Introducing the Balearics
Magnificent crystal clear water, fiestas, medieval fortified cities and eco-tourism are all part of this destination which is too often stereotyped and confused with the mass tourism on the urbanised coasts of mainland Spain. That's not to say that mass tourism has not found its place here but you'll find a hell of a lot more waiting for you on the shores of these four Spanish islands than high-rise hotels and club cartels.Big sister
The largest of the Balearic islands, Majorca is far and away the most popular of the four. If you're looking for big resorts and heaving nightclubs, you'll find them here around the east coast of the island and along the Bay of Palma. The rest of the island sets an entirely different tone, full of old towns and olive groves, picturesque cliffs and mountains with more than their fair share of excellent hiking.The quiet one
A close neighbour of Majorca, Menorca has a quieter feel to it. Between prehistoric sites, centuries-old forts left to crumble and a fantastic coastline, the island keeps its often older clientele well occupied. As for its hotels, it's easy to keep out of the tourist resorts if you prefer and stick to exploring the towns, starting with the intriguing history of Mao and ending with the captivating streets of the petite Ciutadella.Party time
Ibiza, the little sister with a penchant for bad behaviour, will delight and disgust you in equal measure. Huge hotel complexes line the beach front, whilst music pumps non-stop from incomparable clubs with the world's finest DJs on the decks. Factor in a tendency to overconsume and soaring prices, and you've got one of the most popular party destinations in the world. Expect to spend big and live big in return.Secret escape
Left till last so as to attract as little attention as possible, the tiny island of Formentera is the real jewel in the Balearic's crown. Its small surface area offers one of the last true places in Europe to escape the crowds and appreciate the sun. Though it has little in the way of cultural heritage, its rustic charm and stunning beaches (best of the archipelago) are enough to satisfy for several days.
Surface area : 4992.0 km2
Population : 1119000 inhabitants
Time difference : The Balearic islands are on the same time as mainland Spain, that is GMT+1.
Majorca produces wrought iron objects, glass art, embroidered items and espadrilles. The town of Manacor specialises in cultured pearls, furniture and objects made from olive trees; Felanitx makes the island's most beautiful ceramics. Inca specialises in leather while the town of Es Mercadal in Menorca makes albarques (typical Balearic shoes).
Shops are open from Monday to Saturday, from 10:00am until 1:30pm and from 5:00pm to 8:30pm. During summer, some shops in the centre of Ibiza can stay open until 2:00 am. Shopping centres are open continuously from 10:00 am until 9:00pm or even 10:00 pm.
Ibiza is famous for its hippy markets, in particular the Punta Arabi in Es Canar - one of the biggest in Europe -which is open every Wednesday from April until October, from 10:00am until 7:00pm. Smaller and more authentic, the Las Dialas hippy market in San Carlos is open all year round on Saturdays from 10:00am until sunset, with late opening on Mondays from 7:00pm until 1:00am from June to October.
Pork, and particularly roast pork, is the basis of the archipelago's cuisine. As for delicacies, you should taste the sobressada; it is recognisable by its orange colour due to the inclusion of red chilli peppers. Green vegetables are also abundant. Tumbet is a terrine made of layers of fried potatoes and eggplants covered in tomato sauce and chilli peppers.
Do not miss out on the ensaimadas, a spiral-shaped delicate cake, nor the montaditos, toasted bread rubbed with garlic, tomato and olive oil and served with aïoli. Minorca is renowned for its fish and shellfish, especially lobster.
To start or end a meal, try the Minorca Jenever (gin) and the liquors from Ibiza such as the hierbas ibizencas, a digestive made from a dozen varieties of different herbs such as fennel, rosemary and thyme. As an aperitif, try the palo, a drink made from the cinchona and gentian plants. It is served with ice, a slice of lemon and 3 drops of gin; to be consumed with moderation!
In the Balearics, the day is organised according to the weather. Most of the local population will have lunch between 1pm and 2pm, whilst dinner is not usually eaten until at least 9pm. Activities stop and most shops close between 2pm and 5pm to avoid the heat of the afternoon in summer. Evenings can last late into the night, frequently until dawn.
The local inhabitants enjoy partying and the streets often stay animated. Family remains the base of the social organisation, though modernity is changing their values. Do not be surprised by the traditional kindness of the Spaniards.
Whilst all four of the Balearic Islands are well known for their beaches and sunshine, it's worth exploring the historically rich cities and stunning island interiors too, especially when hiking is on offer. Majorca has plenty of mountainous terrain which attracts walkers and bikers year round.
The islands are well-connected to British airports during the summer months, with plenty of low-cost options flying direct in under two and a half hours. Majorca maintains its regular connections all year round with flights to its capital city Palma.
If you prefer not to fly, boats leave regularly from mainland Spain to the islands, incluiding from Barcelona, Valencia and Denia. Inter-island ferries also provide good links between all four Balearics, though it is strongly advised to prepare your trips from island to island in advance. Though crossings in the archipelago are regular, a little organisation is required.
Costs can be high in peak season, with hotels and restaurants cranking up prices to catch the tourist rush. This can often mean that the best time to go is either before the rush in April/May or waiting until September to catch the last of the summer sun without the crowds.
Catalan is spoken throughout the archipelago, with different dialects on the three main islands. If you're driving, prepare yourself for the fact that all road signs are in Catalan, with name variations such as Eivissa (Ibiza) to watch out for. That said, renting cars can be difficult with many companies not allowing you to take vehicles between islands. In most cases, you're probably better off sticking to public transport.
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