It could be argued that when your fellow passengers on your departing flight consist mostly of drunk, raucous women that it is perhaps indicative of what to expect once you arrive at your chosen destination. Well such was the case on a recent trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca that I was beginning to wonder if I had made the right choice for a few days of winter sun.
But once through baggage claim the drunken din of my travel companions finally starts to fade as they head off in the direction of one of the islands more well known resorts and we jump into a taxi for the short trip to the island’s capital Palma.
Admittedly on my only previous trip to the island I was myself clambering onto a coach and heading off for two weeks on a package holiday with my family. But that was 25 years ago when my expectations from a holiday mostly involved ice cream and water parks. One of my abiding memories from that trip however was from a days excursion to Mallorcas largest city and one of the reasons why I decided to return and see if it actually is the cosmopolitan city of my fuzzy, yet fond, recollection.
Arriving at our hotel my adult encounter with the city was already living up to that of my childhood and this would turn out to be the first of many surprises this city would throw up. The Hotel Jaime lll is what is known as an art hotel these days, a bronze canoe taking pride of place smack bang in the centre of the lobby, ferocious looking ceramic dogs wearing brightly crocheted jumpsuits keeping watch at the door and what seems to be one of the fibreglass sharks from Jaws looming over the library. It could all appear a tad pretentious were it not for the very friendly welcome at reception. Restaurant recommendations and room key secured it was time to chill out on the spacious balcony, guide-book in hand and enjoy the view overlooking the city and the mediterranean beyond.
Waking to unseasonably warm weather is exactly why so many of us enjoy winter getaways, somehow you are just that extra bit more appreciative of it when you are guaranteed it is pouring down with rain at home.
Palma is a surprisingly large city but easily discovered on foot all the same and our hotel was perfectly located a 10 minute stroll from one of its main thoroughfares Passeig Born. A wide and very pretty tree-lined boulevard with many shops and cafes this is a good spot to enjoy a coffee and start to get a feel for the city. From here it is only a short distance to many of the city’s popular attractions. The Gothic cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma, or La Seu as most cathedrals are known in Catalan, is just a few minutes stroll away. Now I’m not normally one for visiting places of worship when travelling but over the years I have come to appreciate that once you make the effort they rarely fail to deliver. This La Seu is definitely no exception. Once famed for having its image reflected in the ocean these days that claim is supported by a man made lake built on reclaimed land to halt the effects of erosion sacrificing it to the water. It is a magnificently imposing structure from the moment you approach and the interior doesn’t disappoint. It’s massive circular stained glass windows bath everything they touch in the most vivid, striking colours. The vast floors remind me of the dance floor from Saturday Night Fever and while I supress the urge to bust a move I wonder if perhaps Irish Cathedrals might be that bit more popular if the sun were to turn up on occasion.
Another one of Palmas impressive Gothic buildings is the nearby La Llotja in the neighbourhood of La Llonja. A former exchange from the citys days as a maritime trading centre the building now houses temporary art exhibitions. If there are no shows on when you visit then unfortunately you will find it closed. However, if this happens to be the case the ornately decorated exterior is worth checking out alone and the Plaza on which is it situated is dotted with tables from the surrounding tapas bars which make it a perfect choice for some lunch and a spot of people watching. La Llonja is a colourful, bohemian district which is home to many bars and restaurants and its narrow medieval streets are where you will find some of the quirkier shops and cafes. Come nightfall the area is also a great destination for dinner and down the streets that lead off the square are where you will find some of the city’s livelier bars and restaurants. We returned here for dinner ourselves that evening to the widely recommended La Boveda at Boteria 3. The atmosphere was traditional, the wine excellent and the service fantastic. The large, hairy boiled piece of cow cheek atop my white bean stew not so much but I am assured that for some this is to be savoured. Seeking something a little stronger to wash my meal down with we came across a sign pointing down an alley toward what claimed to be the best cocktail bar in the world. Admiring their confidence we decided to check it out. If you ever find yourself in Palma looking for a cocktail then Harry’s should be easy enough to remember. I am yet to visit a city that doesn’t have a cocktail bar with the same name. Now I’m no cocktail afficiando but the drinks were great and the manager Federico knows his music as well as his alcoholic concoctions which makes for a great way to round off an evening in my eyes.
As we were only there for the best part of three days the next day we opted for the trusty hop on hop off city bus. Normally I find these tours are a great way for finding your bearings in a city whilst ticking off some of the ‘must-see’ sights without spending your days pounding the pavements. However on in Palma, which is largely made up of narrow pedestrianised streets, you may be better off doing just that. Still, the tour did throw up one or two interesting sights for those with a quirkier sense of exploration. A purpose built walled village containing replicas of all of Spain’s grandest buildings? Sure why not. For a small entry fee, around €6, you can wander the streets of Poble Espanyol and get to see such buildings as Granada’s Alhambra Palace or El Greco’s Toledo home and all conveniently positioned within a suburban neighbourhood. Weird and kind of fun but I would of course recommend visiting these cities themselves.
One stop that is worth hopping off at is the museum of modern and contemporary art Es Baluard. As you would expect the core of the works of those by Spanish artists, the highlight of which being a permanent exhibition dedicated to Joan Miro and there is another of Picasso’s ceramics that would please any art lover.
With the previous nights cow cheek incident still triggering slight waves of nausea we decided this time to take our hotel up on one of their recommendations and found our way to Tast, a neighbourhood favourite specialising in pinchos and tapas. Bustling with locals we took stools at the wide marble bar from where we proceeded to tdevour numerous dishes including tempura paprika sausage, cod fritters with honey and garlic and mini hamburgers. Last nights choice of restaurant may have appealed to a more sophisticated palette than mine but tonight we ate like proper Mallorcans.
Having had very few plans or expectations before setting off for Palma on our last morning we realised that we had completely neglected to visit one of the cities beaches.
This says a lot about the city as up until now we had been far too busy enjoying ourselves and as a result had completely bypassed what is for some the main lure of this beautiful island. But we had no swimming shorts or towels with us. Remember that old saying of always wearing clean underwear in case you are involved in an accident? Well it was the middle of winter and God knows how long until we would get to swim in the ocean again so I declared this to be at least a minor emergency. Fortunately my shorts could pass for swimwear from a distance but more importantly there were few people on the beach so I didn’t get to return any of the many surprises that this exciting city has treated me to over the past three days. So after my second visit to Palma De Mallorca would I be back? Absolutely. But next time I’ll remember to pack my shorts.
Aer Lingus fly to Palma from Dublin, visit http://www.aerlingus.com
Rooms at the Hotel Jaime III start from €296 for a city view room with breakfast based on two sharing.
This article was first published in the Irish Mail on Sunday on March 31 2013.