MALLORCA has moved on. Cheap flights there don’t have to combine with containment in cut-price resorts or the 800-room hotels that still straddle the likes of Magaluf. It’s easier to be adventurous. These days visitors are more likely to bump into a boutique lodging than a chip butty.
'I drifted into a sun-dappled forest fantasy inspired by the setting and signature treatments such as lavender immersion’
Small hotels, upmarket chains and agroturismos are expanding at a pace. In 2003, there were over 180 farm-style accommodations on this gorgeous isle. And there’s plenty of choice for chi-chi holiday makers too, as I discovered at the adults-only spa hotel of Barcelo Illetas Albatro in Ses Illeteas just to the north of the capital, Palma.
With no nagging alarm to wake us, my old school friend Emma and I unfurled in the 70C heat and views of the sea from our balcony on day one. Barely a bird stirred as dogs bathed in the sunshine below and we rooted around for bikinis. Pale legs turned biscuit-coloured and smiles spread across our cheeks. It was good times (and minibar wine) on the fifth floor as we entered that holiday frame of mind.
Given the excellent weather (70C was magnificent for early March), we confined our initial forays to the hotel’s spa complex. Tucked away under the outdoor pool (still a little cool to brave), the décor of low, wine-cellar style roof and heated tiles lent a hushed reverence to the space. Encased in a giant robe, I tucked into a book on a lounger while Emma broke her personal best for time spent floating on her back in the salty pool.
Alongside saunas and steam rooms, the treatment area overlooks a rocky outcrop and ocean. Obviously, I had to give it a whirl and as the masseur worked knots out of my shoulders with the aid of fragrant oils and the soft swish of the ocean.
I drifted into a sun-dappled forest fantasy inspired by the setting and signature treatments such as ‘lavender immersion’ (cocoa butter and lavender essential oil full body massage, 55 euros for an hour), and a salt scrub and body wrap using salt from the famous pans of the south coast (around 60 euros the hour, full spa menu on the website).
The hotel itself dates back to the1950s but the whole place, including all 128 rooms, was overhauled in 2010, which has contributed to the Barcelo’s status as one Palma’s leading escapes.
Having travelled a bit around the US, I’m guessing that the new design was at least partly inspired by the luxury W Hotel chain, who specialise in similarly contemporary décor, award-winning inhouse spas and attention to details such as “raindance” showerheads and quality cotton.
Much like the W, the vibe at the Barcelo is exclusive, yet there’s no crippling price tag. In addition, the fact that it’s around 28 euros and just 14km in a taxi to the airport makes this a very realistic mini-break.
It’s also delightfully close to Palma. A clean and punctual bus costs 1.50 euros each way to the city centre. There’s so much history here but also plush stores such as Loewe, Louis Vuitton and Kiehls. With it’s bold patterns and prints, we found ourselves drawn time and again to Zara Home and as the days flew by we got into a routine of buffet breakfast, swimming, sunbathing, doing something a bit touristy and then making it back to the hotel for dinner.
Located between the Barcelo hotel and city centre, Joan Miro’s Gallery and Studio Complex is a must (http://miro.palmademallorca.es). The site dates back to 1965 when the artist moved to the outskirts of Palma with his Majorcan wife, Pilar.
With a number of significant commissions to his name (he was represented by Matisse in the US) he decided to push all of his artistic boundaries in this studio space, surrounded by cats, blossom and cacti, with awesome views of the ocean.
His studio (pictured) is particularly inspiring, as is the extensive collection and exceptionally sensitive lighting. Sunlight refracts through amber coloured stone, giving the gallery an ecclesiastical feel.
Visits to Palma Cathedral and Soller are further treats. Built like a hunky bodyguard, the cathedral (www.catedraldemallorca.org) was modified by Antoni Gaudi between 1901 and 1914. He moved the altar from the far end towards the congregation, creating a floating sculptural “crown” at the building’s sacred heart.
If cute hill towns are more your thing, Soller on the island’s stunning west coast is worth checking out. Decked in oranges (its famous for it’s tangerine jam and fresh juice), this compact settlement is reached by rickety train, trundling the 27 miles up from Palma.
It creaks to a halt a little way from the town itself to allow guest to coo over the views and there’s plenty more fun to be had if you fancy a trip on the equally characterful tram down to the port. The marmalade, which costs around 6 euros a jar, takes like Tropicana on toast.
Mallorca has long had a place in my heart. I love the diverse scenery, the flocks of cyclists (team GB training on the island during our trip), the orchards and rustic wines. It’s like mainland Spain, only nicer. And this trip just cemented my feelings for the island. I don’t think it’s possible to have a bad time in Mallorca, but a lovely hotel and one of my best friends made it no effort at all.
Ruth stayed at the Barcelo Illetas Albatros. Rates start from £78.60 (€90) per room per night on a B&B basis based on two sharing. To book visit www.barcelo.com or call 0800 4 227 23 56.
She travelled with easyJet from Manchester to Palma. The budget airline also flies there from Liverpool, Gatwick, Southend, Stansted, Luton, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle. Flight prices start from £36.49 per person (one-way, including taxes, based on two people on the same booking). Visit www.easyJet.com to book.
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