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Saturday September 14, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Saturday September 14, 2013 MYT 6:27:50 AM
by story andphotos by z.r. yang
Warm and sunny: Porto Cristo, a superb seaside town on the eastern side of Mallorca, Spain.
Spain’s Mallorca Island in the Mediterranean is a well-loved summer holiday destination as it boasts turquoise seas, white sandy beaches, craggy mountains, subterranean caves, and plenty more – at bargain prices.
IT was dark, raining hard, and cold at 13°C – not exactly what I had wanted for my family summer holiday. Arriving in the island of Mallorca in short sleeves, I cranked up the heater in our rented car. Too stingy to rent a GPS, I depended on my trusty navigator – my wife – to follow the instructions I had printed out using Google’s directions to navigate the 70km to our hotel.
Thankfully, the roads were well marked and though we felt lost in the dark, we finally ended up at our destination. The welcoming smiles of the hotel staff warmed our tired souls and marked the beginning of a great holiday. Fortunately, the cold and wet welcome was an anomaly. The warm, sunny blue skies returned the next day for a perfect Mediterranean getaway.
Mallorca (or Majorca) is the largest of the three Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean belonging to Spain. These islands have long been a favourite summer beach holiday destination for Europeans due to their proximity and crystal-clear waters.
There are ample tourist facilities (hotels, car rentals and restaurants) at competitive prices. This is especially so now with Spain’s prolonged economic downturn compounded by the Eurozone’s financial mire.
Tourist arrivals have been considerably reduced and hence, prices slashed. I got our aparthotel (similar to a hotel room, except that the room is a mini-apartment with lounge and cooking facilities) at 40% discount for €58 (RM232) per night for four people.
Normally, all hotels would be fully booked for the summer by May, with remaining rooms going at exorbitant prices.
But my online search had revealed that there were plenty of vacancies with prices at normal rates plus huge discounts (up to 60%).
Then there’s the cheap car rental. I rented a brand new Ford Fiesta with a child car-seat for only ‚30 (RM120) per day, with everything included (petrol, insurance, unlimited mileage and taxes). Finally, restaurants were offering very attractive and reasonably priced set menus, starting from €10 (RM40). Price-wise, it was definitely a great time to come to Mallorca.
The biggest draw, though, was the right combination of all that I was looking for in my Mediterranean getaway – turquoise coves, calm clear seas, fine white sandy beaches, craggy mountains, subterranean caves, medieval castles, imposing cathedrals, charming squares, fortified towns, colourful markets, and enticing cuisine!
There are numerous beaches on the island, ranging from fine white sandy stretches to pebble beaches; there are also narrow coves, wide pine-lined bays, and virgin inlets. One can find seaside towns aplenty, with their marinas and fishing ports.
Urban centres provide non-stop nightlife to quiet townships, bringing new tourist developments to local villages.
You need to pick what’s right for you. After much searching on the Internet, I settled for Puerto Pollensa. Located at the northern end of Mallorca, it is known to be suitable for families with young children. We weren’t disappointed.
Puerto Pollensa sits on a quiet bay, so quiet the sea is almost perfectly still with only the smallest of ripples lapping the shore. It’s a giant aquarium with pristine waters and fish swimming among the seaweed.
The seaweed which grows in certain sections is actually what keeps the water clean and the authorities are making efforts to conserve them. Upshore on the public beach, deck chairs for hire are neatly laid out under straw umbrellas.
And just a few metres further up is the seafront pedestrian boulevard with restaurants, shops and upscale hotels. The restaurants offer menus suitable for all budgets. You can opt for romantic fine dining out at sea in a jetty-like platform (€20-€50/RM80–RM200 for mains) or simple take-away sandwiches (€5/RM20). In between, you have the well-known Spanish paella (€8-€15/RM32–RM60).
As we strolled along the boulevard, an elderly Chinese woman came up and greeted us, “Ni hao.” After exchanging pleasantries, we discovered Lulu was from Sarawak, where my wife is from. Lulu had migrated many years ago and now resides in Britain with her husband, George. “This is our third time here. It’s lovely,” remarked Lulu.
Further up was a group of four cheery British men playing pétanque on the beach (a French game similar to lawn bowl). Their comical antics made us stop to watch.
“This is our 20th consecutive year here for our summer holidays,” they said, as they held up their self-made and self-awarded trophies. It’s not hard to see why tourists keep returning to this island where the pace is so easy-going.
