In decades gone by, Mallorca has been cast as everything from bohemian literary hangout to package-tour paradise. This year sees the island redefined as slow-burning scene-stealer, with authenticity as the buzzword.
“Mallorca is a paradise, if you can stand it”. The Jazz Age novelist Gertrude Stein could conceivably have been talking about C’as Patro March, the decades-old Mallorquin seafood shack that’s all driftwood and slanting shade, stuck limpet-like to the cliff face and framed by impossibly blue seas. It could well be the prettiest restaurant on the planet. But beauty accolades aside, it’s the authenticity of C’as Patro March that feels so on-point this year. Run by the same family for decades, it is laid-back, unhurried (a sign at the entrance suggests that he who is hungry must wait) and sustainable. There’s no Kobe beef here, no prawns from China – just catch of the day, seasonal vegetables and a handful of homegrown potatoes. Paradise indeed.
C’as Patro March is approached by sea, or else by a precipitous, tightly switch backing road from Deià that is redolent with the lush stickiness of ripe figs and cacti sap. A rocky riverbed, bone-dry and barren, tumbles like a wound from the cliffside. The whooshing sound of cicadas is deafening. This is Mallorca unedited, at its most authentic. The British poet Robert Graves stumbled upon Deià in 1929. “Perfect tranquillity reigns; or you can call it vacancy,” he wrote about his adopted village. “I love Majorca, for the fruit of my garden, the smell of the olive wood, the sun between the rocks of Es Teix, the sound of the sheep during the night.” Despite its popularity with the smart set, Deià still feels like a delicious secret, a caramel coloured village perched improbably on a mountainside. Little tumbles of stone steps disappear into ravines and grandmothers still sweep their doorways with twiggy brooms. The village supermarket sells packets of buttons and strings of papery onions and teeny-tiny bottles of liquor. It all feels perfectly provincial.
In the wake of Robert Graves, Mallorca became a go-to for Europe’s liberal literary set, a freewheeling bunch that included Evelyn Waugh and Kingsley Amis. In Mallorca they found, according to Graves, “sun, sea, mountains, spring water, shady trees, no politics and a few civilised luxuries such as electric light”. It’s a similar set of priorities that have enticed Mallorca’s new wave of residents, émigrés from Berlin, New York and London, for whom quality of life is the modern manifesto. For Zoe Jordan, the Irish-born and London-raised fashion designer whose eponymous knitwear collections are stocked in Bergdorf Goodman and Le Bon Marche, Mallorca was a natural choice. “I spent a lot of my childhood in Spain and was looking for a return to that adventurous, outdoorsy and family-focused lifestyle,” she says. “In Mallorca, our children speak Castellano and buy fresh vegetables from our next-door-neighbour. They’re welcomed with open arms in the local restaurants, where they play hide and seek until they fall asleep beneath the table. The raw beauty of the island inspires my work and the clarity of the light and earthy colour palette of the countryside have been hugely influential. Mallorca is still very rustic in places but there’s a glamour in that – the island feels authentic in a way that we haven’t found elsewhere in Europe.”
Jordan and her family are regulars at Cap Falcó Beach, the low-slung bar and restaurant that’s a favourite with Mallorca’s hip creative residents. Hidden beneath pine-studded cliffs, to arrive means sailing a boat, negotiating a pothole-filled camino or descending 200 steps – any way you look at it, it’s a something of a commitment, and that’s precisely what gives Falcó its edge. It’s a laid-back, loose-hipped kind of joint, all sun-dappled shade and dream catchers twinkling in the light. Crackly speakers are strapped to palm trees and a pirate flag flaps gently in the breeze. Long wooden sharing tables perch in the sand and the menu is full of baked fish and prawns and other things fresh from the sea. The postcard-pretty cove is a far cry from Ibiza’s glossy and overpriced beach bars. Here, nut-brown children dash in and out of the waves, wet legs plastered with bright white sand. It’s unpretentious in a way that Ibiza used to be. Dan Rubell, Cap Falcó’s DJ, agrees – after 17 years DJ-ing on the party island, he’s done with it. Mallorca, he says, has an energy all its own. An inclusive, creative vibe that prioritises family and nature and quality over the bottom line. He likens Mallorca now to Ibiza in the late eighties.
As the sun sets, Mallorca’s modern-day beatniks flood back towards Palma, where a raft of cool creatives have given the city a hipster edge, or else to Sóller, a pretty town where artisan workshops, traditional markets and historic townhouse restorations provide a bona-fide local feel. One such townhouse is L’Avenida, an Art Nouveau-esque mansion given a new life as a deeply stylish 12-room bolthole. Built in 1911, the imposing modernist building was designed by Gaudí disciple Joan Rubió i Bellver for a wealthy fruit merchant. Its iconic limestone façade is a Sóller landmark, peppered with Juliette balconies and colonial-style shutters. L’Avenida became a hotel a little over a decade ago but was recently bought and restored by a local family. New owner Rafa Balaguer, scion of a Mallorquin hotel dynasty, is a passionate environmentalist. Mallorca, he says, is embracing a new kind of tourism – one that celebrates sustainability and craftsmanship and protects the island’s natural resources. “My family have been hoteliers here since 1980. We are one hundred percent Mallorquin and we are dedicated to preserving our home. Mallorca is unique – we have the mountains, the sea and the beautiful cities within 100 kilometres of each other. That is something very special indeed. We are here to protect and promote what is natural and beautiful about the island.”
