The West Coast
Mountainous Majorca has the most dramatic scenery in the Balearics. It's best appreciated if you have your own car and can explore easily on your own. Below, we outline a good daylong outing of about 142km (88 miles) that begins and ends in Palma.
Leave Palma heading west on C-719, passing through some of the most beautiful scenery of Majorca. Just a short distance from the sea rises the Sierra de Tramontana. The road passes the heavy tourist development of Palma Nova before coming to Santa Ponça, a town with a fishing harbor divided by a promontory. A fortified Gothic tower and a watchtower are evidence of the days when this small harbor suffered repeated raids and attacks. It was in a cove here that Jaume I's troops landed on September 12, 1229, to begin the Reconquest of the island from the Muslims.
From Santa Ponça, continue along the highway, passing Paguera, Cala Fornells, and Camp de Mar, all beautiful spots with sandy coves. Between Camp de Mar and Port D'Andratx are corniche roads, a twisting journey to Port D'Andratx. Summer vacationers mingle with fishermen in this natural port, which is set against a backdrop of pines. The place was once a haven for smugglers.
Leaving the port, continue northeast along C-719 to reach Andratx, 5km (3 miles) away. Because of frequent raids by Turkish pirates, this town moved inland. Located 31km (19 miles) west of Palma, Andratx is one of the loveliest towns on the island, surrounded by fortifications and boasting a Gothic parish church and the mansion of Son Mas.
After leaving Andratx, take C-710 N, a winding road that runs parallel to the island's jagged northwestern coast. It's the highlight of the trip; most of the road is perched along the cliff edge and shaded by pine trees. It's hard to drive and pay attention to the scenery at the same time. Stop at the Mirador Ricardo Roca for a panoramic view of a series of coves. These coves can be reached only from the sea.
The road continues to Estallenchs, a town of steep slopes surrounded by pine groves, olive and almond trees, and fruit orchards (especially apricot). Estallenchs sits at the foot of the Galatzo mountain peak. Stop and explore some of its steep, winding streets on foot. From the town, you can walk to Cala de Estallenchs cove, where a spring cascades down the high cliffs.
The road winds on to Bañalbufar, 8km (5 miles) from Estallenchs and about 26km (16 miles) west from Palma -- one of the most scenic spots on the island. Set 100m (328 ft.) above sea level, it seems to perch directly over the sea. Mirador de Ses Animes, a belvedere constructed in the 17th century, offers a panoramic view of the coastline.
Many small excursions are possible from here. You might want to venture over to Port d'es Canonge, reached by a road branching out from the C-710 to the north of Bañalbufar. It has a beach, a simple restaurant, and some old fishermen's houses. The same road takes you inland to San Granja, a mansion originally constructed by the Cistercians as a monastery in the 13th century.
Back on C-710, continue to Valldemossa, the town where the composer Frédéric Chopin and the French writer George Sand spent their now-famous winter. After a visit to the Cartuja (Carthusian monastery) where they lived, you can wander at leisure through the steep streets of the Old Town. The cloister of Ses Murteres provides a romantic garden. Note the pharmacy where Chopin, who was often ill during that winter, spent much time. The Carthusian Church is from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Goya's father-in-law, Bayeu, painted the dome's frescoes.
Beyond Valldemossa, the road runs along cliffs some 395m (1,300 ft.) high until they reach San Marroig, the former residence of Archduke Lluis Salvador, which is actually within the town limits of Deià. He erected a small neoclassical temple on a slope overlooking the sea to give visitors a panoramic vista. Son Marroig, his former mansion, has been turned into a museum. From an arcaded balcony, you can enjoy a view of the famous pierced rock, the Foradada, rising out of the water.
By now you have reached Deià, where small tile altars in the streets reproduce scenes from the Calvary. This was the home for many years of the English writer Robert Graves. He is buried at the Campo Santo, the cemetery, which you may want to visit for its panoramic view, if nothing else. Many other foreign painters, writers, and musicians have found inspiration in Deià, which is a virtual Garden of Eden.
Continue north along the highway. You come first to Lluch Alcari, which Archduke Salvador considered one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Picasso retreated here for a short period in the 1950s. The settlement was once the victim of pirate raids, and you can see the ruins of several defense towers.