Nearby is Mallorca’s northern promontory, Cap de Formentor. A 15km scenic road from Puerto Pollensa to the lighthouse at Cap de Formentor winds up and down along the steep mountainside, affording spectacular views of the azure sea set against the rocky cliffs with the occasional virgin cove.
They’re called “virgin” because the coves are undeveloped and no direct road leads to them. One needs to either trek down to them from the paved road or access them by boat. But it’s this seclusion which gives them the unspoilt magical feel.
Beguiled by its gorgeous beauty, we spontaneously decided to trek down to one of them, Cala Figuera, despite having two young children at hand, seven and three years old. After a steep and rocky descent, we finally reached the elusive inlet.
We spent a good full day here – swimming, relaxing, catching fish and shrimps, watching sunbathers, and letting the cares of the world drift by as we settled down in Mediterranean bliss. “Aahhh... This is what I call a getaway.” The climb back up was a different story, though!
Caves, castles and
Downtown in Palma, the regional capital of the Balearic Islands that has a population of over 500,000, it’s a lively cosmopolitan scene, yet with the carefree atmosphere of an idyllic island.
Here, young people from all over Europe, celebrities included, descend in droves upon the nightclubs in summer. But that’s not my cup of tea. What I came to see in Palma was the unique circular castle, Castell de Bellver, one of the few circular castles in Europe.
Being accustomed to hordes of tourists in Europe, I was pleasantly surprised that it was virtually empty. The effects of the European financial woes were clearly visible. Built in the 14th century, the castle sits atop a hill where, from the roof, you can enjoy sweeping panoramic views of Palma and the marina.
Inside the castle is a museum which tells the history of the castle – complete with armour and shields on display. Other major attractions at Palma are the mammoth Cathedral of Santa Maria and the Palacio de l’Almudaina, located side by side next to the sea.
Besides coves, castles and cathedrals, there are also caves to explore. The island is blessed with as many caves as there are coves.
A well-known cave is Cuevas del Drach on the eastern side of the island. This is a beautiful subterranean cave with an underground lake. Lights have been positioned to bring out the perfectly clear undisturbed turquoise waters, almost identical to that of the coves above.
The stalagmites reflected in the waters looked surreal. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the cave, even without flash, and there are guards every 20m or so to enforce this.
The most surreal experience takes place in a large chamber within the cave that can seat hundreds. The lights are switched off. Everyone hushes to a deafening silence. It’s pitch-black. You can’t even see your hand in front of you. Then, the soft, soothing sound of a violin begins to envelope you. As it gets louder, your eye catches the faint light appearing at the other end of the cave.
Three dimly lit boats move silently across the subterranean lake, with musicians onboard playing classical music.
Thanks to the cave’s natural acoustics and the darkness, your sense of hearing is heightened, resulting in a deeper enjoyment of the music, almost as if the music could be felt physically. When the 15-minute “concert” is over, it’s your turn to get on the boat as it glides across the luminescent waters. What an experience!
At night, the hotel where we stayed had free entertainment or other activities every other night for the guests. While we were there, there was a guitar duet, a small band with a singer, a bingo night and a flamenco show.
The last was what I had always wanted to watch but never got to because the venues where they were presented weren’t suitable for young children. Finally, I got to watch what I had dreamt of.
The ambience wasn’t the best for flamenco – which required a dark small stage – but here, it was in the open air, next to the lighted swimming pool. Nevertheless, I wasn’t about to complain since my wife and I could watch in peace while our kids roamed around the safe surroundings of the hotel.
I sat spellbound as the maestro sang with gusto, the guitars being strummed at increasingly dizzying speeds, the flamenco ladies swirled – one moment fluid, the next rigid – again and again, quicker and quicker. The electrifying 45-minute performance ended with the performers, drenched in perspiration, taking a bow. And I too, take a bow to Mallorca for a perfect Mediterranean getaway. Ola!
Airlines that fly into Palma Mallorca include low-cost carriers Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) from Britain and Vueling (www.vueling.com) from Amsterdam, Holland.
There are also a number of ferries between Barcelona and Palma (eight hours), serviced by Baleària (www.balearia.com) and Acciona Transmediterrànea (www.transmediterranea.es).
Car rental: Goldcar Rental (www.goldcar.es/en) is considerably cheaper than the international chains.
Best time to visit: June or September; July and August are peak season.
Official website of Balearic Islands tourism www.illesbalears.es.
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Travel, Mallorca, Spaing, Balearic Islands, Mediterranean, Eurozone, bargain
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