Balaguer certainly walks the walk – L’Avenida is now plastic-free and his other hotels (including the dreamy finca of Son Penya) offer electric car-charging points. From the herb-flecked mountain cheese in the restaurant (L’Avenida’s lunch-only deli and bistro is also open to the public, giving the lobby a buzzy, New York-style vibe) to the Sóller gin at the bar, the hotel’s raw ingredients are fiercely locavore. Balaguer’s family are prolific organic farmers, and even the olive oil comes from the Son Penya estate.
But Balaguer’s environmental dedication doesn’t come at the expense of design – L’Avenida mines a grandly Mediterranean aesthetic, all original wooden beams, pale tiled floors and endless marble staircases. The cool lobby is crisp and graceful, a welcome foil to the heat and bustle of Sóller’s Gran Via. Decor is eclectic and covetable, with low-slung leather sofas, creamy sheepskins and oversized statement lighting, while the smoked grey walls are slung with mirrors and contemporary artwork. Staff are local, gracious and know guests by name, pouring drinks on cue and offering helpful, insider-y advice. They make the whole place feel rather like one great big family house party, which, in a restored ancestral home, is about as authentic as it gets.
Off The Beaten Path: Finding The Authentic Mallorca
WHERE TO STAY
Top Villas Mallorca Six
Tucked away near Valldemossa, this glorious traditional home is eco-friendly and self-sufficient. Expect vast gardens with an organic vegetable patch, a natural and fully sustainable spring-fed plunge pool (constantly refreshed by mountain water) and hidden private path to a secret pebble beach. Sleeps six. From £577 per night. thetopvillas.com
Dream Charter offers seven night fully-crewed catamaran cruises, taking in authentic fishing villages like Cala Figuera, along with trips to little-visited coves and the chance to snorkel off the Sa Cabrera marine life reserve. Catamarans are gentler on the environment than deep-hulled yachts, and their shallow draught less likely to disturb the protected posidonia seagrass. From £979 per person including all meals and wine. All departures are guaranteed even if only one cabin has been booked. dreamyachtcharter.co.uk
WHERE TO SHOP
300 years of glassmaking make the Gordiola family Palma’s go-to for ornate glassware. Hunt out lamps, vases and sea-green bubbled drinking vessels in this treasure trove Old Town store. 2, Carrer de la Victòria, 07001 Palma. Gordiola.com
Consell Flea Market
For offbeat shopping with a homewares slant, hit up Consell’s sprawling Sunday flea market. Expect to haggle for carved wooden troughs, antique linens and interesting original oil paintings. A real Mallorquin experience. Carrer Antonio Barceló García de Paredes, 2, 07330 Consell. Sundays 8am-2pm.
The village of Pórtol is at the heart of Mallorca’s traditional pottery industry. A handful of artisans work from authentic studios, making ceramic bowls, candlesticks, and siurells – traditional clay whistles in the shape of a person or animal. Try Terra Cuita for a fantastic selection. Pórtol, Marratxi. ceramicaterracuita.com
WHAT TO DO
Tren de Sóller
Since 1911, this narrow-gauge railway has been transporting visitors from Palma to Sóller and back. The sleepy wooden train winds through the wooded Tramuntana mountains, crossing bridges and viaducts and enjoying superlative sea and mountain views. Journeys take around an hour trendesoller.com
Ànima Negra Vineyard
Founded on the Son Burguera estate in Felantitx in 1994, Ànima Negra’s relatively youthful wines have achieved cult status. Tastings and tours of the 13th century buildings can be arranged. annnegra.com
WHERE TO EAT
Drive 10km up vertiginous hairpin bends to reach Es Verger, an ancient whitewashed finca that’s been serving rustic local dishes since time immemorial. The views are astounding and the slow-roast lamb, cooked in a traditional wood-fired oven, the highlight. It’s a roughshod farm, but what it lacks in glamour it makes up for in authenticity. Camino del Castillo de Alaró, s/n, 07340 Alaró. T: +34 971 18 21 26
An off-the-beaten-path hideaway that oozes character. Hidden in Fornatlutx, a rugged, honeyed-stone village of superlative beauty, Ca N’Antuna serves traditional island dishes such as sopa Mallorquina, a hearty mountain stew, and various types of sobrasada, the local paprika-spiked sausage. Portions are generous, and the service delightful. Best enjoyed after a bracing walk. Carrer Arbona-Colom, 14, 07109 Fornalutx, T: +34 971 63 30 68
All peachy stone walls and pops of duck-egg blue, chef-patron Maria Salinas cooks what’s fresh from the daily market or bought from nearby fincas and is an ambassador of Mallorca’s ‘buy direct’ initiative. Imaginative dishes might include stir-fried foraged mushrooms or a spicy beetroot broth followed by lentil stew with San Pedro fish. Service is charming and the wine list short but well-picked. Booking ahead – up to a week – is essential. Carrer Major, 5, 07312 Mancor de la Vall. T: +34 667 95 82 04 ◼
© This article was first published in Oct-Nov 2019 edition of World Travel Magazine.