The Balearic Islands
Lying a little under 200 km off the east coast of Spain, the Balearic Islands are comprised of four isles, each offering wonderful holiday options, in various ways. Discover the difference between Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera.
Majorca Cala S’Almunia
Majorca’s scenery is somewhat reminiscent of Tuscany, with Mediterranean vistas, sprawling vineyards and cute hilltop villages. The largest of the Balearics, Majorca (3,640.11 km2) may bring only beach holidays to mind, but its capital Palma is overflowing with striking architecture, culture and history, plus the island is a wonderful place to enjoy the great outdoors.
With an average of around 300 days of sunshine per year and a choice of around 120 beaches and coves, a visitor could be forgiven for wanting to do nothing more than loll around in the sun and relax of an evening.
Serra de Tramuntana
However, for those who wish to be a bit more active, especially when the weather isn’t too hot, then the Serra de Tramuntana is a fantastic place to explore either by bike or on foot. This gorgeous part of the island is a UNESCO site.
Serra de Tramuntana
MARIA ROSA FERRE ✿ (Flickr: Serra de Tramuntana, Mallorca) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
S’Albufera nature reserve
Also, on the northeast coast, near Port d’Alcúdia, you can discover the S’Albufera nature reserve, which covers a space of 4,200 acres of wetlands, that are popular with birdwatchers, hikers and cyclists. Once in that area, you can discover the medieval town of Alcúdia, with is authentic, medieval centre.
Vineyards & traditions
For those of you who like wine, a trip inland to visit some wineries, will be a perfect day out, in beautiful surroundings, where traditions live on. Majorca is home to many stunning rural hotels, so luxurious days away from the island’s dramatic coast, can be a super contrast to the beach life.
La Palma Majorca
If you approach Majorca from the sea, as I did for the first time in 2002, you’ll see the magnificent sight of La Seu, the city’s impressive Gothic cathedral. Palma is a lovely city, that you could easily spend a weekend break, especially if you like to shop!
La Seu Cathedral Palma
A very enjoyable trip from Palma is the wooden train that takes you to the captivatingly beautiful town of Sóller, on an equally marvellous 27 km route, passing by citrus orchars, olive groves and pine forests. Sóller is home to gorgeous Art Nouveau houses, upmarket artisan shops and a harbour.
Mallorca train and wine tours
Photo credit: Mallorca Wine Tours
For those lovely lazy days on the beach, visit some of the island’s best beaches, our recommendations are:
Cala Torta: turquoise water and fine white sand, set in a beautiful bay
Cala Deià: a hidden gem with a special quality of light, although the beach is shingly it attracts celebrities.
Cala Tuent: a combination of pebbles and sand, this beach lies under the shelter of pine trees.
Playa de Muro: a fine, sandy blue flag beach that seems to go on forever, a favourite with families.
This introduction would not be complete without reading an article written by one of the talented travel bloggers we collaborate with, Nicola Dunkinson. Nicola has been going to Majorca since she was a child, and now she brings her own baby there.
Playa de Muro
The most easterly of the Balearics, Menorca, is more low-key than both Majorca and Ibiza. Menorca is relatively unspoilt, with tempting turquoise waters, overlooked by pine trees and lush vegetation. Fine white sandy beaches are even welcoming off season, being pleasantly warm; inviting visitors to stroll or sit in the sun for a while.
menorca es castell harbour
Early adopter of sustainable tourism
Menorca embraced sustainable tourism long before the issue became mainstream. The island still feels quite rural, with whitewashed villages, rolling hills and lots dry-stone walls dividing fields. As you hike Menorca’s countryside, you’ll come across stone monuments that have stood there for thousands of years.
Photo credit: Record Rental Car
Coastal walks are stunning, along a coastline of 216 km, of golden and white sandy beaches, and turquoise bays. The island’s terrain is not steep, making it idyllic for cycling and exploring. Follow the Cami de Cavalls, the restored medieval path, along the coast, which makes it possible to access some hidden coastal parts of Menorca and a number of spectacular beaches.
Menorca Cala Macarella
Photo credit: Spin the Wind Rose
Menora is home to two beautiful cities; Ciutadella and Máhon. Ciutadella has a gorgeous old quarter, fashionable harbour-side bars and a great foodie scene. Capital of the island until the beginning of the 18th century, Ciutadella is the place to spot grand summer residences, elegant palaces and stately buildings.
Photo credit: Bare Boat Sailing Holidays
A ten minute stroll from the centre will bring you to Cala des Degollador, a small beach, liked by the locals. If you drive around ten minutes, you’ll arrive at Cala’n Blanes, a gorgeous little beach, embraced by pine trees.
On Menorca’s east coast lies Mahon, the capital since 1721, which has a great Gothic cathedral, many elegant 18th century mansions and fine churches. This city is the perfect choice for those of you who want a lively option, with lots of shopping and nightlife. Sash windows adorning balconied townhouses hint at Mahon’s British colonial past.
Photo credit: Cruise Mapper
Beaches are within a ten minute plus drive, with the nearest blue flag option being Punta Prima or Mesquida, an idyllic cove, or further on Es Grau, which is flanked by sand dunes. (The driving time between the two cities is around 45 minutes.)
