A Small Island in the Balearic Sea. While pouring ressources into commercialising its Balearic sisters, Mallorca and Ibiza, Franco plainly neglected Menorca in the ’50s and ’60s, which, combined with the fact that it was declared a Unesco Biosphere Reserve in the ’90s, has preserved it as a serene, rural paradise attracting the kind of people who love good quality simple living. While there are no highrises, very few tacky tourist traps and only a single highway on the island, it’s brimming with delicious local produce and artisanal goods, hip boutique hotels and gourmet eateries set amidst quaint, well-kept whitewashed villages and rich and rugged natural beauty. What first opened our eyes to this paradise and made us book the trip after planning to attend a wedding in Barcelona, was this article in SUITCASE, sent to us by our friend and editor of HYHOI, who once spent a summer windsurfing off the coast of Fornells, in the north of the island, where her parents also own some land. Forbes’ Top 5 Reasons To Visit Menorca (And Why You’ll Love It More Than Mallorca and Ibiza) as well as Times’ Take It Real Slow in Unspoilt Menorca, served as additional alluring advocates. As such, armed with Google maps stars for goodies tried and tested by Nina as well as by our friend Lara, editor of Hola Foodie, we boarded the 30-minute or so flight from Barcelona for five days of pure bliss.
Our Impressions. Balmy 22-27 degrees, mildest of mild autumn vibes, sunshine for the most part, one day with light rain. Sun-bleached villages everywhere we go – pretty villas and stately farms. The plazas and narrow, winding streets are vibrant in the morning and evening, with people sitting outside their houses, chatting, laughing, sipping coffee and wine in the sun, nodding at passers-by – and dead-silent during the siesta hours. Rolling hills, rugged coastal topography, virgin beaches. Proud traditions – biodynamic food and wine, luminous art, characteristic shoe and clothing design and manufacturing. Charm. Friendly faces. Tourism concentrated in small enclaves in the coastal towns – easy to avoid (but this is also off-season). That characteristic dry, fragrant smell of Spain, even if the humidity is higher here than on the mainland. It’s pine and chamomile, the smell. We buy bags of dried chamomile to use for tea. Hiking along roads less travelled for some sweeping rocky landscape views, some pristine sand, some crystal clear water, some ‘hola, buen día’ exchanged with cheerful residents and some exquisite local 🍅🌶🍞🐟☕️🍷🎨🎶. In the always energising and calming company of Sanoop. Menorca, with your idyllic coves everywhere we turned (80 in total!) – you made us stop and stare and beam at each other for several seconds … before taking a trillion photos, incl. snaps of all of the real estate agents’ seaside villa listings, and running like carefree kids down to jump in the warm water. An island that’s small and easy to navigate – yet sufficiently big and versatile for us to want to go back and experience more.
First Evening – our Airbnb cottage. The fabled serene silence hits us as soon as we touch down, just a few miles inland from the dramatically rocky south-facing shores. Fetching our rental car, we make a quick stop in Sant Climent, our first encounter with one of those snow white villages dotting the island, to do some light shopping in an impressively well-assorted though tiny and unassuming grocery store – we pick up tubs of aioli, hummus and almond-based yoghurt, a loaf of freshly baked sourdough bread, Spanish avocados and pears, anchovies in olive oil, olives, a litre of gazpacho pre-made from all-natural ingredients, big bottles of water – before heading towards our home in the small seaside village of Alcaufar, located a mere 7 min drive from the airport and 2 min walk from the sea. Set in a small, neat garden with a giant pine in front of the porch, the small cottage is adorable – white (obviously), cosy and clean. The hostess greets us warmly – showing us around the small, charming rooms and the rooftop terrace and pointing out the yummy local delicacies she’s left in the fridge for us – before leaving us to a quiet evening, the first time we’re alone in 5 days. After enjoying a light, late dinner, we head up on the roof to watch the stars – twinkling a lot clearer here than in Barcelona or Singapore. This is a great spot – we figured it would be a nice point of departure for exploring the island; small quaint seaside village close to the airport and largest town on the island, Mahón, but, well, on the same time, it doesn’t take more than 45 minutes to drive to the opposite end of the island, and perhaps we’ll find a favourite spot somewhere entirely different to stay next time we visit, but for now, on this first night in town, it seems pretty good for a holiday home.