C-710 continues to Sóller, just 10km (6 miles) from Deià. The urban center has five 16th-century facades, an 18th-century convent, and a parish church of the 16th and 17th centuries. It lies in a broad basin where citrus and olive trees are abundant. Many painters, including Rusiñol, settled here and found inspiration.
Travel 5km (3 miles) north on C-711 to reach the coast and Port de Sóller, one of the best natural shelters along the island. It lies at the back of a bay that is almost round. A submarine base is here today, but it is also a harbor for pleasure craft. It has a lovely beach. The Sanctuary of Santa Catalina dominates one of the best views of the inlet.
After leaving the Sóller area, you face a choice: If you've run out of time, you can cut the tour in half here and head back along C-711 to Palma with two stops along the way. Your other option is to continue north, following the C-710 and local roads, to Cape Formentor, where even more spectacular scenery awaits you. Among the highlights of this coastal detour: Fornalutx, a lofty mountain village with steep cobbled streets, Moorish-tiled roofs, and groves of almond trees; the splendid, hair-raising road to the harbor village of Sa Calobra, plunging to the sea in one area and then climbing arduously past olive groves, oaks, and jagged boulders in another area; and the 13th-century Monasterio de Lluch, some 45km (28 miles) north of Palma, which is home to the Black Virgin of Lluch, the island's patron saint. The well-known "boys' choir of white voices" sings there daily at noon and again at twilight.
Those not taking the coastal detour can head south along C-711 with a stop at Jardins d'Alfàbia (tel. 97-161-31-23; www.jardinesdealfabia.com), Carretera Palma-Sóller Km 17, a former Muslim residence. This estate in the sierra foothills includes both a palace and romantic gardens. In the richly planted gardens, you can wander among pergolas, a pavilion, and ponds. Inside the palace you can see a good collection of Majorcan furniture and an Arabic coffered ceiling. The gardens are open April to October Monday to Saturday 9:30am to 6:30pm; and November to March Monday to Friday 9:30am to 5:30pm, and Saturday 9:30am to 1pm. Admission is 5€.
From Alfàbia, the highway becomes straight and Palma is just 18km (11 miles) away. But before reaching the capital, consider a final stop at Raixa, another charming place, built on the site of an old Muslim hamlet. It stands 1.5km (1 mile) outside the village of Buñola ("Small Vineyard"). The present building was once the estate of Cardinal Despuif and his family, who constructed it in the Italian style near the end of the 1700s. Ruins from Roman excavations are found on the grounds. Rusiñol came here, painting the place several times. Raixa keeps the same hours as Jardins d'Alfàbia.
After Raixa, the route leads directly to the northern outskirts of Palma.
Take the Train -- If you're not driving, you can still reach Sóller aboard a turn-of-the-20th-century narrow-gauge railroad train from Palma. You can catch the train at the Palma Terminal on Calle Eusebio Estada, near Plaça d'Espanya. It runs at 8, 10:50, and 11:50am, and 1:30pm daily, and the fare is 15€ one-way. Call tel. 97-175-20-51 for information.
Majorca's East Coast: The Cava Route
The east coast of Majorca is often called the cava route because of the caves that stud the coastline. Although there are scores, we include only the most important ones; other places mentioned are Manacor, where cultured Majorcan pearls are manufactured; and Petra, home of Fray Junípero Serra, founder of many California missions. In general, Majorca's east coast does not have the dramatic scenery of its west coast, but it has worthy attractions in its own right.
Leave Palma on the freeway, but turn onto Carretera C-715 in the direction of Manacor. About 56km (35 miles) east of Palma, you come to your first stop, Petra.
Petra -- Petra was founded by Jaume II over the ruins of a Roman settlement. This was the birthplace of Father Junípero Serra (1713-84), the Franciscan priest who founded the missions in California that eventually grew into San Diego, Monterey, and San Francisco. A statue commemorates him at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., and you will also see a statue of Father Serra in this, his native village.
Museo Beato Junípero Serra, Carrer Barracar (tel. 97-156-11-49), gives you an idea of how people lived on the island in the 18th century. The property was bought and fixed up by the Rotary Club of San Francisco, which then presented it as a gift to the citizens of Petra in 1972. The museum, 457m (1,499 ft.) from the center of the village, is open every day of the year but doesn't keep regular hours. Visits are by appointment only. Call at least 1 day in advance. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.
