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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mallorca | August 2015

Friday, August 14, 2015
We left London on Friday, August 14 for Mallorca (Mallorca is Spanish Catalan; Majorca, the English spelling), the largest of Spain’s Balearic Island chain; (the other members being Ibiza and the lesser known Formentera and Menorca). Like most other Mediterranean isles; the Balearic’s have been contested and fought over for thousands of years: Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, Turks and even Mussolini’s Fascists all took their turn. In the 13th century the Catalans settled here; their dialect still predominates.
Mallorca (and Ibiza even more so) had gotten a reputation for cheap package tours and stag and hen parties gone out of control; so we approached the trip with some caution. But we have travelled before with friends Annie and Joël, and they highly recommended our planned accommodations – we were in their seasoned hands.

Our British Airways’ flight was good from Heathrow to Palma, the Balearic’s capital city. Clearing customs and luggage retrieval went smoothly and we were soon in our Hertz Opel Meriva for the twenty minute drive around the Bay of Palma to the Cap Rocat Hotel in Cala Blava. The hotel and grounds were converted into a hotel from the former complex of the Spanish military battery of Cap Enderrocat. They were built between 1898 and 1930 to defend the port of Palma, although this strategic vantage point has served as a watchtower over the bay for many centuries.
The property is hard to describe; most of the fortifications were dug into the sandy chalk hillsides of the landscape; with wide swaths of cut pathways connecting everything – so the 29 or so suites are a bit dark and confining, although very chic. The exterior architecture is soft yellows, flowing white cotton, torches and candles; with palms stabbed here and there, cedars standing sentry - a distinct Moorish feel. We checked into suite #44 after a quick stop at the pool to say hello to Annie and Jöel who had arrived a few hours earlier.
Hotel Cap Rocat

Later that evening we met them for drinks at the outside bar near reception and then we all had dinner at the hotel’s Sea Club Restaurant above Queen’s Cove. Thankfully we had a table under cover; a sudden and strong rainstorm hit shortly after we were seated; scattering other unprotected guests all seeking some shelter. After a walk back to our room up the carved out military pathways we were quickly asleep.

Saturday, August 15, 2015
The weather forecast looked particularly bleak for the next few days; very uncharacteristic for August in the Med. We awoke to rain and a dark gray sky and had breakfast in the room. The foursome decided to take a short 40 minute drive to Sóller, north on the coast from Palma. Lunch was at the Jumeirah Port Sóller Hotel and pleasant. It was then a visit to Sóller’s waterfront and Plaça d’Espanya; we watched the iconic wooden paneled narrow gauge train pull in to the quayside station from its long winding journey.
 Sóller's Narrow Gauge
Back to the car still dodging raindrops, we headed south on the twisting but beautiful coastal Ma-10, terraced stone hillsides everywhere, to the small village of Deia. Continuing on to the lovely mountain town Valldemossa; forever linked to the French novelist George Sand and Polish composer Fréderic Chopin – both part time residents. After finding a place to park, we all toured the expansive Real Cartuja de Valldemossa, a royal residence and from 1399, a Carthusian monastery packed with interesting local artifacts. We then travelled back to Cap Rocat; eventually having dinner again at the Sea Club. The fresh sea bass grilled and filleted was excellent, along with a local white wine, Ribas. Everyone crashed to bed about midnight.

Sunday, August 16, 2015
We were up to a more typical sunny morning. We spent the day at the pool; stunning views to the sea and a tranquil peace enveloping us. Judith and I read, partaking in both lunch and dinner with our friends at the Sea Club. The day was a preview to heaven, except for my Internet bandwidth headaches – god’s helpline was busy!
Cap Rocat's Pool

Monday, August 17, 2015
Bad weather returned with a vengeance. After breakfast we were off to Palma under heavy rain and struggled to find parking. We waited in line under our umbrellas, shoes soaked and pant legs soggy, to enter the magnificent Palma Cathedral. On the bones of the mosque of Medina Mayurqa, a new cathedral was finished in 1587. Early in the 20th century, the famous Antonio Gaudi created a new high altar, the Baldachino; a wrought iron canopy incorporating lamps, tapestries and a multicolored crucifix. Somehow this does not visually interfere with the exquisite 36 foot stain glassed rose window dating to the 16th century. The whole Gothic edifice is a startling but refreshing attack on the senses.
Gaudi's Altar

