Palma de Mallorca,
Palma de Mallorca, Spain
More than five times the size of its fellow Balearic Islands, Mallorca is shaped roughly like a saddle. The Sierra de Tramuntana, a dramatic mountain range soaring to nearly 5,000 feet, runs the length of its northwest coast, and a ridge of hills borders the southeast shores; between the two lies a great, flat plain that in early spring becomes a sea of almond blossoms, "the snow of Mallorca." The island draws more than 9 million visitors a year, many of them bound for summer vacation packages in the coastal resorts. The beaches are beautiful, but save time for the charms of the northwest and the interior: caves, bird sanctuaries, monasteries and medieval cities, local museums, outdoor cafés, and village markets.
If you look north of the cathedral (La Seu, or the "seat" of the Bishopric, to Mallorcans) on a map of the city of Palma, you can see the jumble of tiny streets around the Plaça Santa Eulalia that made up the early town. A stroll through these streets will bring you past many interesting neoclassical and moderniste buildings.
Ajuntament (town hall). Along Carrer Colom is the 17th-century Ajuntament. Stop in to see the collection of gigantes-the huge painted and costumed mannequins paraded through the streets during festivals-on display in the lobby. The olive tree on the right side of the square is one of Majorca's so-called olivos milenarios-purported to be more than 1,000 years old. Pl. Cort 1.
Castell de Bellver (Bellver Castle). Overlooking the city and the bay from a hillside, the castle was built at the beginning of the 14th century, in Gothic style but with a circular design-the only one of its kind in Spain. It houses an archaeological museum of the history of Majorca, and a small collection of classical sculpture. Camilo José Cela s/n. Admission charged.
Catedral de Majorca. This architectural wonder took almost 400 years to build. Begun in 1230, the nave's wide expanse is supported by 14 70-foot-tall columns that fan out like palm trees. It's dominated by an immense rose window, 40 feet in diameter, from 1370. Over the main altar (consecrated in 1346) is the surrealistic baldoquí by Antoni Gaudí, completed in 1912. To the right, in the Chapel of the Santísimo, is an equally remarkable 2007 work by the modern sculptor Miquel Barceló: a painted ceramic tableau that's a bizarre composition of rolling waves, gaping cracks, protruding fish heads, and human skulls. The bell tower above the cathedral's Plaça Almoina door holds nine bells; the largest, cast in 1389, weighs five tons and requires six men to ring it. Pl. Almoina s/n. Admission charged.
Llotja (Exchange). On the seafront west of the Plaça de la Reina, the Llotja was built in the 15th century and connects via an interior courtyard to the Consolat de Mar (Maritime Consulate). With its decorative turrets, pointed battlements, fluted pillars, and Gothic stained-glass windows-part fortress, part church-it attests to the wealth Majorca achieved in its heyday as a Mediterranean trading power. Pl. de la Llotja 5.
Museu d'Es Baluard (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Palma). At the western end of the city, the museum rises on a long-neglected archaeological site, parts of which date back to the 12th century. The building's an outstanding convergence of old and new: the exhibition space uses the surviving 16th-century perimeter walls of the fortified city, including a stone courtyard facing the sea and a promenade along the ramparts. There are three floors of galleries, and the collection includes work by Miró, Picasso, Henri Magritte, Tapiès, and Alexander Calder. Pl. Porta de Santa Catalina 10. Admission charged.
Museu Fundación Juan March. This fine little museum was established to display what had been a private collection of modern Spanish art. The second and third floors were redesigned to accommodate a series of small galleries, with works by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Juan Gris, Salvador Dalí, Antoni Tàpies, and Miquel Barceló, among others. Carrer Sant Miguel 11.
Museu Fundació Pilar y Joan Miró (Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation Museum). The museum's permanent collection includes drawings and studies by the Catalan artist, who spent his last years on Majorca. Don't miss the adjacent studio, built for Miró by the architect Josep Lluis Sert. The artist did most of his work here from 1957 on. Carrer Joan de Saridakis 29, Cala Major. Admission charged.
