What makes this island a favourite destination among Germans? What makes Palma so beautiful? Wolfhart Berg, an expert on the subject of Spain, discusses these issues, as well as introducing us to other special places on the island.
From his sailing boat, Tito lets the little sea shells lie on the crystalline waters of the secluded Cala d’es Teix. The waves softly break on the empty sand beach. Tito, born 50 years ago, son of a farmer from Sant Joan, a village in the interior of the island, loves this sort of cove. “I know at least four dozen like this one”.
Even in summer, during high season, Tito finds small empty beaches which can be reached by land or sea. Considering that some six million tourists come every year – ten per inhabitant – and that it is the same size as Luxembourg, this is quite a feat. “Yes, yes, go to the triangle of the Plá, between Muro, Inca and Porrerres”, says Tito, with a half smile on his face, “in mid August you’ll see more Majorcans working the land than tourists in their rental four-wheel drives”.
A LEADING TOURIST DESTINATION
Mallorca lives with an for the contrasts it offers: from the excitement of the cosmopolitan city of Palma to the seducing, idyllic landscapes inland. The largest of the Balearic Islands (“Mallor” – which means “largest” – ca, as opposed to “Menor” – the smaller one – ca) plays a leading role in the international tourist industry. For twenty three years now this island has even seduced the King of Spain.
Far from the popular tourist resorts there are countless corners where you can spend a holiday among pine and palm trees. The Queen of mass tourism also offers wild mountain landscapes unknown to the majority of people (Puig Major, 1443 metres). There are numerous trekking and cycling routes between Manacor and Llucmajor, which, in February, the month which anticipates the outburst of spring, draw the hiker into an immense white sea of seven million blossoming almond trees. In May it’s the red poppy fields’ turn.
The sheer northeastern coast between Banyalbufar and Pollença, before the awesome grey cliffs of Formentor and its lonely white lighthouse, already charmed the Fenitians, Romans and Arabs. Tourism three thousand years ago.
The island’s history has influenced the worldly, welcoming and tolerant character of its inhabitants. Mallorca, which is at the same level as Rome and the same longitudinal degree as Paris, became fashionable when a so-called Frederico Chopin came seeking the Mediterranean climate to cure his ailing lungs in 1838/39. He moved into the Cartoixa, in the green mountains of Valldemossa, with his lover, the writer George Sand, and a piano.
The novel, A Winter in Mallorca, by George Sand became a bestseller and its title is still used as a slogan for the cultural events that take place on the island in winter. Chopin’s Cartoixa has become an attraction for over 160.000 tourists every year. To this day, there is a red rose on the piano where he composed the “24 preludes op.28”.
THE ARCHDUKE AND THE CARPENTER’S DAUGHTER
The first celebrity to follow Chopin’s footsteps was the Archduke or “Archiduc” Luis Salvador of Habsburg and Lotringa, in 1867. His sailing ship, the Nixe, dropped anchor in front of the coast of Deià; he fell in love with the daughter of the carpenter of Valldemossa whose name was Catalina and he stayed on the island for thirty years. He was a naturalist, a vinegrower, and owner of a beautiful castle.
During those years prominent figures of the European aristocracy visited him at his residence of Son Marroig, located on the cliffs over the sea. Ever since, the wild Deià, a small village in the mountains, has been a favourite residence for many celebrities; Charlie Chaplin, Ava Gardner, the writer Anaïs Nin, all spent time in whitewashed houses, surrounded by the romantic church square, the windmills (typical of Mallorca), the olive and fig trees…
Then came the hippies of ’68, Elton John and now, the almighty Claudia Schiffer, who owns homes on the quiet coasts of Andratx and Sóller. The Hollywood star Michael Douglas has the habit of retiring to his estate outside Deià four times a year.
BIG GIFTS FOR A POOR PRINCE
Majorcans are not only tolerant, but also good public relations. Almost unintentionally King Juan Carlos became the island’s most noble insignia. His love for the island is thanks to the insight of a group of businessmen friends of his who, 23 years ago, when he was still a less than well-to-do crown prince, presented him with the gift of the Arab palace beside the Palma cathedral.
Now, during the summer months, elegant parties are held in the Marivent Palace, the royal family’s summer residence. A great sea-lover, the King likes to set off from the Palma Yacht Club to sail along the 450 km. of coast in his yacht, the Fortuna.
LOVELY VIEWS FOR ROMANTICS
Both the King and Tito are always on the lookout for a hidden beach with a good restaurant where delicious Majorcan specialties and a wide variety of fresh fish are served.
Are all these people from all over the world and all social classes who come to the island year after year looking for a well-deserved rest lured by the 300 days of sunshine, by those little treasures the island has to offer? Or is it the romantic lookout at Mal Pas, on the way to Formentor, which seduced the painter Joan Miró, a mountain lover? Or the jagged landscape of the Sa Calobra valley, where wonderful concerts are held outdoors during the summer? Or maybe the uncountable red peppers hanging in the sun on the façades of the houses in San Jordi and Llucmajor? It’s all these things for sure, but there’s still more.
For example, the pearl of the Mediterranean, the capital of the Balearic Islands, Palma. A busy city of 300.000 inhabitants, known for its refined upper middle class atmosphere, fancy shops, luxurious yacht clubs, excellent restaurants and winding streets in the Gothic quarter, all built around the awesome gothic cathedral which majestically looks over the city, the Riera and the port.
The extravagant Christine Kauffman lives just a few metres away, in San Lorenzo street. Frank Elstner (and many other rich Madrileños) has also fallen in love with this city and has a small apartment in the centre for when he leaves his home in the Majorcan countryside.
Palma has a lot to offer: the cafés on the Borne and the Rambla for liveliness and action; major operas at the marvelous Teatro Principal; cultural monuments such as the Palacio de la Almudaina of Arab origins and the gothic Lonja, and great charm with a touch of decadence in the narrow streets of the Puig de Sant Pere neighbourhood.
The metropolis of Palma, the artist’s village of Deià, the mass tourism in El Arenal… these are the island’s contrasts. The great variety in nature makes the island a unique continent. Mallorca, not Marbella anymore, is the international jet-set’s new El Dorado, Europe’s Florida.