Shoulder Season in Mallorca
The Mediterranean island of Mallorca is a popular tourist destination each summer. Of the Spanish island’s 28 million annual visitors, most arrive during July and August creating a congested mess. Savvy travelers know that the same sunny beaches, cerulean waters, 5-star hotels, spas, and restaurants (including 8 Michelin stars!) can be enjoyed in the spring and fall without the long lines and endless summer traffic.
Best Time to Visit Mallorca
I went in May. Other perfect times to visit are April, June, September, and October. The average temperature for the water and the air is in the 70s, people are friendly, reservations for fine dining and lodging are readily available, lines are short to non-existent, and there are plenty of places to park. Shoulder season in Mallorca is delightful.
Art & Culture in Mallorca
Besides the beaches, Mallorca is a cultural destination too. Palma’s 13th-century Cathedral of Santa Maria is a many-spired, gothic edifice on the water, sporting the largest rose window in Europe, and a wrought-iron canopy over the altar by Gaudí. On the hilltop above Palma is the rare, round Bellver Castle, built in the 14th century for King James II of Mallorca. His royal residence next to the Cathedral was connected to the castle by a 3-kilometer tunnel so he could race to its security when marauders threatened. The castle is now a performance space that houses Palma’s history museum, and the tunnel is used by the police as a confiscated auto compound.
The artist Joan Miró Museum and the Baluard Contemporary Art museum are also in Palma. Outside the city, you’ll find the UNESCO World Heritage scenic mountain reserve site of Serra de Tramuntana, and the ancient cities of Valldemossa, Pollenca, Sineu, and Alcudia to explore.
Things to do in Mallorca
The opportunities for lodging are as varied as the cultural activities. From tiny boutique hotels to healthy agritourism on a 12th-century estate, and from a luxury hotel in the artsy mountain village of Deia, to the indulgent beach-front hotel that comes with adult fantasy rooms, Mallorca offers plenty of places to stretch your legs and your libido. Or, you could always just lie on the beach at an all-inclusive resort.
But Mallorca is so much more than a beach vacation. There’s a century-old train ride through scenic mountain valleys from Palma north to Sóller, taken by commuters as well as tourists, and hot air balloon rides at sunrise over medieval villages that will thrill every family member.
There’s hiking and bicycling, and sailing ships to take you from port to port around the island, stopping for swimming and snorkeling along the way. There’s even spelunking, with both above water and below water caves to explore for the truly adventurous. In short, Mallorca offers plenty of excitement and exercise to burn off all the calories this culinary island is famous for.
The Foods of Mallorca
As an island, naturally the seafood is spectacular and as fresh as you can imagine. The most coveted is the red prawn, which looks and tastes like a baby lobster. It is usually served in the shell with the head attached, ready to be ripped open and attacked with your bare hands. Squid and its better-tasting cousin, the cuttlefish, are very popular but pale before the rich, flavorful octopus. All three have places on a Mallorcan seafood platter, but I liked the octopus, or pulpo, the best.
Any culinary discussion about Mallorca must include my two favorite island foods. The most-loved pastry ensaïmada de Mallorca is a sweet, yeasty spiral of dough made with pork lard called saïm. It can be served plain, but when filled with pastry cream and dusted with powdered sugar it can be heavenly. And that is from a man who normally doesn’t eat sweets! I had it with breakfast, lunch, and afternoon coffee, and jumped at almost any excuse to taste its luscious goodness. Ensaïmada is the real comfort food of Mallorca.
My second favorite Mallorcan specialty is their sobrasada, or pork sausage. Its shape and ingredients are similar to chorizo, (pork loin/belly, paprika, salt, pepper, and spices) but with a finer grind and shorter curing period, meaning sobrasada can be spread rather than sliced. I’ve had it as a breakfast meat, but as a smear on bread, toasted, or with cornichons or olives, it makes great tapas. Sobrasada is a versatile addition to any charcuterie board.
A traditional dish, “sopas mallorcquinas”, is harder to rave about, partly because my digestion was “off” and partly because its reliance on cruciferous vegetables – cauliflower & cabbage – left a bitter taste in my mouth. That being said, it is worth trying this “dry soup” made with bread, seasonal vegetables, and sometimes meat, which can be thick and enriching on a cool night.
No description of Mallorca would be complete without mentioning all there is to drink. Tianna Negre is a top Mallorca winery with an exemplary white. In fact, Mallorca is known for its white wines. There are also good serviceable reds, and some quite surprising in their elegance, like the 2005 Rogent from Bodega Son Sureda Ric, or their organic 2008 Ric Pur, that can only be tasted on the island. Finally, two local aperitifs or digestives are Rom Amazona, a sweet specialty liqueur based on rum, and Túnel, a traditional herb liqueur with the anise stem in the bottle.
That’s all the reasons to visit Mallorca. Below is the info you need to EAT – DRINK – STAY in Mallorca, plus this reminder – try to avoid visiting in July or August.
Hotels in Mallorca
Iberostar Grand Portals Nous in Calviá, Mallorca
Their 5-star service is over-the-top, but their “fantasy” rooms are a special treat. (One is reminiscent of “50 Shades of Gray”).
Es Picarol Sineu
A true boutique hotel on a narrow street in the old part of Sineu. It’s a restored ancient house run by two guys who keep a beautiful kitchen and a lovely courtyard to be enjoyed by guests.
A luxury hotel so well integrated into the hillside and surrounding village of artists that it is difficult to see where one ends and the other begins. Stay here for the pampering experience (and occasional celebrity sighting) as well as for the proximity to the home/museum of Robert Graves.
True agritourism in a 13th-century estate renovated to the highest levels of luxury. You’ll find: hiking, birding, biking, and great dining all in a laid back “Farm to Table” lifestyle in the middle of the island of Mallorca.
Bakery: Fornet de la Soca – Chef Tomeu Arbona learned pure local Mallorcan baking from the women in his family as he was growing up on a local estate. He and his wife together run their bakery, where it is their commitment to preserve and teach traditional Mallorcan recipes. Their bakery is wildly successful and recently their whole wheat grain bread won an award for the Best Bread in Spain. I especially liked their ensaïmada de Mallorca.
Sailing Ship: Rafael Verdera – fully restored wooden sailing ship for harbor and island cruises. www.rafaelverdera.com