Joey Tyson seeks out Majorca’s authentic side on an off-season escape without the crowds.
Miguel cuts the engine a few metres from Far d’Alcanada, a tiny islet just off the coast of Alcudia. An old lighthouse peeks out over a copse of low pines; the surrounding, shallow waters reflect pure turquoise colour in the sunlight; and there’s not another soul around. For a moment, we float in silence.“Come here in summer and there are boats everywhere,” says Miguel, our captain, first mate and cook, as he serves up dinner on a low, wooden table at the centre of the boat.
Everything on the menu is Majorcan; local to an intimate level. The pig for the sobrassada – the island’s signature lobster-red cured sausage – was slaughtered by Miguel’s father. The olive oil, spicy and thick, is from a neighbour. The wine, from a vineyard in the next village over from Miguel’s. The dessert, a local ensaimadas pastry topped with fresh fruit, from a bakery in Alcudia.
Even the boat is pure Majorca. A traditional wooden llaüt, it was built for fishing in the 1950s. When Miguel decided to set up his own excursion company, Llaüt San Francisco, he wanted a vessel that would represent his island. After a year of painstaking renovation, it’s finally seaworthy, and business is good. Authenticity has wide appeal, it seems.
“The boat is Majorcan, the food is Majorcan, I am Majorcan”, he says, as we finish off the last bottle of wine.
The idea of Majorca as the simple, classic package holiday destination is just one small part of the largest Balearic island’s appeal. Majorcans wear their traditions with enormous pride, and clients keen to step away from the pool will find plenty more to discover around the island.
Alcudia: Stroll and shop
Authenticity is not hard to find in Alcudia’s old town. A labyrinth of cobbled alleys and quiet squares, its medieval sandstone streets are jammed full of typical Majorcan tapas restaurants, street-side cafes and intimate little shops peddling all manner of traditional wares.
Colourful Balearic pottery, olive oil, Majorcan sea salt, wine, senallas – the traditional wicker bags that are seemingly all over Instagram – and enormous sobrassadas hanging from hooks… if you’re after a real souvenir to remember your time on the island, this is probably the place to get it.
For a more local shopping experience, the town’s weekly market, set amid the old town’s narrow streets, takes place on Tuesdays and Sundays.
Parts of the old town date back as far the 13th century, and one of the best ways to enjoy it is to simply take a stroll. Alcudia’s 14th-century wall traces a loop around most of the town, offering spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the sea.
For some historical context, the Alcudia tourist office runs free, guided walking tours on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Palma: Markets and middle ages
Palma was made for an aimless wander. Set off in any direction from its historic centre and before long you’re bound to stumble over some ancient cathedral, improbably crammed into a backstreet, or a tiny bar packed with people gossiping over coffee.
Here, the city itself is the attraction; a chance to appreciate the patchwork of architectural styles – Gothic, baroque, Moorish – created by centuries of power swapping.
Even just a few streets back from Passeig des Born, one of Palma’s main shopping thoroughfares, it can feel like you have the city to yourself, as paths hemmed in by old, elegant town houses seem to wind and twist from one quiet alley to another.
For a taste of Palma’s much-lauded culinary credentials, head to Mercat de L’Olivar. An enormous indoor market, it’s a colourful tapestry of cured meats, freshly caught seafood, and kaleidoscopic fruit stalls known for their Majorcan produce. It’s even possible to buy seafood at one of the stalls and have it cooked up at one of the small restaurants upstairs.
Besides filling your belly and ogling wondrous architecture, Palma also has a reputation for its impressive art scene. Highlights include the Museu Fundación Juan March, which houses a small collection of Spanish greats – including Picasso and Dalí – and CaixaForum Palma, where you’ll find an impressive permanent collection by Balearic painter Hermen Anglada-Camarasa.
Central Majorca: Wine country
A big chunk of Majorca’s 70-plus vineyards are huddled at the island’s centre, amid a setting of steely mountains and sleepy villages. In fact, its two major wine regions – Binissalem and Plà i Llevant, Majorca’s only two Denominación de Origen (DO) regions – are here.
For a true taste of tradition, Ribas Bodega is hard to beat. Founded in 1711, it’s the oldest winery on the island, and is still run by the same family. With 300 years of experience, if they claimed to have actually written the book on Majorcan wine, you’d probably believe them.
The bodega is set among 100 acres of sprawling vines in the village of Consell, where grapes native to the island are used to create small-batch wine – only around 100,000 bottles are produced every year. Its enormous 18th-century manor house has been meticulously preserved, along with the original winemaking warehouse and cellar. Tasting tours start at £16.
For a more personal touch, take a private tour of a traditional Majorcan finca with an expert sommelier. Clients will enjoy being wined and dined in a truly stunning setting: a tremendous white-washed tumble of a house, draped in fragrant bougainvillea. Everything here is produced by hand, in extremely small batches – fewer than 1,500 bottles a year go out to sale. Tours for both can be arranged through Mallorca Wine Tours.
Ask the expert
“We have several routes from the hotel where you can discover the local surroundings by foot, bicycle or car. You can walk around the whole southern corner of the island, where there are wonderful views over small bays and out to sea.
“If guests hire a scooter or a car, there are some lovely local villages to explore such as Calvia; here you’ll see how the locals truly live. If you go over towards Es Camp de Mar and Andratx, you’ll find some really beautiful scenery.
“Those who like a bit of luxury can go to nearby Puerto Portals. It’s a very nice marina with some of the best restaurants in the area. We’re also very close to the medieval city of Palma, which has its splendid Gothic cathedral, a huge range of restaurants and plenty of art galleries, shops and museums.”
Estibaliz Santa Maria, general manager, Zafiro Palace Palmanova
Where to stay
Zafiro Palace Alcúdia is a five-star hotel right next to the beach with facilities to please families and couples – there’s an on-site spa for adults, while kids can splash around in a huge pirate ship – so it’s a good all rounder. With five restaurants (everything from a delicious, no-fuss buffet to a romantic Italian) there is a good range of dining opportunities, too.
A handful of top-floor penthouse rooms, complete with Jacuzzi, offer splendid views of the surrounding mountains, while swim-up suites add a touch of class to lower level rooms.
Set between the old town (a 15-minute walk) and the beach, the hotel couldn’t be better placed for guests to get the most out of Alcudia.
Book it: Rooms start from £180 per night.
Zafiro Palmanova is all about the location. You’ve got the sandy beaches of Palmanova within easy walking distance, yet you could be in the island’s capital, Palma, within a 15-minute drive.
An excellent value four-star hotel, it’s ideal for clients on a budget. Little touches such as free Bali beds, a reasonable on-site spa and swim-up suites provide luxury for less, while the convenient kitchenette that comes as standard with all 198 apartments is a handy practical extra.
For entertainment, there’s plenty of variety, with a swanky cocktail bar reception, lively lounge bar and outdoor swim-up bar.
Book it: Rooms start from £120 per night.
Zafiro Palace Palmanova
This five-star resort is a sure-fire hit for swimmers with 10 pools to its name – including a main pool with wet bar and an adult-only oasis pool – along with a Zen spa and wellness centre. Its 240 suites include a mix of junior, swim-up, junior penthouse and penthouse suites, some with a private rooftop terrace and spa bath.
Book it: Rates from £205 in a Junior Suite.