Manacor -- The C-715 continues east to Manacor, the town where the famous artificial pearls of Majorca are manufactured. The trade name for the pearls is "Perlas Majórica," so avoid such knockoffs as "Majorca." You can visit the factories where the pearls are made and purchase some if you wish. Jewelry here may be 5% to 10% cheaper than at most retail outlets in Barcelona.
The largest outlet is Perlas Majórica, Vía Majórica (tel. 97-155-02-00), which offers organized tours. On the road to Palma at the edge of town, it is open Monday to Friday 9am to 7pm. On Saturday and Sunday, it is open 9:45am to 3pm. Admission is free. They'll explain how the pearls are made (from fish scales that simulate the sheen of a real pearl). Some 300 artisans work here, shaping and polishing the pearls, and they're used to being watched by foreign visitors while at work. Perlas Majórica carry a 10-year guarantee.
Cuevas del Drach -- From Manacor, take the road southeast to the sea -- about 12km (7 1/2 miles) -- and the town of Porto Cristo, 61km (38 miles) east of Palma. Go .8km (1/2 mile) south of town to Cuevas del Drach (Caves of the Dragon; tel. 97-182-07-53; www.cuevasdeldrach.com). The caves contain an underground forest of stalactites and stalagmites as well as five subterranean lakes, where you can listen to a concert and later go boating a la Jules Verne. The roof appears to glitter with endless icicles. Martel Lake, 176m (577 ft.) long, is the largest underground lake in the world. E. A. Martel, a French speleologist who charted the then-mysterious caves in 1896, described them better than anyone: "As far as the eye can see, marble cascades, organ pipes, lace draperies, pendants or brilliants, hang suspended from the walls and roof." From April to October, tours depart daily every hour from 10am to 5pm; from November to March, they depart daily at 10:45am, noon, 2, and 3:30pm. Admission is 11€.
If you don't have a car, you can take one of the four daily buses that leave from the railroad station in Palma. (Inquire at the tourist bureau in Palma for departure times.) The buses pass through Manacor on the way to Porto Cristo.
Cuevas del Ham -- Discovered in 1906, these caves, whose name means "fish hooks," are .8km (1/2 mile) from Porto Cristo on the road to Manacor. Cuevas del Ham (tel. 97-182-09-88) are far less impressive than Cuevas del Drach and can be skipped if you're rushed. Tours depart every 10 minutes daily April to October 10am to 6pm, and November to March daily 10:30am to 5pm. Admission is 11€ for adults, free for children 11 and under. These caves contain white stalactites and follow the course of an underground river. The river links to the sea, so the water level inside the cave's pools rises and falls according to the tides.
Cuevas de Artà -- Near Platja de Canyamel (Playa de Cañamel, on some maps), Cuevas de Artà (tel. 97-184-12-93; www.cuevasdearta.com) occupy a stretch of land closing Canyamel Bay to the north. These caves are said to be the inspiration for the Jules Verne tale Journey to the Center of the Earth, published in 1864. (Verne may have heard or read about the caves; it is not known if he ever actually visited them.) Formed by seawater erosion, the caves are about 32m (105 ft.) above sea level, and some of the chambers rise about 46m (151 ft.).
You enter an impressive vestibule and immediately see walls blackened by the torches used to light the caves for early tourists in the 1800s. The Reina de las Columnas (Queen of the Columns) rises about 22m (72 ft.) and is followed by a lower room whose Dante-esque appearance has led to it being called "Inferno." It is followed by a field of stalagmites and stalactites (the "Purgatory Rooms,") which eventually lead to the "Theater" and "Paradise."
The caves were once used by pirates, and centuries ago they provided a haven for Spanish Moors fleeing the persecution of Jaume I. The stairs in the cave were built for Isabella II for her 1860 visit. In time, such luminaries as Sarah Bernhardt, Alexandre Dumas, and Victor Hugo arrived for the tour. Tours depart daily May to October, every half-hour from 10am to 6pm, off season 10am to 5pm. Admission is 10€.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.