When we found ourselves headed there unexpectedly, we didn’t realize it would steal our hearts seven different ways. Off season Mallorca is better.
Don’t you love it when you arrive at a destination you’ve never visited and right away you can’t believe your luck? Off season Mallorca was like that for us.
Redeeming timeshare exchanges can be somewhat of a crapshoot. When a place in off season Mallorca popped up, budget plane fare sealed the deal. Our hearts were stolen by this Mediterranean island, as others have been. But we realize we were lucky enough to get an experience many (and there are very many in high season!) visitors never have.
We spent two weeks on Mallorca and found it fairly easy to find our way around. Driving on the right cancelled out the language issues. (Hint: even though native Mallorcans speak a Catalán dialect as their first language, your high school Spanish will do just fine.)
We tried to get to opposite sides of the island during our stay and succeeded. Mallorca is divided into regional districts called camarques, with each camarca having a town or village seat, much like counties do in the U.S.
Unlike most visitors, we didn’t spend much time in the main city of Palma at all. Nor did we care to visit the popular, but Vegas-y, hotel and restaurant strip along the North Shore in new Alcúdia. We could see how those areas could easily get crowded and emit a different kind of energy than we prefer, particularly in the high season. Instead, we chose smaller towns and villages, quieter roads, and leisurely outings. These turned out to be what we think is a more authentic experience.
We’ve listed a lucky 7 ways you might conclude a visit to off season Mallorca is better, too:
1. Wander virtually alone down backroads and byways leading to Roman ruins and prehistoric megaliths. Mallorca is an island built with stone. Stone walls line narrow country roads. They divide fields and orchards, and they terrace mountainsides. You’ll be humbled, as we were, by the realization that everything you see was gathered, cut and placed by hand.
Remnants of previous civilizations are wondrously accessible as modern life goes on around them. The taliots of Capocorb Vell, dating from the Iron Age, were steps away from our favorite little roadside restaurant in rural Llucmajor camarca.
Pollentia is the most significant archaeological site on Mallorca from Roman times. The site, while still under partial excavation, is ideal for visitors, with a looping path to the various parts of the former city. When we visited, there were less than half a dozen others on the site. Founded in the first century B.C., Pollentia was the island capital until the 5th century Vandal invasion. You’ll see the remains of housing, public buildings including a temple, and a small amphitheater which was later used as a cemetery.
2. Imagine Barbary pirates, invaders and smugglers. Strategically located, Mallorca has been invaded over the centuries by Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Moors, Normans, and Bourbons, to name just a few. Built for protection and communication, Mallorca’s medieval watch towers remain scattered all over the island. Mallorcans could defend and broadcast warnings using smoke or fire from coastal towers. These were strategically placed using sophisticated calculations designed by mathematician Joan Baptista Binimelis in the 16th century.
Individual landholders also built towers which are now mimicked as elements in modern architecture.
Pirates and smugglers throughout the centuries have used Mallorca’s calas (coves) along the coastline as places to cache their loot and evade capture. It’s hard to imagine prettier hideouts.
3. Sample Herbes de Mallorca. This is a delicious herbal liqueur, unique to the island. At the close of our first meal on Mallorca, the bill was presented on a tray with two snifters containing a bright green liqueur. “What is this?” we wondered. “To your health!” was the reply. Outstanding was our verdict. Tunel, the most common brand, dates from the 1890’s, but the liqueur has been around since the 13th century when distillation methods were improved. The predominant note is anise, but other aromatic plants such as lemon verbena, rosemary, camomile, and fennel are also used and sometimes appear in the bottle.
4. Don’t worry about running into lots of tourists. Particularly Americans: they’re few and far between. More than 10 million tourists come to Mallorca each year, the vast majority of them in the summer. Americans don’t even number in the top ten countries from which tourists come. Germany takes the prize with 3.7 million German tourists per year. The UK comes in next with 2.1 million. Most of the tourists we encountered were German and Italian. Don’t get us wrong, we love our countrymen! But sometimes it’s nice to be the only ones, too. Off-season Mallorca is better without having to fight a crowd.
5. Indulge in world-class cuisine served in very unexpected places. We really didn’t know what to expect when it came to food on Mallorca, but we should have told ourselves, “It’s Spain, the food will be amazing.” And it is. From the most out of the way location you might imagine (try literally on the side of a mountain) to restaurants in a former bank, theatre or even almond press, the food in Mallorca is superb. And inexpensive! Feast your eyes here and check the information at the end of this post for details.