Visit the Xoriguer Gin Distillery in Mahon Port
Another remnant of British rule, was the practice of distilling gin. The British soldiers, apparently, missed being able to drink gin, so juniper berries were imported to the island and of course, a distillery was built. Gin caught on with the Menorcans, so much so that one family distilled their own brand, Xoriguer, building the distillery that you can visit today, in the 1900s.
Photo credit: London City Calling
Menorca also has a number of interesting Megalithic sites.
Menorca is the favourite place in Spain of another talented travel blogger, whom we collaborate with, Jessica Buck. Jessica has fond childhood memories of family holidays in Menorca and now in her mid-twenties, she still continues to go there.
Discover Jessica’s tips for when you visit Menorca.
Sadly, or happily, depending on your age and point of view, Ibiza is known as the party island of the Balearics. On 6th February 2018, the British Sun newspaper ran an article with the following headline: ISLE BE WAITING Ibiza launches tourist crackdown and extra police ahead of holiday season: reporting that, “IBIZA is launching an unprecedented attack on the bad aspects of mass tourism and is calling for more police before the start of the summer season.”
Ibiza yachts at sea
Yet on the other hand, the island is also home to places that are untouched by that raving type of tourism. Really all you need to do is avoid the party hubs of San Antonio and Ibiza town. Hire a car and actually, you can have a wonderful holiday discovering different pristine beaches every day.
Sleepy San Juan & Cala San Vicente
Head to San Juan, considered to be the last village of Ibiza, which is a sleepy, hidden gem. Located in the north, San Juan is surrounded by hills clad in pine trees. Its attraction is how laid back it is and not far away, sun worshippers can head to the wonderful beach of Cala San Vicente. Clear azure waters are embraced by golden sand, flanked by a promenade.
Cala San Vicente
Photo credit: One Villas Ibiza
Incredible Italian food in sleepy San Juan
In San Juan, be sure not to miss out on a meal at the Cigale Restaurant. When you go there, it will be obvious to you that the couple who own it, Michela and Paulo, have a true love affair with food. Pasta is made fresh each day, vegetables are homegrown and fish have been freshly caught. For families, the restaurant’s small playground makes for an even more relaxing meal out.
Cigale Restaurant ibiza
Photo credit: White Ibiza
Es Caña & Cala Martina
On the eastern side of Ibiza, lies the pretty picture-postcard town of Es Caña. White-washed homes and waterfront restaurants overlook the town’s small working harbour. The town is busy enough to be entertaining, but still a pretty relaxed place. Each week the town hosts its famous hippy market.
Take a short walk from Es Caña to reach the sheltered beach, Cala Martina. This lovely beach is popular with snorkelers, divers and windsurfers, yet it is also family friendly and doesn’t get too crowded.There is a windsurfing and diving school there.
Lamb chops & tomato salad
One restaurant that has built a great reputation for its food in general, is Restaurant Balafia – however it is almost legendary for serving wonderful lamb chops and tomato salad, at any time of the year. Not only is the food excellent, but the setting is idyllic in a pretty lemon grove.
Restaurant Balafia Ibiza
Dalt Vila UNESCO
The island’s capital, Eivissa (Ibiza), is where you can see the UNESCO listed Dalt Vila. Dalt Vila, in fact, means upper town, which is better explored in sensible shoes, as you wind your way through steep cobbled streets. Even though you may wish to avoid the clubbing aspect of the capital, it would be a shame not to take a day trip to see the magnificent, dramatic Dalt Vila, filled with monuments and alleys, including a cathedral and castle. As you explore it, don’t forget that this place has been the site of all sorts of cultural activities for centuries.
By Forbfruit at the German language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
As the saying goes, the best things come in small packages. Formentera is by far the most petite of the Balearic Islands and is considered to be Ibiza’s little sister, but those sisters have very different personalities!
Formentera Cala des Morts
Europe’s answer to the Caribbean
Formentera is Europe’s answer to the Caribbean, with crystal clear waters and miles of gorgeous, white sandy beaches. Visitors don’t come to Formentera to party and pose, they go there to feel at one with nature, finding peace and relaxation, on beautiful beaches backed with pine trees and sand dunes. On Formentera, no-one is in a hurry and the pace of life is laid-back, with a hippyish vibe. Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd were visitors in the 1970s.
Formentera idyllic beaches
Bikes are all the rage
This idyllic island is only 83 km2, and has no airport, so visitors make their way on one of the regular ferries, from Ibiza; a journey that takes about half an hour. Formentera’s compact size dictates aspects of the lifestyle you can expect to enjoy there. As it is only 22 km long and in its thinnest, central section, just a couple of kilometres wide, scooters and bikes are the most pragmatic forms of transport.
Formentera crystal clear water
Sant Francesc Xavier
Life in Formentera’s capital, Sant Francesc Xavier, gravitates around the church square. The simple 18th century church, was fortified, and used to have a roof with cannons. Residents would hide in the church’s thick walls, during pirate attacks. These days, local crafts people sell their artisan offerings in the church square, in the mornings. The quaint square has a lovely atmosphere, lined with bars and cafés, with pedestrianised streets where you can shop or relax.
Sant Francesc Xavier
As an island, most supplies have to be transported to Formentera, which, of course, makes it more expensive, but because of its wonderful beaches, marine life and relaxed atmosphere, the extra money seems worthwhile.