Day 2 – South / West:
- Morning walk, yoga, standing still and soaking in the atmosphere in Cala d’Alcaufar, which reminds me of something out of a The ‘Fives’ Book – the cosy cottages along sloping streets leading down to the water, the rough stone paving hugging the coast below the cliffs, the rustling sound and salty smell of the soft waves hitting land, the wooden fishing boats, the magical stillness, the magical early sunlight… ahhh.
- Adventurous little hike through the shrubbery from ‘our’ cala to Caló Roig, where we walk into the water for a refreshing dip – followed by an adventurous drive along the coast to all of the beautiful calas we hit like pearls on a string along the coast: Cala Torret, Cala Binibèquer, Binibeca, Caló Blanc, Cala de Binidalí, the latter of which has a stunning outlook point, Mirador de Cala de Binidalí (next time we get to this part of the world, I want to check out Cova d’en Xoroi).
- Perched on the westernmost tip of Menorca, Ciutadella enjoys romantic seaside sunset views and fresh salty breezes. It’s a place of swanky hotels, acclaimed eateries, galleries boasting gorgeous local art and artisanal fashion stores and gourmet delis. It has a slightly manicured feel, at least relative to Fornells and Mahón. We walk around the fish market, check out Bar Imperi and Hotel Can Faustino, enjoy an exquisite lunch in the cosy courtyard of Rels Restaurant – raw mackerel with pickled onion, crunchy cauliflower and almond hummus, mussels with proudly homemade mayonnaise, salty cod cakes and glorious bread – and feel the dreamy silence of the siesta descending on the town 2-5pm…
- Late afternoon loop down to Far d’Artrutx – one of the many beautiful lighthouses on the island. We enjoy a drink in its creatively decorated little outdoor cafe while watching the sunset…
- Head back to Ciutadella for some tasty seafood at S’Amarador on the marina.
Day 3 – South / Central:
- Camí de Cavalls is a path that runs through forest, shrubbery and sandy coves along the entire coastline of Menorca. We hop on an off throughout the week. This morning, we find it just behind our house and follow it to Cala Rafalet, hidden deep in sloping forest. All alone here, we climb carefully across the rocks to get further and further up and out towards the crashing waves…
- Even driving down to the most heralded beaches on the island, Cala en Turqueta, Cala Macarella and Cala Macarelleta, is a quiet, solitary ride along very narrow, very bumpy rural paths, featuring no roadside advertising or tourist shops. We swim – and do headstands, haha. Lovely!
- Visiting small inland villages with a very local feel; still charming, full of kids playing on playgrounds and adults taking their time reading the newspaper at alfresco cafes, but just a bit more … low-key, everyday-like, less ornate and manicured than the coastal towns: Ferreries and Es Mercadel.
- Another delightful seafood dinner – this time at Es Molí de Foc in Sant Climent.
Day 4 – North / East:
- We drive far along one single unpaved country road to get to a hiking trail zigzagging through a vast hilly, rugged, windswept expanse of ochre-coloured soil and cliffs and low-lying fragrant shrubbery – leading us to a glorious sight: sculptural rock formations, bright red sand and luminous shades of blue. Cala Pregonda. We spend a good 3-4 hours reading, meditating and gazing at the natural colour palette of northern Menorca from this spot. Swimming in the clean, clean water. Head back to the car when we get hungry – quick and cheerful picnic of avocado, quinoa crackers and overly ripe peaches.