6. Go up and down the mountains. Many summer tourists never leave the beachside cities. They may arrive by cruise ship and have a shore excursion in Palma or go north from the airport to Alcúdia’s glamorous hotel strip. Others ensconce in smaller resorts along the many calas (coves) to sunbathe and relax. We recommend you head for the hills.
The serpentine road to Sa Calobra in the Escorca camarca is a breathtaking climb with a 270 degree loop under itself (called “the knotted tie”) at its highest point. Then you make your way down again through the Torrent de Pareis gorge, sometimes called Mallorca’s Grand Canyon. Drive it yourself as we did (well, Pete did the driving and I did the gasping), or take a bus tour. We passed many intrepid cyclists on this road and thought they were insane.
Make the climb to the Santuari de Sant Salvador on the highest point of the Serra de Llevant in the Felanitx camarca. You can do this on foot if you’re a hardy pilgrim, as there are beautiful tile stations of the cross to mark your way. If you’re a cyclist, you’ll get a different workout and an exhilarating ride back down. Needless to say, we drove. The reward? Beautiful religious monuments, views to forever, a former monastery turned hotel, and a lovely restaurant.
Take the historic train, Ferrocarril de Sóller, from Palma to Sóller. From the train station, you can take a tram to Port de Sóller on the water. Sóller boasts a beautiful church designed by Gaudí in the center of town. On your way back, make time to enjoy the free art exhibitions in the train station. It’s an unexpected way to get a dose of Miró and Picasso. This train has been in operation since 1912.
7. Hang out in a vintage village. Probably the most popular is the Old Town of Alcúdia, a 14th century walled village with towers at each corner. Old Town is literally across the street from the Roman ruins of Pollentia, so you can make a wonderful day of it, as we did.
Sleepy little villages like Santanyí don’t get many visitors in the off season.
Our favorite day of the two weeks we spent on Mallorca occurred in the perhaps-overlooked town of Llucmajor, located in the camarca of the same name. Like most villages, life centers around the central plaza here. On the day we visited, what appeared to be a fundraising event turned into an impromptu street dance. A traditional Mallorquí xeremier band (a xeremia is similar to the bagpipes, and the flabiol they play is like an ocarina or recorder) got things going.
The dance troupe and musicians encouraged all to participate.
I kept thinking of 5th grade in the U.S., when we were forced to square dance. How everyone hated it! But everybody – all ages! – in Llucmajor seemingly loved the traditional dancing. What a sense of community!
Have you visited Mallorca? If so, what did you think? If you haven’t, let us clue you in: off season Mallorca is better.
Practicalities, Tips and Information:
We arrived in mid-April, just after the almond trees had finished flowering. Many guides, as does this blogger from Estonia, suggest booking your stay during the month of March for the bloom. Others recommend the fall. We encountered many cyclists on the roads. It’s a popular time for them to come ahead of the tourist traffic and before the summer weather turns hot, so be warned. Swimming pools and sea water are cold (by our standards, at least), although brave European kids of all ages were in the water.
Vintage train to Sóller: Ferrocarril de Sóller S.A., Central Offices and Sóller Station, Plaça d’Espanya, 6., 07100 Sóller. Phone: 971-630130. Station Palma de Mallorca, Eusebio Estada, 1., 07004 Palma de Mallorca. Phone: 971-752051 y 971-752028 Trains run daily, except during January. Check website for schedules and fares.
Capocorb Vell Archaeological Site, located off Highway Ma6014, Kilometer 23, Llucmajor. Admission fee: around €5
Museu Monográfic de Pollèntia I Zona Arqueològica, Major, 9 – 07400, Alcúdia. Tel. 971 89 71 02 Downloadable guide. Admission fee: €7
Restaurant Escorca, Ma10 Highway, Escorca. Tel. 971 517 09
Año 1849 Restaurant, Plaça Major, 22, Santanyí, Tel. 971 653 823
Bistro 1909, Facebook Page, two locations on Plaça de Constitution, Old Town, Alcúdia. Tel. 971 54 95 88
Restaurante Ca’s Busso, Carretera Cap Blanc (Ma6014), Km 24, 07609 Llucmajor. Tel. 971 12 30 02
Café Colón, Plaza España No. 17, 07620, Llucmajor. Tel. 971 660 002