Majorca, the largest island in the Balearics, may make you think of beach resorts. But, as Lucy Daltroff discovers, it’s also steeped in thousands of years of history and culture.
Agatha Christie wrote about it and Winston Churchill stayed nearby. Porto Pollenca is a sheltered bay in the north of Majorca that was once a thriving fishing community and is just an hour’s drive from Palma.
I am staying at the oldest tourist establishment, the Hotel Miramar, founded in 1912 which became a mecca for artists who loved the luminous light of the seascapes. Now modernized, it still has the stylish lines of its early life, when the British started to come here on holiday.
Soon other hotels appeared to cater for the growing demand.
Today there many recreational possibilities, including strolling down the famous Pine Walk, a coastal pathway that stretches for just over two miles and has a glamour and beauty all of its own as well as a chance to enjoy the scenic mountains and sea.
Apart from the bars and cafes along the route, there is a large bronze bust of the famous Spanish artist, Hermenegildo Anglada Camarassa, one of The Miramar’s early visitors.
Twenty minutes’ drive away, is the historic settlement of Pollenca which owes its location – four miles inland – to avoiding attack by 13th century pirates! Known for its good food and local wine, the bustling main square has a large staircase with 365 steps ascending to the Calvaria Chapel.
Sadly, the all too excellent regional gourmet cuisine means that not everybody can complete the climb! After a bit of puffing and panting I finally make it, to see a fantastic view over the surrounding countryside.
In the winter and spring the whole of this area of the island is now popular with cyclists and many of the European professionals are based here. The terrain offers long flat routes as well as difficult mountains, so enthusiastic amateurs also come in large numbers.
After a hard day of pedalling many meet up in the evening at the famous Restaurant Tolos which was buzzing with activity on my visit. It’s great fun, with fair prices and good food and diners can quite often bump into Sir Bradley Wiggins who’s a frequent guest and a friend of the owner.
Not far from Pollenca is Cap de Formentor, a spectacular place, located on the northernmost point of the Balearic Island. The headland has quite a few lookout points with spectacular views and a famous lighthouse. The celebrated, Hotel Formentor has been renowned for many years for both its elegance and its visiting glitterati, which once included Grace Kelly and Prince Ranier, who took their honeymoon there. The large sweeping gardens go down to a sandy beach.
A boat trip to the mountainous Tramuntana coast is a chance to see the wildlife of the island including a variety of butterflies and the many migratory birds that stop off in Majorca. These include the Balearic warbler, black vultures Ospreys and Hoopoes – with their distinctive crown of feathers.
There has been a Jewish presence in Majorca for over a thousand years, although massacres were also part of that history. The large number of secret Jews were called Calle or Chuetas and the Xuetes were the descendants of Majorcan Jews who either converted to Christianity or were forced to hide their religious practices.
Nowadays an estimated 18,000 people in the island have Xueta surnames, but only a few of them are aware of the history attached.
In the capital, Palma, Jewish walking tours give further information about the influence and importance of the Jewish community. One of their number was the famous 14th century cartographer, Jafuda Cresques, who drew up the maps later used by Christopher Columbus.