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M&M magic in the Mediterranean
By Tom Adkinson
May 6, 2022

Peeks into Mallorca and Menorca, places likely new to you
(Part 1 in a 4-part series)

mallorca mountains
Mountains, a marina and blue water are one view from the clifftop Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel in Mallorca’s north. Image by Tom Adkinson

‘Jeopardy’ answer: The Balearic Islands

‘Jeopardy’ question: What are Spain’s islands in the Mediterranean Sea?

Plenty of Americans wouldn’t buzz in on that “Jeopardy” answer, even if they had ever heard of the two largest islands in the Balearics – Mallorca and Menorca (M&M). Vacationing Europeans love them, yet most Americans couldn’t find them on a map.

M&M and two other islands (Ibiza and Formentera) are gems in the azure waters of the western Mediterranean, east of the Spanish mainland from Valencia and southeast from Barcelona. Let’s take a look at Mallorca.


Mallorca isn’t big, but it is packed with ancient architecture, one of Europe’s few circular castles, mountains that rise to 4,711 feet, sandy beaches, open countryside, walking trails and seafood, pastries and wines that are impossible to resist.

It is a compact 1,405 square miles. That’s not quite three times bigger than Knox County, Tennessee, but less than one-third the size of Los Angeles County, California.

palma spain
A visitor on a tour to the flying buttress level of La Seu composes a photo of Palma. Image by Tom Adkinson

“Everything on Mallorca is only 45 or 50 minutes away from Palma (the capital). If there’s a traffic jam, maybe an hour,” said Lucia Escribano Alés, Mallorca’s tourism director.

That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but you can tool around the island with ease (they drive on the right here), rolling from Palma to interior villages, hidden coves, towering sea cliffs, mountain resorts, coastal towns, hidden coves and maybe the only cave where you will be serenaded by classical musicians who are riding in a rowboat.

Palma, with its impressive harbor and in-the-city beaches, is the cultural and commercial heart of Mallorca. Its 400,000 residents account for almost half of the island’s population.

Palma’s European feeling is palpable – narrow streets, airy plazas, pedestrians, motorbikes, open-air cafes, discrete lodging such as the Sant Juame Design Hotel, shops with display windows filled with fashionably dressed mannequins – and around every corner, there seems to be another historic building with a story to tell.

The biggest example is La Seu, the 14th century cathedral that overlooks the Parc de la Mar and is the city’s most famous landmark. It rises above everything – all to get closer to God, the guides say – and is especially impressive if you arrive by ferry from Valencia or Barcelona. (Most people fly in from Madrid or other European gateways, and United Airlines is starting seasonal non-stop service from Newark, New Jersey, this summer.)

La Seu has 61 stained-glass windows, including the “Gothic eye,” the central rose window that cathedral literature says is one of the largest in Gothic architecture (1,200 component pieces that cover almost 1,000 square feet). The Gothic eye and other windows have plenty of space to display light patterns in the central nave that is 144 feet high.

Only steps away is another Gothic treasure, the Almudaina Palace, which is one of the Spanish royal family’s residences (don’t expect to see any royals), and nearby is La Llotja, one of Palma’s most beautiful buildings. It once housed the Guild of Merchants, described as a chamber of commerce of sorts.

bellver castle
Circular Bellver Castle, which did extra duty as a fortress and a prison, was built in the 14th century for King James II of Mallorca. Image by Tom Adkinson

Bellver Castle, less than two miles away, is another stop on a Palma history tour. Built in the 14th century for King James II of Mallorca, it is an Instagram-ready circular castle that did extra duty as a fortress and prison.

One route out of Palma takes you into the Serra de Tramuntana, a 56-mile-long mountain range along the east coast. Puig Major (4,711 feet above the shimmering Mediterranean) is the tallest peak, and the whole region is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Dry Stone Route walking trail isn’t quite the Appalachian Trail, but it shows you a very rural part of Mallorca along old cobblestone paths that once linked Tramuntana communities.

Valldemossa, admired by composer Frederic Chopin when he and novelist George Sand resided there one winter, is a popular Tramuntana town, as is Soller, which has a bit of a French influence.

A scenic train route connects Palma to Soller in a mountain valley where the microclimate permits oranges to be harvested from October through August, much longer than on the rest of the island. I arrived when thousands of oranges were placed in what amounted to a sculpture on the town plaza.

Nearby and up twisting roads are two high-end resorts. One, the Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel and Spa crowns a cliff and offers views of both the Mediterranean and the mountains. Sculptures that remind you of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. add a whimsical touch.

La Residencia, tucked into a valley at the art-centric village of Deià, has rooms in two manor houses and in suites that climb a mountainside. The grandson of Spanish artist Joan Miró loans the hotel art every year, there is an inviting sculpture garden and British painter Alan Hydes adds huge splashes of color to the resort as its artist in residence.

cap de formentor
The 56-mile-long Serra de Tramuntana mountain range ends with this promontory at Cap de Formentor. Image by Tom Adkinson

Cap de Formentor and the Drach Caves are two natural sites that stand out. Cap de Formentor is the land’s end and the northernmost point on Mallorca at the tip of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range. A serpentine road and a steep walk put you atop a promontory more than 1,250 feet over the Mediterranean.

drach caves mallorca spain
One of the most unusual concert venues anywhere is on the lake at the bottom of Drach Caves. Image by Mallorca Tourism

Over on the east coast, Drach Caves offers a more gently sloping stroll to see artfully lighted cave formations and to enjoy one of the most unexpected concerts anywhere. At the cave’s lowest level is a lake, and while you sit in bleachers, a white rowboat glides past carrying two violinists, a cellist and a harpsichordist. Their musical selection? Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”

Food and wine, of course, are integral to a Mallorcan visit.

There are wineries to tour (Ses Talaioles near the Drach Caves makes 10 varieties, including ones with Mallorcan grapes such as callet, manto negro and giro ros), and an island entrée specialty is porcella (suckling pig roasted with potatoes). Fresh seafood, especially calamari and octopus, is abundant.

It is almost guaranteed you’ll be served ensaimada, Mallorca’s favorite pastry. It’s a spiral of sweet goodness perhaps best enjoyed with coffee or a hot chocolate in a sun-dappled café or plaza.

culinary deborah pina zitrone
Culinary workshop leader Deborah Piña Zitrone spreads her kitchen table with items that will become a communal meal. Image by Tom Adkinson

A full-on Mallorcan gastronomical experience is available in Palma with Deborah Piña Zitrone. Doing business as Deborah’s Culinary Island, a day with Deborah begins with a food-buying trip through her favorite market, shifts to working in the kitchen with her and concludes with a meal you’ll be proud to say you helped prepare.

Trip-planning resources: and

On-island resources: Sant Jaume Design Hotel, Jumeirah Port Soller, La Residencia, Ses Talaioles Winery and Deborah’s Culinary Island

Editor’s note: Part 2 of the series will be a pictorial from Mallorca on May 13.

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available on

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