Sant Francesc. The 13th-century church was established by Jaume II when his eldest son took monastic orders and gave up rights to the throne. Fra Junípero Serra, the missionary who founded San Francisco, California, was later educated here. The basilica houses the tomb of the eminent 13th-century scholar Ramón Llull. Pl. Sant Francesc 7, Barrio Antiguo. Admission charged.
Eslewhere on Majorca
Reial Cartuja (Royal Carthusian Monastery). Located in Valldemossa, 18 km (11 mi) north of Palma, the monastery was founded in 1339, but when the monks were expelled in 1835, it became apartments for travelers. The most famous lodgers were Frédéric Chopin and his lover, the Baroness Amandine Dupin-a French novelist who used the pseudonym George Sand. The two spent three difficult months here in the cold, damp winter of 1838-39. The tourist office, in Valldemossa's main plaza, sells a ticket good for all of the monastery's attractions including an almost completely preserved pharmacy made by monks in 1723 and the local museum with mementos of Archduke Luis Salvador. Pl. de la Cartuja 11. Admission charged.
Jardins d'Alfàbia. The island's Moorish viceroy developed the springs and hidden irrigation systems here sometime in the 12th century to create this remarkable oasis on the road to Sóller. Here you'll find 40-odd varieties of trees, climbers, and flowering shrubs. The 17th-century manor house, furnished with antiques and painted panels, has a collection of original documents that chronicles the estate's history. Ctra. Palma-Sóller, Km 17. Admission charged.
Sóller. This is one of the island's most beautiful towns. It's thick with palatial homes built in the 19th and early 20th centuries by the owners of agricultural estates in the Sierra de Tramuntana, and the merchants who thrived on the export of the region's oranges, lemons, and almonds. Many of the buildings here, like the Church of Sant Bartomeu and the Bank of Sóller, on the Plaça Constitució, and the nearby Can Prunera, are gems of the moderniste style, designed by contemporaries of Antoni Gaudí. The tourist information office in the town hall, next to Sant Bartomeu, has a walking tour map of the important sites.
Deià. This village is perhaps best known as the adopted home of the English poet and writer Robert Graves, who lived here off and on from 1929 until his death in 1985. It's still a favorite haunt of writers and artists, including Graves's son Tomás, author of Pa amb oli (Bread and Olive Oil), a guide to Majorcan cooking, and British painter David Templeton. On warm afternoons literati gather at the beach bar in the rocky cove at Cala de Deià, 2 km (1 mile) downhill from the village. Walk up the narrow street to the village church; the small cemetery behind it affords views of terraced mountains and of the coves below. It's a fitting spot for Graves's final resting place.
Mallorca's specialties are leather shoes and clothing, porcelain, souvenirs carved from olive wood, handblown glass, artificial pearls, and espadrilles. Top-name fashion boutiques line Avinguda Jaume III and the nearby Plaça Joan Carles I. You can find several antiques shops on Plaça Almoina. Less-expensive shopping strips are Carrer Sindicat and Carrer Sant Miquel-both pedestrian streets running north from the Plaça Major-and the small streets south of the Plaça Major. The Plaça Major itself has a modest crafts market Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday 10 to 2; it's open daily in summer.
Golf. There are a number of 18-hole golf courses, among them fiendishly difficult PGA championship venues.
Beaches. The closer a beach is to Palma, the more crowded it's likely to be. West of the city is Palma Nova; behind the lovely, narrow beach rises one of the island's most densely developed resorts. Paguera, with several small beaches, is the only sizable local resort not overshadowed by high-rises. Camp de Mar has a good fine white sand beach that's small and relatively undeveloped, but it's sometimes overrun with day-trippers. Sant Elm, at the end of this coast, has a pretty little bay and a tree-shaded parking lot. East of Palma, a 5-km (3-mile) stretch of fine white sand runs along the main coastal road from C'an Pastilla to Arenal, forming the area known collectively as Playa de Palma.