Think of Mallorca and what springs to mind? For me, it’s sandy beaches, wall-to-wall sunshine and cheap package holidays.
These are the reasons I avoided taking a holiday in Mallorca for many years. I’m not a beach bunny or an out-and-out sun goddess. Mallorca isn’t my natural territory.
But a trip to Mallorca earlier this year changed my mind about what the island has to offer. Beyond the beaches, there is stunning countryside, quiet coves and mountain scenery to enjoy. Here are a few of my favourite places away from the big resorts and holiday crowds.
Escape to the Country
Once you leave the beach resorts strung along the south and east coast of the island, you’ll discover the ‘real Mallorca’ with its terraced hillsides, picturesque villages, and a rustic vibe.
Serra de Tramuntana is only 30 minutes drive from Palma and it’s a revelation. This is a land of pretty villages, market towns and mountainous landscapes.
Valldemossa and La Granja are two of its loveliest small towns so it’s no surprise that both are popular destinations for holiday makers looking for day trips.
Valldemossa is the more interesting of the two towns, mainly because of its striking hillside location and intriguing history.
Many believe Mallorca’s tourism boom started in this very place. It was here that the 19th Century writer George Sand wrote her famous book ‘A Winter in Majorca’ in 1838.
She was visiting the island with her boyfriend, the composer Frederic Chopin, and they rented two rooms at the town’s monastery. With panoramic views across the hills, it must have been an incredibly romantic place to spend the winter.
Today you can make your own personal pilgrimage to the Chopin monastery ‘cells’ where the couple holidayed together.
It’s lovely BUT be warned – the attraction is a bit of a tourist trap and has the most complicated entry system I’ve seen on my Spanish travels. However, it’s worth going for THAT view and a few interesting displays including Chopin’s piano, Sand’s manuscripts and mementos of their Balearic adventure.
It’s tempting to play the piano, but the atmosphere is pretty stuffy at the museum, and I can’t see that musical stunt going down well.
The monastery is housed in the Royal Charterhouse of Valldemossa which was built in 1309 – it passed into the hands of the Carthusian monks in 1399.
Wander along the monastery’s long corridors and you’ll stumble upon a strange giant-sized model of Chopin and George Sand. It’s incredibly surreal.
Nearby there’s an old apothecary where George Sand is supposed to have bought a special medicinal marshmallow in a doomed attempt to cure Chopin’s TB.
If you crack the convoluted entry system, you can purchase a combined ticket to the municipal museum, former palace and cloisters as well as the Chopin ‘cells’.
Don’t miss a trip to the lovely, shaded gardens to the rear of the monastery complex which are free of charge.
After your dose of Chopin and monastic life, wander back to the old town and enjoy the many picturesque viewpoints. There are plenty of places to enjoy a coffee, cake and tapas as you watch the world go by.
Just up the road from Valldemossa is the small town of Sóller which has a very different vibe from its mountainous neighbour. This is a seaside town with a enchanting beach, modern marina and seafront dotted with shops and cafes.
Surrounded by the Tramuntana mountains, the town is famous for its orange and lemon groves. It’s known as ‘the heart of the Golden Valley’.
The Tren de Sóller is one of the most popular attractions on Mallorca. The train has been running since 1913 and it’s a sedate trip which can be done in a day.
The outstanding sections of the train journey are the iron bridge over the Torrent Major and the mountainous route between Bunyola and Sóller.
Grab a wooden seat and take the ride from Palma to Sóller (or vice versa) by train and then transfer on to the tram for the final section of the route to the harbour front. You can’t miss Sóller‘s famous vintage tram which looks like a throw-back to the 1930s as it moves at a leisurely pace through the town.
The Port of Sóller , with its harbour, boasts fabulous views across the bay, especially if you can get a little height by walking up the bank.
Boat lovers will adore Port of Sóller‘s waterfront marina which is busy with yachts and power boats. You can book a trip, charter a boat or simply admire the views.
Those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground will enjoy the chilled-out atmosphere of a seafront cafe, restaurant or bar.
My partner loves yachts so it’s no surprise that he spent his time picking the perfect boat for when he wins the Lottery and moves to Mallorca.
If you prefer walking, take the steep hike up the mountain road to the Cap de Gros lighthouse. On a clear day, this landmark offers some of the best views across the bay and mountains.
If you fancy a completely different experience, I’d recommend a couple of days staying at the monastery at Lluc in the north west of Mallorca.
Before you throw your hands up in horror, this does not involve wearing sack cloth, fasting, singing hymns or attending prayers!
You don’t have to be religious to stay here. Lluc has been a stop-off on the pilgrims’ route in Mallorca for 800 years, and its monastery is pretty much the only place to stay in this mountainous region.
