Minorca (also written "Menorca") is one of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean; miles of lovely beaches have made it a longtime favorite vacation spot for Europeans.

The island is barely 15km (9 miles) wide and less than 52km (32 miles) long. Its principal city is Mahón (also called Maó; pop. 25,000), set on a rocky bluff overlooking the great port, which was fought over for centuries by the British, French, and Spanish.

After Majorca, it is the second largest of the Spanish Balearic Islands, but it has more beaches than Majorca, Ibiza, and Formentera combined -- they range from miles-long silver or golden crescents of sand to rocky bays, or calas, reminiscent of Norwegian fjords. Our favorite is Cala'n Porter, 11km (7 miles) west of Mahón. Towering promontories guard the slender estuary where this spectacular beach is found. Another of Minorca's treasures, Cala de Santa Galdana, is 23km (14 miles) south of Ciudadela. Its gentle bay and excellent sandy beach afford the most scenic spot on the island. Illa d'en Colom, an island in the Mahón bay, is bordered with great beaches but can be reached only by boat.

The beaches along 217km (135 miles) of pine-fringed coastline are the island's greatest attraction, although many are not connected by roads. Nude bathing is commonplace, even though the practice is officially illegal. Golf, tennis, and sailing are available at reasonable fees, and windsurfing is offered at all major beaches.

With more than 60,000 permanent inhabitants, Minorca plays host to about half a million visitors a year. But it is not overrun with tourist developments and has none of the junky excess that has plagued Ibiza and Majorca for years.

Unlike those islands, Minorca is not utterly dependent on tourism; it has some industry, including leatherwork, costume-jewelry production, dairy farming, and even gin manufacturing. Life here is quiet and relaxed; it is not a place to go for glittering nightlife. Some clubs in Ibiza don't even open until 4am, but on Minorca nearly everybody, local and visitor alike, is in bed well before then.

In addition to trips to the beach, there are some fascinating things to do for those interested in history, archaeology, music, and art. Many artists live in Minorca, and exhibitions of their work are listed regularly in the local paper. The Catedral de Santa María in Mahón has one of Europe's great pipe organs, at which world-famous organists have given free concerts.