca or Formentera in the autumn, a shopping trip to Palma in Mallorca before Christmas, or a fitness break in Ibiza next spring. You can go back to the Balearics again and again and always have a fresh experience.

While you cant really fault Mallorca when it comes to beach resorts, the largest island in the Balearics is increasingly attractive for active holidays, both in and out of the water. The food and wine scene is really exciting too, with local chefs reviving and recreating traditional recipes. Quite a few have their restaurants in the boutique and rural hotels that have sprung up all over the island, making gastronomic breaks a good idea all year round.

What to doStart with La Seu, Palmas cathedral by the sea, where Miquel Barcels contemporary chapel adds to the magnificence of the gothic architecture. Wander around the former Arab and Jewish quarters, then look up at the elegant art nouveau buildings as you mooch around the shops. Drive up to Valldemossa to see the Carthusian monastery and cruise along the spectacular coast road to Dei, where Robert Graves spent half his life. Visiting the great poet and writers house is a magical, intimate experience. Afterwards, walk down to the tiny beach, as Graves used to do, for a delicious dip, before continuing to Sller for an ice-cream.

Where to stayAgro Roqueta (apartments from 95, room only, minimum stay four nights), in the village of Mara de la Salut in the centre of Mallorca, is a family-friendly agroturismo with self-catering accommodation on a farm that dates back to the 13th century and produces its own olive oil. At Ecocirer (doubles from 170 B&B), a stylish guesthouse in Sller, activities include yoga, picking oranges and making bread. Just outside the pretty town of Art in the east of the island, Finca SEstelrica (doubles from 163 B&B) is a rural yet smart hotel with minimalist design near the Llevant nature reserve and unspoilt beaches.

Where to eatMichelin-starred British chef Marc Fosh uses the best Balearic produce to create sublime dishes at his Palma restaurant, where the set lunch is a real bargain. Also in the capital, El Camino is a gastrobar run by Eddie and Samuel Hart, the brothers behind the Barrafina bars in London, with a changing menu of Mallorcan tapas and wines. At Ca Na Toneta in the inland village of Caimari, it is two sisters in charge, Maria and Teresa Solivellas, who use organic vegetables from their own garden.

Best beachesWith shallow water making it safe for children to paddle, Cala Llombards on the south-east coast near Santany is a triangle of pale sand with boat sheds perched on the rocks. If you stay in or around the pretty town of Art in the east, you can drive to a string of idyllic beaches such as Cala Torta, or the little resort of Canyamel if you want places to eat too. Sheltered by pine trees on the Victria headland in the north-east of the island, tiny SIllot is a rocky cove where you can have a paella at the restaurant overlooking the beach. On the south coast, bordering the Ses Salines wetlands, the famous Es Trenc has more than 2km of white sand, where the quieter stretches are popular with naturists.

Ibiza has cleverly reinvented itself as a destination for all things healthy while hanging on tight to its nightlife crown. One minute youre slurping your carrot and ginger juice, the next youre on your third mojito. The island is increasingly popular for family holidays too particularly multigenerational ones where the parents are doing yoga at dawn as gran and grandad are rolling back from a club.

What to doIn Eivissa, or Ibiza town, walk through the lanes of the Dalt Vila to get a feel of the islands history the whole neighbourhood has Unesco World Heritage status. Pop into the MACE contemporary art museum, which you may well have to yourself, and learn about Ibizas local produce and specialities on a food tour. Outside the clubbing season, which in normal times runs from May to October, the island is remarkably quiet and the weather is better for active breaks in the pine-scented air. Every evening, head to the west of the island to watch the sun go down, which should be experienced at least once swigging an overpriced beer in San Antonio, before you find your own favourite spot.

Where to stayOn a hillside above the sea in Cap Negret, near San Antonio, Hostal La Torre (doubles from 92 B&B) has simple rooms and a terrace you could stay on from breakfast to late-night cocktails. In the north of the island near the village of Sant Miquel de Balansat, the family-run Vinya den Palerm agroturismo (doubles from 160 B&B) is somewhere you can switch off but still be an easy drive from the action and beaches. In Ibiza town, Ryans La Marina (doubles from 72, room only) is a handy, basic base overlooking the harbour.

Where to eatIn the romantic garden at La Paloma, in the inland village of San Lorenzo, you eat a mix of Italian and Ibizan food, much of it organic that they grow themselves. Paella on the beach is a must in Ibiza and it is superb at Es Torrent on a tiny beach on the south coast ask for a sunbed as well when you book a table and make an afternoon of it. Right on the sand in the town of Santa Eulalia in the east, Chiringuito Blue serves healthy Mediterranean cuisine, including vegan dishes, and has a kids menu and a supervised play area.

Best beachesThe twisting drive down the hill to Cala dHort in the west is worth it for the pale sand, view of magical Es Vedr island and the choice of restaurants for long lunches. If the fashionable Cala Conta is too crowded, just carry on down the coast and stop wherever takes your fancy maybe Cala Codolar, a tiny, pebbly cove sheltered by cliffs where the cobalt sea is like a pool. On the other side of the island, swimsuits are optional at Aguas Blancas, which has a wilder feel.

Protecting the environment and keeping tourism at sustainable levels have always been important in Menorca, which has been a Unesco Biosphere Reserve for nearly three decades. While it only measures around 30 miles from west to east, the island has more than 125 miles of coastline, punctuated by dozens of pristine beaches and circumnavigated by the Cam de Cavalls trail.

