Strictly Balearic

By Louise Scodie, January 21, 2005
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We go star-gazing in Majorca, largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands

Apparently, Majorca is one of the best places in the world to see the stars. And we’re not just talking celebrities from Coronation Street and Big Brother, some of whom were spotted on the island this summer.

No, cast your eyes upwards on a clear Majorcan night and admire the stunning astronomy on show — you might even spot a shooting star.

I did, as I sat outside at midnight by the swimming pool at Finca Son Rito, a luxury farmhouse situated in the Palma countryside. With a glass of cool Freixenet — a delicious local Cava — in my hand and my tootsies dangling delicately in the water as I looked up at the sky, I tried to remember the last time I’d felt so relaxed. I couldn’t.

That’s the beauty of self-catering accommodation.

When you’ve got the place to yourself, you can get away with drinking by the pool in the middle of the night, the stereo blasting out summer tunes as you make the most of your holiday time. Try doing that in a hotel and they’ll throw you out faster than you can say, “those Germans stole my sunlounger.” Finca Son Rito — known affectionately amongst our group as the casita — would suit either a quiet family holiday or a wild, week-long party with friends. The minute I arrived there and surveyed the beautiful patio and gardens, CD player by the pool and amazing selection of bedrooms and kitchens, I pictured my friends and I dancing in the sun — and the Majorca moonlight — without a care in the world.

Of course, it’s not all about dancing, drinking and sunbathing. A girl’s gotta eat as well. Luckily Finca Son Rito has its own barbecue, conveniently situated next to the pool (most handy if you set the thing on fire). Not being much of a cook, I didn’t try it out, but if you feel like donning a chef’s hat and grilling some top kosher meat (a kosher deli in Palma sells it) do give it a go. Just make sure you’re not having a nude sunbathing moment at the time. There are also two well-equipped kitchens — again, one handily situated by the pool — for more traditional cooking, and luckily there’s a large supermarket less than 10 minutes’ drive away so that you can stock up for your stay.

If you don’t fancy cooking every night, then head down to Cala D’or, the nearest town, where a plethora of eateries and what they used to call “nitespots” await you. Now, this being Majorca, you will find your fair share of tacky bars, complete with desperate young British workers shoving flyers into your hand and promising you free drinks if you step inside. If you’re clever, you will walk right past them (or alternatively run into their bar, grab your free drink and run out again before they can catch you) and seek out one of the surprisingly pleasant venues behind the main strip.

We visited Mango’s Restaurant and were greeted on arrival by affable owner Neil, whose chirpy manner alone is a good enough reason to eat there. Mango’s has a good selection of fish and vegetable dishes – I sampled the salmon in filo pastry, which was tender and flavourful, and ruined the healthy vibe with a huge and yummy chocolate dessert.

Neil was also on hand to recommend the right wines for each dish. I couldn’t tell you what they were called as I was so eager to try each glass that I soon forgot my own name, but trust me, listen to him and don’t drive there.

If it’s scenery you’re after while you dine, check out Restaurante Botavara in Cala D’or’s marina. As befits an eaterie right by the boats, they specialise in yummy fresh fish, which means there’s certainly plenty for kosher diners to choose from.

For most other activities in the region, however, you will need to drive, and car-hire is easily sorted out here. We hired two little Fiats for the stay and, as only one of us had driven abroad before, proceeded to have lots of fun and scare our passengers witless as we experimented with driving on the right — or should that be wrong — side of the road. Being blessed with neither a sense of direction nor the height to see over your average steering wheel, I think I did fairly well — we didn’t crash and we arrived at our first tourist spot in one piece.

That was the Caves of Drach, an underground world of wonder. Supposedly. We joined a mass guided tour of these underground caves, which are noted for their preponderance of stalactites and stalagmites. Now, I remember hearing those words in geography lessons in much the same way that people who have recovered from comas vaguely remember what people said to them whilst they were lying half-dead in hospital. So I knew they exist, but I still don’t know why and what they are. They do look rather impressive, though — interesting masses of calcified deposits hanging from the ceiling or growing up from the floor. As you walk down and down further towards the earth’s centre, you see more and more of the formations. It’s all lit up and fairly spacious, so even claustrophobics can enjoy the experience.

There’s also a pretty lake in the caves. Discovered around 100 years ago, the lake is the scene for a most amusing show. We were promised a classical music extravaganza. What we actually got was a woman on a piano, sitting in a small boat which inched its way around the lake, in the dark, whilst a couple of violinists did their string thing in another boat. Now, it’s a very small lake, so this didn’t last for very long, even though they went up and down twice. Then the lights came up. Amazingly, that was part of the show. Now, if the highlight of your show is turning the lights on, you need to find some new material.

After the show we were able to take a little boat trip across the tiny lake. This was amusing as the health and safety people have obviously never been to the caves, which meant that we were squished into a rowing boat with 10 other people — some of them quite fat — and a mad driver who was rowing the wrong way round. It was worth it for the giggle factor but I recommend that you take swimming lessons first. Or armbands.

A much more satisfactory boat trip can be had courtesy of Sea Teach. They’ll provide you with a speedboat, a captain and a tour of some of Majorca’s most beautiful caves. Our captain was called Mark, and unfortunately he seemed more interested in the boat than in my bikini. However that was probably a good thing, as we were travelling at 38 knots per hour. Don’t miss this experience —– sunbathing on the deck as you zip through the waters feels blissfully decadent. Put on your ritziest sunglasses and pretend you’re in a Duran Duran video.

Wine fans will love the region as it is home to more bodegas than you can shake a bottle at. We visited two on the trot and were given a warm welcome at each. Naturally each visit culminated in a wine-tasting session — both notable for the absence of spitoons. Oh well, I thought, I’ll just have to drink it properly. Scarily, that’s what our cab driver thought, too, as he joined in enthusiastically with proceedings. There was nothing for it but to drink up, enjoy the sun and take a nap in the cab on the way home. Visit www.binissalemdo.com to organise your trips and wear your seatbelt!

For a truly hilarious last night of holiday, visit Mango’s little brother — Mango’s Tapas Bar, in downtown Cala D’Or. The manager, Ollie, greeted us with a discernably French accent. I said “bonjour” and he replied: “I’m not French. I am Engleesh. I come from Manchester, I ‘ate ze French. Innit chuck?” He was a hilarious host and gave everyone in the restaurant a massive welcome. The tapas were delicious and there were enough veggie options to keep me going. Ollie also makes a mean sangria — an essential part of any Spanish holiday. If you go, tell him I sent you — but don’t speak any French, d’accord?

    Last updated: 3:00pm, September 10 2008