Set among forests of pine and oak trees, Lluc has one of the loveliest settings of any of the towns I visited in western Mallorca.
The Sanctuari de Lluc has a special ‘hotel’ wing for travellers based in the old pilgrims’ hospice. The hotel rooms are comfortable, if plainly furnished – but they have a lot of character and most have great views of the monastery’s central courtyard. It’s also very reasonably priced.
There’s a good range of facilities including a decent restaurant serving Mallorcan specialities, a bar, picnic areas, a few small shops and a monastery museum.
The rooms have en suite bathrooms but don’t expect televisions and mod cons. Be warned – there’s limited room service and you have to make your own bed in the mornings!
The monastery complex is lovely to walk around and there’s even a botanical garden with hidden nooks and crannies, and an impressive array of exotic plants.
Lluc is a great place to recharge your batteries and escape from the hustle and bustle of the island’s bigger resorts.
I loved waking up to the sound of bells and the courtyard clock striking its notes on the hour.
Another bonus is that there’s a free gig performed by the monastery’s 50-strong young choir school. Els Blauets or The Blues sing at 11 and 16:30 most days of the year for around 15 minutes. They are incredibly good and not to be missed.
Don’t forget to explore the beautiful Basilica in the central courtyard with its impressive interior, dominated by crystal chandeliers and a golden altarpiece.
If you go behind the altar, you’ll discover another small chapel where there lies the Basilica’s piece de resistance – a little black statue called La Moreneta.
This has been the object of religious pilgrimages down the centuries.
During performances by the choir, this figure rotates on a plinth and appears in the main chapel where it is lit with stunning lighting effects.
Lluc isn’t just a monastic community, it’s also the gateway to mountain walks, bike trails and wildlife watching. You’ll see dozens of walkers and cyclists on your trip, especially in spring.
Its walks cater for all abilities so don’t worry about over-reaching yourself, if your stamina isn’t up to a serious hike.
Not far from the sanctuary, there’s a relatively easy mountain walk which starts with a scramble over big rocks before flattening out onto a Mediterranean scrub landscape, and finishing on an easy downward route back into town.
You’re bound to see interesting wildlife particularly the local mountain goats who hang around in gangs with their young kids on the big rocks.
Lluc is a major stopping off point for long distance walkers ‘doing the GR-221’, a 84 mile walk along the Sierra de Tramuntana. It’s hugely popular, especially in the late spring when temperatures are better for hiking.
Known as the ‘Dry Stone Route’, it follows signposted trails through dry stonework terraces and olive groves, mountain villages, and pine forests, whilst also offering breathtaking sea views. The route has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For those who love pushing themselves hard, this scenic route takes 6-8 days to complete – or 10 days if you’re as unfit as me!
If you’re looking for shorter walks, there are plenty of other options in this hilly region. The Puig Roig (the red peak) is especially popular with hardcore walkers.
Don’t forget to call in at Lluc’s visitor centre where they’ll give you a selection of walking routes and maps of the trails.
On the back doorstep of the Lluc sanctuary, there’s an interesting short walk which winds its way up to the top of a religious monument, passing smaller shrines on the way up.
It takes about 25 minutes to reach the top after a moderate climb along a surfaced path. It’s well worth the upward hike to see the panoramic view and the patchwork quilt of orchards, wooded glades and farms which dot the landscape below.
At the end of a hard day, try the local cuisine. Three restaurants in Lluc offer simple but tasty rustic food, from hearty mountain goat stews to large haunches of suckling pig served with local vegetables.
In addition to Lluc, Valldemossa and the Soller valley, I’d recommend the following places:
Deia – a lovely village of sandstone houses sheltering under the Teix Mountain. It’s famous because the British writer Robert Graves once owned a house here – the Ca N’Alluny – which is now a museum. It’s one of my favourite haunts.
Son Marroig – a small white belvedere tower which looks like a classical temple sits overlooking an impossibly pretty promontory not far from Deia. There’s a museum, gardens and beautiful views out to sea. Keen walkers can take the trail down to the Punta de sa Foradada on the tip of the peninsula, passing caves and lush woodland.
Fornalutx – a popular village with tourists because of its picture postcard cobbled streets. But be warned – it can get very overcrowded in the summer.
La Granja – a village in a beautiful mountain setting. Its main tourist attraction is an old Moorish farm which later became a convent. Pick your time to visit this popular tourist spot. Tour coach party alert!
Travel – this is a region of pretty villages so you’ll have no trouble finding a quiet spot, but it’s a good idea to hire a car, if you don’t fancy taking an organised coach trip.
Walking – take your walking boots and remember that spring and autumn are the best seasons to go hiking when it’s not burning hot
Food is cheap in this area so don’t be afraid to try the local delicacies and the good quality Mallorcan wines which are very much ‘on the up’.