Palma's Cathedral

We journeyed back to Cap Rocat, still under a heavy rain and had a late lunch at the bar. We met Annie and Joël and drove back to Palma (thankfully no rain) for aperitifs at the boutique Hotel Can Alomar overlooking the fashionable Passeig des Born; later a nice alfresco dinner of paella at Caballito de Mar. We had made the best of a rather dreary day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015
A hopeful sunny start when we rose was extinguished by ten, replaced by threatening cloud cover. We were off after breakfast to Andratx, a small and sleepy town in a valley of almond groves on the southwest coast of Mallorca. Its port, five kilometers away, is a different story. Here, in a protected bay, luxury yachts are moored snugly and equally lavish villas dot the adjacent hillsides.
The rain continued unabated. Our next stop was to La Granja, a possessió, or private estate from the 18th century, just outside the small hill village of Esporles. Once a convent, it is now the home of the Segui family who have opened it as a public venue. Think of a crazy and eccentric aunt you might have and where she might live if suddenly wealthy. The gardens are haphazard affairs, caged birds, goats and other more exotic creatures are combined with follies and strange water features. If the seven dwarfs wandered past us I wouldn’t have been startled. The house is equally bizarre – music alternating betweenThe Marriage of Figaro and a Muslim call to prayer. The dreary weather only added to the eeriness.
La Granja

Not looking to head back to the hotel quite yet, we revisited the charming town of Valldemossa and took in the Saint Bartomeu Church. It was then back to Cap Rocat; arriving about five.
St. Bartomeu

We met Annie and Joël for drinks and dinner; tonight at Rocat’s gourmet Fortress Restaurant for a five course tasting menu. We were not disappointed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015
The weather is forecast to improve; we have one more day of so-so cloudiness – at least no rain. Our friends opted for a short excursion to Portals Nous, just past Palma; but we decided to camp at the pool with our books. We went to lunch at Sea Cliff about one; Annie and Joël returned and joined us a little after we had sat down. All were back to the pool until six; the weather was as advertised, mostly cloudy with an occasional wink from the sun.
Dinner was outside at the Sea Cliff; I had very nice beef tenderloin in lieu of fish tonight. We also partook in a wonderful white, Belondrade y Lurton, from the Rueda region and verdejo grape. Judith and I had met the Lurton family at a wine tasting at the RAC.
There was a star filled sky as we walked back to our suites.

Thursday, August 20, 2015
Finally we woke to blazing sun and perfectly blue sky with temperatures forecast at 86⁰F! Our breakfast arrived; Joël had finally “trained” the kitchen to provide us uncut crusty baguettes that were wonderful, the yogurt with honey divine.
Palma Cathedral's Exterior
We got to the pool by ten and had a fantastic three hours of relaxation, reading and swimming. At a bit after one we traveled back to Palma to see things not from under an umbrella – what a difference on a pleasant day. Parking on Avinguda d’Antoni Maura we had a quick bite and then walked around the cathedral’s exquisite exterior. After, it was to the Basilica de Sant Francesc and its expansive cloister. The refined Gothic style and the Baroque altarpiece were inspiring. From here it was a short walk to the Banys Árabs, a well preserved 10th century Moorish bath. We finished with the Palau Reial de l’Almudaina, the royal family’s palace in the Balearic’s. The admission price was high and the visit not very interesting. The drive back to the hotel was without traffic.
Banys Árabs
Palma Cathedral's Exterior

That evening, we drove back into Palma with Annie and Joël. Drinks were at the Can Alomar’s terrace and dinner followed at their Asian themed De Tokio a Lima Restaurante, also alfresco. The food and wine were excellent, the service didn’t quite match.

Friday, August 21, 2015
The weather remains perfect. We were down to the pool by ten and had a relaxing morning of reading and swimming. The view from the pool over the Bay of Palma is breathtakingly beautiful. At 12:30 we returned to the room, changed and were off to visit Portals Nous, northwest of Palma. Its attraction is a glitzy new port, very big, with plenty of shops and restaurants. We had a nice lunch at Spoon Restaurante looking out to a field of pleasure boats.
Back to the hotel, it was to the pool until about six. Dinner with our friends was at the Sea Cliff.

Saturday, August 22, 2015
The beautiful day was the perfect excuse for laziness and hedonistic sun worship; and we found religion came easily.
Before lunch, we looked at the new Sentinel suites (three in all), wonderful spaces carved into the rocks with very private terraces and plunge pools overlooking the indigo stained Bay of Palma – very dramatic and one of a kind. We left the pool reluctantly after six.
The four of us had drinks on the upper terrace of the Fortress Restaurante, overlooking a wedding party in the courtyard. It was then down to Sea Cliff for our final dinner here.
Judith, Annie, Joël and me

Sunday, August 23, 2015
We woke to a slightly overcast morning and it was time to check out of Cap Rocat and move to our next location.
At noon we were heading north about 60 kilometers toward Pollença and to Son Brull Hotel. This Relais & Chateaux establishment is contained within a 40 acre farm; a magnificent natural environment of olive grove, vineyard; as well as almond, lemon and orange trees. Located at the foot of the Sierra de Traumuntana mountain range, overlooking the sea in the distance, this 12th century former Jesuit monastery has 23 rooms and suites, a pretty pool and highly regarded restaurant. The austerity of the original building has been softened with a cool, modern design, but totally in keeping with the spirit of the place. We checked into suite #37, spacious and very nice, a view to the Bay of Pollença. We settled in and took a leisurely walk around the grounds.
Hotel Son Brull
Dinner was on the terrace and did not disappoint. Our leg of lamb was cooked flawlessly, tender, flavorful; the 2008 Torrent Negre Pla i Lleevant, a local Mallorcan red, the perfect accompaniment.

