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Menorca

By Amy Adejokun Amy Adejokun Section editor

Our Editorial team's advice

Lying to the east of Majorca, which is bigger, more built up and more popular, Minorca has all the qualities of a protected biosphere. This island, which is decisively the most natural of all the Balearic Islands, leaves the wild partying to Formentera and Ibiza and the built-up beaches to Majorca. Menorca, as it is called in Spanish, is appreciated for its pervading pine forest and its "calasa" (coves), which can only be visited on foot.

Entangled among the coves of tourist areas packed with medium and large-sized hotels, the island's secret beaches are reached via paths between the rocks and the pine forest. When going to Minorca, don't forget to take your hiking shoes and a small backpack with you; it would be a shame to limit yourself to the beach at the hotel! Of course, the latter does offer the advantage of being equipped, but that doesn't beat an isolated beach in the heart of nature.

A sort of eco-tourism is starting to develop inland, with the emergence of what are called "rural hotels", halfway between Italian-style agritourism and hotels that are simply isolated. These establishments, occupying buildings that were once used for agricultural activities (like farms and cattle sheds), are mostly family-run and are the ideal type of lodging for discovering the authentic side of the island, thanks to the advice you can get from the owners.

As for the island's panoramas, these can be described as incredibly "shimmering": in the north, a kind of dark-coloured volcanic stone gives the landscape a peculiar, slightly obscure air. In the south, the cliffs and the coves are reflected in the turquoise blue water of the sea. To complete the painting, the island has two "big" towns: Ciutadella and Mahon. The first was the first capital of the island during the Middle Ages, whereas the second became the capital under English domination, due to its natural port.

To see

Mola is the natural port of Mahon and is also the largest natural port in the Mediterranean. It was splendidly developed in the 18th century under British domination and traces of this period can be found in the main monuments that stand along it. These include, for example, the impressive fortress of Isabel II, a building displaying military architecture dating from the 19th century and the ruins of lazaret on Quarantine Island (where sick sailors were isolated before entering the town), which are evocative, romantic and worthy of a novel by Poe.

Nearby is the village of Es Castell, with its typical little port. Once known under the name of Georgetown, the architecture preserves traces of the British domination. Note the presence of a purely English-style, 17th century building now serving as a hotel.

Not far from Mahon, close to Cala en Porter, is Cala d'En Xoroi. Here, openings were carved into the luminous white rock, which is characteristic of the south of the island. Connected by narrow paths, they create a set of small, sheer terraces above the sea. Fortunately, they can be accessed on foot and even shelter a panoramic bar and a discotheque. This is a truly original place!

To the east is Ciutadella, the former capital of the island. Founded in the Middle Ages (of which traces can be found in its small streets and old buildings), this town was the capital of the island until the English conquered it in the 17th century. In order to strengthen the power of the local nobility, they decided to make the island's capital Mahon instead (this choice was also a strategic one, as this is the location of the island's natural port). However, this doesn't take anything away from Ciutadella's qualities, where the superb monuments bear witness to its importance throughout the centuries. Absolutely not to be missed is the Gothic cathedral dating back to 1287.

To do

UNESCO declared Minorca a Biosphere Reserve in 1993, so it is useless to specify that the island is in itself a natural anthology! Protected and well taken care of, it is an exceptional place for fans of outdoor sports.
S'Albufera d'Es Grau National Park is in the eastern part of the island, between Binillauti and Macaret. There are plenty of small natural beaches along the coast (meaning they are only accessible on foot or via the sea): Cana N'Brut, Cala Caldes, Cala Tortuga, etc.
This being the case, the island is full of equestrian centres and trails adapted for this type of excursion. There are some trails in the north of the island that are especially breathtaking.
Also in the north, the island's one and only golf course (with 9 holes) is in Son Parc. However, the main and precious particularity of this island is its maze of trails (all sign-posted), which connect the various coves along the coastline as well as those inland, giving hikers the opportunity to discover the entire island. Minorca is without a doubt an ad hoc destination for light hiking.
Also, given the wealth of underwater flora and fauna, many hotels work in collaboration with diving centres.
A cultural stroll in the island's two main towns ("To see" section).