- Next stop: the stunning beach of Cala Tirant and lovely town of Fornells – charming marina promenade, shiny yachts, cute winding streets, giant olive trees, delightful al fresco cafes… we soak in the golden hour with a glass of chilled white wine… jump in the calm water from the promenade…
- Towards evening we reach the island’s well-maintained, lively capital, Mahón, which is set on a ridge above the harbour – the largest natural port in the Mediterranean and the second only to Pearl Harbour in the world! – and dressed in elegant, regal architecture, clearly reflecting the legacy of the 18th century British occupation, with bow-fronted pastel-coloured buildings and sash windows. We swing by the baroque cloister that’s now housing a delicious, vibrant food market for a few tapas and a glass of wine before heading up to Jardí de Ses Bruixes Boutique Hotel for a romantic courtyard dinner. Before we leave the lovely hotel, Sanoop gets me this ring, created by local designer Cristina Arcos, who exhibits her work in the lobby. We wander back to the car, which is parked down by the port, slowly, past buzzing wine bars, plazas with live music and playing kids, other couples enjoying an evening walk in soft light…
Day 5 – East:
- Misty-transitioning-to-clear morning light in our tranquil cove at the easternmost tip of Spain. Sunlight creeping up across the rocks. Sun salutations have never seemed like a more appropriate outdoor morning exercise, haha.
- Delightful breakfast and cortado con leche de avena at Pipet & Co on a beautiful plaza just off the port in Mahón – good morning music, clear sunshine and the smell of toasted sourdough bread, garlic and freshly ground coffee filling the balmy air… mmm! This is the October edition of Sanoop’s 2017 Christmas gift, a monthly breakfast in a place we haven’t been to before, which has had us enjoy our morning coffee in Venice, Melbourne, Sydney, Ubud, Juelsminde, various neighbourhoods of Singapore – and now Mahón!
- Long, slow mid-morning hike around Parc Natural S’Albufera des Grau. I just love the fact that you can immerse yourself in lush, serene nature a mere 10-minute drive from a capital! On the way back, we stop at just one final beautiful little beach, Cala Presili. And meander around just one final lovely little village, Es Grau, maybe the most charming we’ve visited all week…
- Lunch back in Mahón, at a hippie happy vegan place. Sharing a vegan brownie for dessert, sitting across a stone wall on the edge of the cliff overlooking the port and taking in the sweeping views before our late-afternoon departure.
¡la realidad es mejor que nuestros sueños y nuestra imaginación!
Barcelona. Friday night and Saturday morning back in the city. Late night paella on the beach with friends followed by cocktails at some hip boutique hotel. Morning run around Exiample. Browsing through the Sant Antoni Market, enjoying the sensory impressions of the fresh produce and the locals enjoying their morning cortado by the stalls. Getting our own cortado fix at Morrow before heading out on a little walking tour of Gaudí’s most iconic works to wrap up our Spain-trip. 3:30pm flight to Singapore.
Holiday. This trip is our first ‘actual’ holiday alone together, in the sense that it isn’t hooked onto a work trip or planned with the purpose of spending time with family. It’s just the two of us hanging out together. As such, I thought I’d talk a bit about my holiday mood success criteria. First and foremost – to set the intention for the trip, or for each day – do you want to relax or explore, or a mix; do you want nature or culture, or a mix? What about your partner / group? Second – check back in frequently with yourself and your fellow holidaymaker(s) and see what each moment calls for – what’s the energy level like? When in a new place, I most often am quite keen to quickly scan the place and see where the energy is best … what if the grass is a bit greener on the other side of the island? I often have a lot of stars on my Google map which I’m eager to check out … and tend to neglect signs of fatigue on this quest. But at the same time, with this trip for example, I know my priorities: 1) quality time with Sanoop; 2) being present and enjoying each moment, because otherwise those stars are nothing but hot air anyway. Sanoop gets turned off by too many stimuli and agendas, but at the same time, I know he quite quickly gets bored, so the key is to just keep my mental itineraries to myself, just like I’d do as a child and teenager when travelling with my family, and be quite ready to adapt them to the moment. Generally, luckily, we travel really well together: we’re both curious and attracted to lovely places … and will both happily sit in one spot for a while, soaking in impressions or meditating, or sprint along, eager to see what’s around the next corner, and the next, and maybe meander towards this shiny thing over there or follow that tune … We both like to walk, a lot, and to strike a balance between culture and nature … To us, it’s definitely key to observe moments of meditation between actions: moments to reset – to maintain a healthy holiday flow in the stimuli brought on by exploring all day 🙂