Monday, August 24, 2015
After a very nice breakfast, we spent the day at the pool swimming, reading and relaxing; only interrupted by a tapas lunch. The weather was perfect, sunny with a light breeze to cool the skin. Dinner was a bit disappointing; we all had herb crusted hake that was bland and overdone. Desserts were a helpful consolation.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015
It was only partly sunny today. After breakfast we were out sightseeing, our first stop the nearby Pollença. It is a picturesque small town, its Plaça Major a bustling hub of cafes. There is a wonderful church, Nostra Senyora dels Angels, from the exterior a gothic temple built in the mid 1700s, but the interior contains some beautiful baroque altars. We also climbed up the 365 steps to El Calvari, a hilltop chapel with an interesting gothic cross, carved in wood.
365 Steps to El Calvari
Back to the car, we headed to the Port of Pollença and then on to the twisting Ma-2210 out to the most northern point of Mallorca, Cap de Formentor and its lighthouse. The jagged cliffs looked like the upright sharpened gray flints of some long ago giants; scrub pine and the occasional mountain goat to stop traffic. We got back to Son Brull about three, had late tapas and relaxed at the pool.
Dinner was alfresco with our friends.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015
After a typical but very nice buffet breakfast we were off again on a hot and sunny morning. Our first destination was the Santuario de Lluc, 20 kilometers southwest on the narrow Ma-10. This remote site is high in the hills of the Sierra Tramuntana.
Basilica's Main Altar
It is a 17th century monastery and shrine to La Morenta, or Black Virgin; 13th century folklore recounts that a young shepherd boy found the statue on a nearby hilltop. The Basilica has an imposing stone façade but wonderful baroque interior. Behind the apse is a small altar by Gaudí displaying the Black Virgin. The adjacent museum is uninteresting except for the collection of Mallorcan paintings; once again I was impressed by this local artistry. The wonderful impressionist painter of the isle, Coll Bardolet, donated 236 of his works depicting Mallorcan scenes. There are also fine samples of other impressionists, Guillem Gill’s watercolors a standout.
Guillem Gill's watercolors

Next we were off on the torturous Ma-2141 to Sa Calobra. Although a short distance away, it is a 45 minute trip contorting through Puig Major; the route plunges over 2,500 feet in 13 kilometers. At one point, the road turns 270⁰, looping under itself (road engineers call this a “knotted tie”). While trying not to careen off a precipice or having my left side mirror snapped off by a passing vehicle; the views of the seemingly hand carved gray cliff sides and towering peaks were spectacular. Intrepid goats sometimes block the tarmac.
The cove of Sa Colabra is a light emerald bay tucked among the rock face. Further along the promenade there are two tunnels leading further into the bay’s round pebble beach and the end of the Torrent de Pareis, a 3.3 kilometer gorge beginning in the peaks of the Sierra Tramuntana range. After a quick bite, we back tracked our route, arrived back to the hotel after three and were quickly into the pool.
Sa Colabra Bay

Torrent de Pareis meets the sea

Dinner was on the hotel’s terrace; after a bit of TV news we were off to sleep.

Thursday, August 27, 2015
The weather remained perfect; mid eighties ⁰F with enough breeze to keep things fresh. We had a full day at the pool; reading, relaxing, nodding off occasionally, and some guilty swimming afterward. The pool area is a bit quirky, but it has a certain genuine charm – one might think you were at a villa in Tuscany. Our lazy behavior was only interrupted by lunch.
Son Brull - Poolside

We had booked dinner at Hotel Castell son Claret in Calvía; west of Palma and about a 50 minute drive from Son Brull. Their restaurant, Zaranda, is one Michelin starred, the young chef Fernando Pérez Arellano working hard to please. The food was inventive and tasty; the local 2011 Cumas red, a blend of mostly Mantonegro grape with a 5% splash of Syrah, a pleasant and inexpensive surprise. It had a nice peppery taste and fruity finish; it reminded me of Drouhin’s Willamette Valley pinot noir.
Joël navigated us back to the Son Brull in light traffic.

Friday, August 28, 2015
Our last full day here remained bright and sunny with a nice breeze. It was more of the same, a repeat of yesterday. Dinner at the hotel was another disappointment.

Saturday, August 29, 2015
We were up early and bid our friends Annie and Joël a safe flight back to Luxembourg; they were leaving before us. We had a last swim and some sun before we packed and checked out. It was an easy ride back to Palma airport; we arrived early so we had to loll in the lounge for a few hours. BA 0450 was delayed about an hour, but we had a good flight nonetheless. Masood had us to the flat by about eight.
Mallorca was a pleasant surprise and we will most likely be back. The island was very clean, its people upbeat and helpful; there was much to see historically and scenically and our lodgings, pleasant and one-of-a-kind types of places.