pros

  • +  The protected nature
  • +  The gastronomic traditions

cons

  • -  Getting around, not always easy without a car
  • -  The invasive architecture of some of the hotels, ruining the natural landscape

To think about

The sun is extremely hot on the island, even in May. Don't forget your sunscreen!
If you are travelling by car, keep in mind that you always have to go back to the main road to get to the next town, even though they may seem really close on a map: it may therefore turn out that a trip will take longer than you expected. However, you can get from one end of the island to the other in about 50 minutes using the main road.

To avoid

Like all islands where the biosphere is protected, it is better to opt for public transport and using your legs to get around rather than hiring your own vehicle. Nevertheless, you will have large distances to cross and the bus is not very practical. The decision all depends on your ecological conscience. Of course, you have to pay attention to the environment, that is, don't leave anything behind after a picnic and, in general, always respect this marvellous ecosystem.

To try

Minorcan specialities are numerous and varied.
Mahon cheese is rather dry (and compact like Italian Parmesan), a little sharp (but that depends on its age) and rather strong.
The Minorcan people have developed various ways of cooking fish. The principal dish of the most traditional restaurants is Minorcan-style calamari: the molluscs are cooked and filled with a typical stuffing then lightly cooked again with tomatoes. Vegetables like zucchini and aubergines are also stuffed. Inland you will also find some traditional culinary offerings, such as a few fresh cheeses and varieties of cooked meat, like "sobrassada" (a raw, cured sausage) and lamb.
In short, Minorcan cuisine is rather varied, especially given the size of the island, and the locals have managed to preserve its unique character. It is an island where you eat well and some restaurants make a point of sharing their culinary traditions with their guests. Here are a few good addresses:

If you would like to enjoy some fish while sitting alongside the natural port of Mahon, try this traditional (and historical, since the restaurant has existed for a long time now) restaurant:
Restaurant la Minerva
C/Moll of Raising, 87 - 07701 - Mahón
Tel: +34 971 351 995

If you are looking for a place that sticks to local traditions, the following restaurant in Es Mercadal feels like a place where the locals meet up for Sunday brunch:
Restaurant Ca'n Aguedet

C/Lepant, 30 - 07740 - Es Mercadal
Tel: +34 971 375 931

And finally, our favourite place. In a typical little cobblestone street in the middle of Ciutadella, under the arches of the arcades, discover 'Ses Voltes' ('voltes' meaning 'vaults', we admit, there isn't anything very original about the name!). However, the establishment itself is incredibly original and you will be won over by every little detail: its modern design enhanced with traditional wooden decorations, its various floors which rise up to a small terrace with a view over the roofs of Ciutadella, and last but certainly not lease, its traditional cuisine made with natural products enriched with a few touches of originality so that you will leave here with the most delicious memories. This is restaurant is an absolute 'must'.
Restaurant Ses Voltes

C/Josep Maria Quadrado, 14 - 07760 - Ciudadella
Tel: +34 971 381498

To bring back

Minorcan-style sandals! Let's just say that Minorcan sandals are to Minorca what the espadrille is to Catalonia and Basque Country. A similar concept for a similar climate: fabric and a rigid sole. The classic model may be too enclosed and even too rigid for some, but thanks to fashion, it now comes in plenty of styles that are often very pretty. An abundance of them can be found in the small streets of Mahon and Ciutadella.
As for us, we fell in love with the Minorcan chairs. They look like directors' chairs that you see in old films (made out of wood and fabric) and they exist in two different models, with a back (for more comfort) and without. A little piece of advice, though: never tell a Minorcan that they remind you of a Hollywood-style director's chair because he/she will answer quite curtly that, on the contrary, it is a typical piece of handicraft from the island.
In terms of local craftwork, you will also find a large choice of fabrics used for curtains, tablecloths, etc., which combine blue, green and white in a certain unique way.
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