Topographically and climatically, this is the more tranquil part of the island. The beaches are more accessible, and the winds blow less -- as a result, tourism has taken a firmer foothold here than in the north. Santo Tomás, Cala Galdana, Platges de Son Bou, Cala Bosch, and Punta Prima are some of the focal points for travelers.
Es Mercadal, a town of several thousand inhabitants at the foot of Monte Toro, is an ensemble of white houses with grace notes of color. Among its claims to local fame are two types of almond confectionery -- carquinyols (small, hard cookies) and amargos (a kind of macaroon). The place to get both is Pastelería Villalonga Ca's Sucrer, Plaça Constitució 11, Es Mercadal (tel. 97-137-51-75), open Tuesday to Saturday 9:30am to 1:30pm and 5 to 8:30pm, and Sunday 11am to 2pm.
From Es Mercadal, you can take a road 4km (2 1/2 miles) up to Monte Toro, the island's tallest mountain at 355m (1,164 ft.), crowned with a sanctuary that is a place of pilgrimage for Minorcans. The winding road leads to a panoramic view of the island's rolling green countryside dotted with fincas, trim fields, and stands of trees. From this vantage point you can clearly see the contrast between the flatter southern part of the island and the hilly northern region. The hilltop sanctuary includes a small, simple church with an ornate gilded altar displaying the image (reportedly found nearby in 1290) of the Virgin Mare de Déu d'el Toro, the island's patron saint. In 1936 the church was destroyed by fire, but the statue was saved from the flames and a new church built. The church is open daily from early morning to sunset; admission is free. In the courtyard of the sanctuary is a bronze monument to those Minorcans who left in the 18th century, while the island was still a British colony, to colonize Spanish settlements in North America. The large statue of Christ commemorates the dead in the Spanish Civil War. There is a snack bar with a pleasant terrace here.
Platges de Son Bou is a stunning beach scarred by two outsize hotels. Although still enchanting, the 1.6km-long (1-mile) narrow beach and clear turquoise waters are now often crowded, even in the off season; in July and August they're best avoided. At the eastern end of the beach just beyond the two monster hotels are the ruins of a Paleo-Christian basilica, most probably dating from the 5th or 6th century. Visible in the cliffs beyond are cave dwellings, some of which appear quite prosperous, with painted facades and shades to keep out the noonday sun.