I never would have thought to go to Mallorca if it hadn't been for the book by Floortje Dessing I have about her 100 favourite places in the world. I needed some inspiration on where to go, so I looked through what she had listed for places in Europe and there I found what she wrote about the mountains of Mallorca and about a cheap stay in a monastery. The description of the setting of the monastery, a quiet place in the mountains where you wake to the ringing of sheep's bells, plus the fact that it was so cheap, had me sold. And it ended up being a brilliant holiday.
I didn't go immediately to the monastery at Lluc, I first spent about a day and a half in Palma. I didn't do much specific there except wander around, but that was an experience on its own. I did go to see the city's cathedral, a big thing hunkered down near the sea which was quite impressive. But mostly I remember wandering around the old town, which I did for at least a couple of hours one evening. I was completely enchanted by the maze of alley-like streets and I went back for another wander after dinner. The first time was memorable because it was right at dusk, with the street lamps just coming on and a wonderful evening colour in the sky. When I went back after dinner, it was then fully dark (being farther south, it gets dark sooner there than in the Netherlands) and the streets were nearly deserted. Often the only sound was my footsteps, though I could occasionally hear a TV from inside one of the houses I passed.
I was surprised by how early things seemed to close in Palma. The first night I went searching for a place to eat dinner, I found most cafes and restaurants closing up at only 9:00. What happened to the Mediterranean habit of beginning
dinner at 9? I did find an area with a lot of restaurants still bustling, but it was actually the touristy area of town, where the menus were in German and there were people at the door trying to entice you to come in. It was all backwards.
During my full day in Palma, I actually didn't spend much of it there, but I took a train to the town of Sóller
. It's a very touristy thing to do, but the trip, on this old, wooden, narrow-gauge train, through the mountains and then down into the valley where Sóller
is, was very much worthwhile. Sóller
was a lovely little town (though pretty much every town I visited was) and it's known for being in an area that grows oranges, as well as lemons, but it's the oranges they're famous for. They make an orange liqueur, and you can find freshly-squeezed orange juice everywhere and it's yummy stuff. It's still unique to me to see oranges and lemons growing in people's backyards, but then they'd probably be amazed to see an apple tree.
you can take an old rickety tram down to Port de Sóller,
where there's a wide bay with a harbour and a bit of beach and the waterfront is lined with souvenir shops and restaurants. By the time I got there, the sun was really breaking out. It had been raining all through the previous night and most of the morning, but in Sóller
things started to get warmer and at the port it was definitely beach-going weather. The only downside was that, because of the rain in the morning, I had both my sweatshirt and my rainjacket with me, so I ended up lugging them around for the rest of the day. But I was happy to see the sun and I did wade a bit in the bay. I was surprised to see some fish swimming just a couple of feet from shore; I don't think I've ever seen fish that close to a beach.
On Monday I picked up my rental car and headed out of Palma. In the end driving in Spain wasn't so bad, if only because in most of the places I went most of the other drivers were tourists as well. Many times I would see a car stopped in the middle of the road while the passenger took a photo. I did however hate the roundabouts, maybe because we don't have them in the US, so I don't know the rules about them. I once had to use a busy, 3-lane roundabout to make a U-turn (so I went all the way around) and I just held my breath and went and somehow got out of it without crashing into anyone else. Also meeting a huge coach trying to come up a mountain road full of switchbacks is not fun. You have to keep an eye on whether there are any further down the road and wait in a safe spot where they can pass you.
So after Palma, I stayed for 3 nights in the Lluc monastery and it was a brilliant place. The room exceeded my expectations, I mean, since they are described as former monk's cells, I wasn't sure exactly how basic these rooms were going to be. But I had a double bed, a little desk with a TV, and a bathroom that was huge for a "hotel" room, plus wonderful views of the rest of the monastery and the little hill behind it, all for 26 eur a night. There was quite a bit to do around the monastery itself. There is the basilica which houses the reason for the monastery's existence, a little statue of Mary holding a baby Jesus which was apparently found by a boy in the nearby hills. Twice a day the boys' choir sings, though when I went to see them I discovered that it no longer is a boys-only choir. The kids of the choir live at the monastery and are schooled there. There is a botanic garden, which I didn't get around to seeing, but I did go on the Ways of the Rosary walk that goes up the hill, topped by a large cross, that I could see from my room. The walk is for pilgrims to circuit and ponder the life of Jesus, but for the non-religious, the walk offered amazing views over the monastery on one side and a valley on the other. I mostly was gone during the day, when tons of tourists were deposited to visit the church and hear the choir, and when I returned in the evening they were all gone and it was so peaceful and you really felt that you were away from it all. I loved when it was around dusk, when sheep would wander onto the monastery grounds and you'd hear them baaing and their bells would be clanging, and then the kids from the school would be out playing football and you'd hear their yells, and the church bell would ring the hour...
During the day I got out and saw a few of the small towns along the northern part of the island, nestled away in the mountain range that extends along there, called Serra de Tramuntana. It was one quaint town after another, filled with more old, narrow streets that I never got sick of wandering through, and in between towns, driving on twisty roads through beautiful, rocky mountains. It made for a tough week. ;) I'll let my photos tell the stories there and hope that by the time I edit the photos I can still keep the towns straight.
As for the food (what?! I have to mention the food...), I tried many of the Mallorcan specialities. I had many an ensaimada, a flaky, spiral-shaped pastry with powdered sugar sprinkled on top. I brought back a large one filled with cream to share at work and it's hard to let it sit there all weekend. There was tumbet, basically it's like ratatouille, it has eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, and red peppers cooked in tomato sauce. Simple but yummy. For lunch one day I had pa amb oli, "bread with oil", crusty bread drizzled with olive oil and then topped with serrano ham and cheese. I ate a couple of times at a restaturant at the monastery that served traditional Mallorcan food. The best dish I had there was a chicken stew, drumsticks served in a stew of potatoes, carrots, and peas. I don't know what it was exactly, but it smelled so wonderful, a bit sweet, like cinnamon was added. And the potatoes were so good, very flavourful, not like the mushy lumps of starch that I'm used to. Another night I had probably the best roast chicken I've ever had.
Oh, on the last day of the trip, I did leave the mountains behind and drive to the flatter center of the island. I visited one nice little town where I wandered around and had lunch, but the rest of the day was pretty unremarkable and I didn't take any photos the entire day. I went to a town on the southern coast, but it was full of rich Germans in fancy cafes and was just not my thing at all. It also got all hazy, so the last day was unfortunately rather disappointing, but I'll just put it out of mind and remember the rest of the trip.