Liz Gill discovers that the natural beauty of the island is the ideal setting for these beautiful flowering trees
Over three days in Mallorca I ate almonds as a soup, as an ice cream and as different flavoured nibbles including ones dusted with sweet gold glitter. But the most extraordinary almond encounter came by flying in a helicopter over fields of trees just as they were beginning to burst into bloom.
What at the weekend was only a sprinkling of blossoms will expand over the next week or two into a breathtaking spectacle of pink and white flowers as more than four million trees put on their annual spring show.
You can, of course, see this splendour from ground level but there is something especially thrilling about skimming above the countryside at 500 ft and 120 mph – though since you’re not connected with the ground it actually seems quite a steady pace. It also means you can appreciate very quickly how extraordinarily varied – and beautiful – the island is.
Although only 62 miles long by 44 wide it has sweeping sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs, hidden coves, wild forests, salt flats, fertile farmland and some serious mountains: the UNESCO World Heritage Serra Tramuntana range reaches 4700ft at its highest point.
The island is similarly varied in the experiences it offers. For some the name is still synonymous with Brits going mad for sun, sea and sex in places like Magaluf and Arenal but outside those resorts – and the holidaymakers who go there tend not to venture much further – Mallorca can cater for the most sophisticated tastes – or the most simple.
So, for example one can take a picnic of local produce to inlets accessible only by foot or boat or hike along mountain trails staying in simple but charming refugios as red kites and eagles wheel above you. Or you can visit historic placacios, beautiful churches, art galleries, museums, antique shops, designer stores and quirky independents. Hotels can be smart little boutiques in the old city or fabulous country manor house conversions. Restaurants and cafes similarly range from places where you’d have a rustic pie or a pastry through cool new cocktail bars to Michelin star dining.
It’s even possible to experience much of this in one long weekend. The island is little more than a couple of hours from the UK and flying as we did from London’s City Airport with British Airways the process seemed particularly speedy: security is cleared within a few minutes and there are no long treks to distant gates.
On the first day we followed the helicopter tour with a stroll around Palma. The city is compact and walkable and although it has only 370,000 inhabitants it packs a significant cultural and historical punch, having been at the centre of international trading routes and fought over by Romans, Moors, Catalans and Napoleon’s troops.
The Bellver Castle, once a fortification, later a prison, now a museum, is perfectly circular and hence a rarity and the stunning Gothic cathedral, second in height only to Cologne, has the largest rose window in Europe. In between these two landmarks are elegant boulevards, a marina and a long pleasant promenade perfect for strolling in the winter sunshine.
Late winter and early spring are a good time to visit Mallorca. The weather can be chilly – there was snow on the mountains while we were there – but wonderfully bright and although some hotels and restaurants close for the low season, lots are open and the place is calmer and easier to get around than in the bustling high season. Recent years have seen the old city spruced up with lots of restoration projects and the opening of new places to stay, eat and shop have created a real buzz. At one spot, for example, an exquisite old church was just yards from a cool bar with fur rugs thrown across the outdoor seating. The place is also full of surprises: we turn one corner to face on the site of the old botanical gardens an absolutely gigantic tree,
We stop for lunch at Rialto Living, a ‘lifestyle emporium’ created by a Swedish couple Klas Kall and Barbara Bergman who converted first an old cinema and then the adjoining Can O’Ryan, an 18th century Baroque palace originally owned by an Irish military doctor, to make a café and a stylish fashion and home-wares store.
We stay the night at the 16 room boutique hotel Can Alomar which opened last year, also in a restored Baroque palace – this time 19th century – which now has two large terraces overlooking the city’s main boulevard, a rooftop plunge pool and a tower where its inhabitants could once watch out for their enemies but where guests can now have a romantic dinner or a private yoga class. We dine in its De Tokio A Lima restaurant which combines Japanese, Peruvian and Mediterranean flavours and share such examples as razor clams in teriyaki sauce, quinoa salad with wasabi vinaigrette and local white fish ceviche.
Food and drink, in fact, play a major role in our weekend as the next day we drive 20 minutes into the countryside to the Gran Hotel Son Net and lunch on a feast of 11 different tapas: some traditional like patatas bravas, prawns in garlic and the local leek-like calcots; others more modern such an onion cappuccino soup or a tuna tartar but all delicious. I can’t manage the full five desserts but ginger crème brulee is wonderful as is the unpromising sounding bread with chocolate oil and salt.
We eat in the hotel’s latest addition, a tree house built around an ancient tree giving us a bird’s eye view of the mountains above us and the village of Puigpunyent below. The privately owned five star property dates back to 1672 when it was the mansion house of Don Francisco de Net, a pirate turned knight rewarded by the king with what was then largest estate on Mallorca.
Today the beautifully restored house with its interior courtyard, private chapel, antique furniture and works by Chagall and Hockney has only five hectares compared with Don Francisco’s vast spread but its latest venture has been to revive the estate, introducing livestock, replanting olive trees and creating a vineyard for the indigenous white Malvasia grape. It produced its first bottles last year which we try out at a wine tasting evening along with others created exclusively for guests by the hotel’s sommelier Xavi Ramos.
The next day we attempt to walk off some of this indulgence with a climb to the hilltop village of Galilea by which time we feel justified in joining a cookery class and eating the end products. Mallorca Cuisine is the brainchild of Spanish husband Alex and German wife Manuela who’ve created a swish modern kitchen in the grounds of their home where they show guests how to make tapas with a modern touch.
So as well as the almond soup we have sobrasada, the island’s cross between pate and sausage, in filo pastry rolls with honey and rosemary, cod with the butifarro blood sausage and pig’s ear, pig jowl with truffled egg – despite being surrounded by sea the Mallorcans love their pork – and cubes of confit potato filled with aioli and herring roe. We just have time to stagger back down the hill for a quick facial in the hotel’s spa before it’s time for the plane home.
|www.sonnet.es The Almond Blossom package which runs until March 26 starts at £52 per person for one night’s accommodation with breakfast. Rates at other times range from £129 per night for the least expensive room in low season to £1090 a night for the opulent presidential suite in high.
www.sloanemallorca.com Helicopter tours £370 for 30 minutes, £520 for an hour. The Robinson R44 seats three passengers.
www.mallorcacuisine.com Tapas courses £66 per person. The school also offer other courses plus market visit and wine tours
www.boutiquehotelcanalomar.com prices from £135 per night for a deluxe room to £390 for a suite