What to doTackling a stretch of the Cam de Cavalls, a bridle path dating back 700 years, is a good way to get an idea of the natural beauty of Menorca, whether you are into birdwatching, butterflies or wildflowers (there are about 30 varieties of orchids for a start), or just want to swim in coves that are inaccessible by car. You can walk, cycle or ride a horse and take it as slow as you like the slower the better really. Whatever you are doing in Menorca, the word slow comes up a lot. The coastal waters are ideal for diving and the beaches great for paddleboarding or simply paddling. Along the way are the Talayotic burial chambers and temples, which date back to at least 2,000BC. For contemporary art, Hauser & Wirth is opening a new gallery in July in part of an 18th-century naval hospital on the Isla del Rey in the port of Mahn. Both Mahn and Ciutadella, on the other side of the island, have plenty of outdoor tables for long, cool drinks try the local gin.

Where to stay

Surrounded by its own vineyards but close to beaches and the airport, Torralbenc (doubles from 182 B&B) sums up the stylish simplicity of Menorca and has an excellent restaurant. In the centre of Mahn, the chic new Cristine Bedfor Guest House (doubles from 188 B&B) has the unmistakable stamp of top designer Lorenzo Castillo.

At Son Vives (doubles from 120 B&B), a restored farmhouse in the centre of the island, they make their own cheese and have an organic vegetable garden. The family-run and family-friendly Agroturisme Biniatram (doubles from 95 B&B, and apartments from 105) is near Cala Morell beach in the north-west corner of the island.

Where to eatAt Es Tast de na Silvia in Ciutadella, Silvia Anglada showcases the best local produce and is a pioneer of Menorcas slow food movement. Overlooking the sea in Cala Torret in San Lluis, the Salitre and CalaMar restaurants are run by Zoltan Polgar, who was previously executive chef at Jos Pizarros restaurants in London. At both places, expect fish straight from the sea and plenty of plant-based dishes using organic vegetables. Caldereta de Langosta lobster cooked in a rich stock is a terrific special occasion dish. Try it at Caf Balear in Ciutadella or Es Cranc in Fornells.

Best beachesIndigo, emerald, cornflower, cyan you could spend a lot of time musing on the shades of the sea in Menorca. The gorgeous Macarella and Macarelleta coves on the south coast do a lot of the heavy lifting to promote the islands beaches, and justifiably so, but there are dozens more of staggering beauty. At Cal Blanc, near Binibeca, you jump off the rocks into the clear water. For a long, sandy stretch, theres Son Saura, or head to the quieter north coast for Pregonda, with reddish-gold sand and pink rocks.

With blissful beaches and a bohemian vibe, Formentera is a natural paradise where more than 70% of the land is protected. There is no airport, so you fly to Ibiza and sail over on the ferry to La Savina, a half-hour voyage that chucks your stress overboard before you even step on to the island.

What to doThe smallest of the Balearics, Formentera is only 11 miles long but has 43 miles of coastline. Although most of the island never feels crowded, the 12,000 population quadruples in July and August. To maintain a sustainable environment, the number of cars is limited and the use of electric vehicles is being encouraged. Better though to hire a bike to trundle along the mostly flat tracks, shaded by almond, juniper and pine trees, to reach secret coves for a beer or two at a feet-in-the-sand bar. Just take your pick from the 32 green routes that score the landscape. To understand why the beaches are so pristine, you have to immerse yourself in the transparent water to discover the rich marine life below the surface excellent visibility means you see a lot just with a mask and snorkel so you dont need to be able to dive. A posidonia seagrass meadow sprawls between Formentera and Ibiza, which filters the water, absorbs carbon and creates oxygen. Octopus, scorpion fish, lobsters and moray eels are just a few of the species you are likely to see.

Where to stayCasa Pacha Formentera (doubles from 240 B&B) offers a luxe version of the pared-back look that characterises accommodation on Formentera and is right on Migjorn beach with a restaurant that will no doubt be the place to be seen this summer. Hostal Aigua Clara (doubles from 131, room only), also on Migjorn beach, has yoga classes on the sand and a great restaurant. Regular visitors love the laid-back, beachfront vibe at the Talaya apartments (studios from 160). No frills required? Doubles at Hostal Rafalet, right by the sea in Es Cal from 70, room only.

Where to eatLobster fried with eggs, peppers and potatoes? How good would that be after a morning cycling and snorkelling? Try it on the waterside terrace at Es Cal). Can Forn (Carrer Major 39; 0034 971 3281555) in Sant Ferran specialises in the traditional dishes of Formentera, such as ensalada pagesa, a chunky salad with the dried fish you see hanging up around the island, and squid cooked with sobrasada sausage.

Best beachesThe glistening sands are soft and white and boardwalks lconnect the beaches. Some have bar shacks, others fancy restaurants, most have nothing at all. Illetas beach is close to the ferry port and so splendid that a lot of people venture no further, but it is an easy stroll to the quieter Levante. On the other side of the island, Migjorn stretches for more than three miles, down to the tiny Cal des Mort cove. Families love Cala Saona, where the sea is particularly calm.

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Best of the Balearics: four Spanish islands to visit from the green list - The Guardian

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