Mallorquíns are by nature very proud of their island, and they definitely have reason to be. Overlooking the mega-resort cash-cows that blight parts of the coast, Mallorca has a staggering number of impressive phenomena, both natural and artificial, squeezed into the one isle. Here’s just a small selection.
An obvious place to start, La Seu Cathedral is an unmissable landmark and an incredible piece of architecture. Started in 1229 and finished in 1601, it is situated on the site of a former Moorish mosque. It is designed in the Gothic style but has had many influences over the centuries, including a contribution by Catalan legend Gaudí.
Another impressive piece of ancient architecture, and notable for being one of very few round castles in existence in Europe, this wonderfully positioned fort was built in the 14th century for King James II of Mallorca. After serving as home to various kings, it was used as a military prison from the 18th to the mid-20th century. It is now a popular attraction for visitors and houses the city’s history museum.
Not only does the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró a Mallorca boast an impressive collection of Miró’s works, with paintings, drawings, sculptures, and prints numbering into the thousands, but the foundation was also his studio for several decades. Thanks to its unique nature, the foundation is the perfect place to learn about Miró’s creative processes and see where he actually worked.
The Alfabia Gardens are a particularly peaceful site consisting of a historical house, picturesque grounds and an orchard in the heart of the Tramuntana Mountains. The estate was originally owned by the island’s Moorish viceroy and is mentioned in literature dating back to the 12th century. The best way of getting there is via the Soller train, though don’t forget to let the conductor know in advance if you want to get off, or the train won’t stop.
These fascinating remains of an ancient Roman town and theatre in the north of Mallorca are bursting with stories of ancient history. Located just outside of Alcúdia, the site is well preserved and houses a museum of the artefacts that have been excavated at the site. Pollentia was founded by Quintus Caecilius Metellus in 123 BC and was the most important city in the Balearics during the Roman period.
One of the most breathtaking look-out points in Mallorca, Mirador Es Colomer is located in Cap Formenter and looks out towards Minorca in the east, Cala Fiquera in the west and Alcudia in the south. The cliffs are fairly high and the wind can be vicious, so make sure to choose a calm day.
Sa Dragonera is a tiny uninhabited island and nature reserve just off Mallorca’s southwest coast, directly opposite the resort of Sant Elm. It’s named for its dragon-like shape and the lizards that inhabit it – a subspecies not found anywhere else in the world. Ecologists won an important battle to stop hotel development on the island, and it remains totally unspoilt with a pristine natural park. The boat trip over takes just 20 minutes, but visitors can’t spend the night here. Be sure to return before dusk for some for some of the island’s most spectacular sunsets over the island.
A great family day out, these wetlands can be accessed by car or via an easy cycle on one of the many routes on offer in the area. They are are located inbetween Alcudia and Can Picafort. Entrance to the wetlands is free. Maps and binoculars are available from the visitor centre, so you can explore the area and catch glimpses of the small animals and various birds that inhabit the area.
Built into the ancient city walls, this contemporary art gallery features a superb setting overlooking Palma’s main marina, with impressive city and sea panoramas from the top of its 16th-century ramparts. The architecture also cleverly fuses 21st-century glass and concrete with the medieval sandstone walls, while a series of ramps and terraces connect bright and airy exhibition spaces. The permanent collection boasts paintings and ceramics by Picasso, Miró, Sorolla and Rusiñol, while you can also catch regular temporary exhibitions by international and local contemporary artists. Refer to their website for a full list of exhibitions and a schedule of visiting works.
Close to the sea front and just next to the cathedral lies the fascinating royal palace, still used to this day by the King of Spain as a residence for official summer ceremonies. The palace we see today is the result of modifications made to the Muslim fortress constructed in 1281, and became the seat of the independent kingdom of Mallorca during the reign of Jaime I onwards. It still contains the original baths and hot and cold rooms from the Moorish era. There is a range of incredible tapestries throughout the palace, as well as furniture from various periods of history.
Situated on the crest of a cliff overlooking the bay of Canyamel, the Cuevas de Artá feature one of the more spectacular settings. Inside is certainly no less breathtaking, with the entrance room cavern equaling in size to the nave of Palma’s La Seu Cathedral. Also, the 22 metre (72.2 feet)-tall stalagmite in the Queen’s room is all the more impressive when considering that such formations grow at a rate less than half a millimetre per year. Guests are also encouraged to strike one of the many resonator columns or ‘cloches’ to experience their incredible vibrations and bell-like sounds, and with stories of pirates and smugglers who once frequented the grottoes, children will also be entertained.
This wonderfully unusual botanical garden displays an enormous variety of cacti from around the world, some centuries old and measuring several metres. Specifically designed to encourage the growth of the cactus, artificial terraces protect the plants from the wind. There’s also a section dedicated to flora native to Mallorca, while tropical plants and fields of bamboo can be explored around an artificial lake. You can even buy a specimen to take home.
The dramatic mountains skirting the length of Mallorca’s northern coast are known as the Serra de Tramuntana. Running almost 90 kilometres (56 miles) and with numerous peaks over a kilometre (half a mile) high, the whole range has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historical, cultural and environmental importance. Whether you choose to drive, hike or cycle, there are countless incredible sights to see and places to visit.
One of the most beautiful towns in Mallorca, Valldemossa is tucked away in the hills of the grand Tramuntana mountain range. Surrounded by forested hills and luscious countryside, it’s a popular destination for cyclists and hikers. With winding narrow lanes and pretty houses decorated with flowers and the patron saint of Mallorca, Saint Catalina Thomàs, it’s both a relaxing and charming place to visit. The most famous landmark is the 13th-century monastery where the composer Chopin famously spent a winter.
Located off Mallorca’s south coast is Cabrera Island, an almost untouched piece of natural wilderness that has been designated a national park. It’s around a hour’s boat journey from shore, and is a haven for both land- and sea-based wildlife. There is one simple hostel, called the Albergue de Cabrera, where visitors can spent the night on the island, but they are not allowed to stay longer than a day during peak season.
Much of the character of this picture-perfect hilltop village comes from its stone houses and their red tiled roofs appearing to cascade down the mountain. A charming place to wander around, the streets are narrow and often cobbled, and the rustic architecture has been particularly well conserved, especially its picturesque 17th-century church. There’s also a handful of excellent restaurants from which to admire the views, and the village is surrounded by citrus groves that you can walk through into the town of Soller below.