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The town of Deia - photos by Habeeb Salloum
Spain's Balearic Islands: Exploring Mallorca's Most Picturesque Region
By Habeeb Salloum
“Today we are going to explore the most beautiful region on the island of Mallorca. You will see why this spot has over the years lured world renowned men and women artists, historians, musicians, poets and writers.” Nicole, our guide with a passion for the arts, laid out the agenda for our day’s exploration of a part of Mallorca considered to be a paradise for literary men and women.
Her words put us in an upbeat mood for our meandering in north western Mallorca - the Balearic Islands’ largest island and one of Spain’s most appealing tourist havens.
Leaving prosperous Palma, a city of some 375,000 and Mallorca and the Balearic Islands’ capital, we drove through a countryside filled with orchards and lush green fields. Soon we were driving through a narrow valley edged by high cliffs until we reached the small town of Valldemossa, (an Arab name meaning the ‘valley of Moses’) 17 km (10.5 mi) from Palma.
A Miserable Winter
It is famous for its Cartoixa Reial Royal Monastery, known as La Cartuja, where in 1838-1839 Fredric Chopin and the French lady writer Georges Sands, renowned for her novel ‘A Winter in Majorca,’ spent the winter together.
The author is shown at the Cartoixa Reial Monastery
in the garden of the Chopin cells.
They stayed in a former monk’s cell and carried on their secret affair away from the eyes of gossipers in Paris. However, the locals shunned them and Chopin, sick with tuberculosis, and his lover were very unhappy. The wet, windy and miserable winter in the monastery destroyed their relationship.
Today the cells, during that winter the home of the lovers, have been turned into a library, an old pharmacy and a small museum exhibiting some of the works of Picasso, Miro and Juli Ramis as well as manuscripts belonging to the famous couple and works by Archduke Ludwig Salvador of Austria who once called Mallorca home.
The Archduke, who was the first ‘alternative’ tourist to discover the Balearics, was, among much else, a globetrotter, seaman, painter and writer of travel books. He spoke 16 languages and of the countless books that he wrote, nine dealt the Balearic Islands.
During the twenty years he lived on and off the island, he left many landmarks, among these marrying a local woman and buying a great deal of property.
In gratitude for his work in making Mallorca known around the world, in 1877 he was named freeman of the city of Palma, and in 1910 this title was made extensive to the whole island of Mallorca.
The one-time home of the Archduke Ludwig
The monastery helps Valldemossa, a town of some 2,000, overlooking a rich picturesque valley, to retain its charm. Visitors can wander in its narrow stone streets and see on almost every home a small ceramic plaque of St. Catalina Tomas, born here and known as ‘La Beateta’.
The town is today featured on many postcards and has become a tourist attraction par excellence, drawing many day-trippers from Palma.
Leaving this charming jewel of a town we drove through the Tramuntana Mountains with their breathtaking scenery. As we drove on the windy coastal road, at times climbing high to reveal dramatic sea views, we passed the home of actor Michael Douglas and the one-time home of Archduke Ludwig.
I was surveying the wooded cliffs falling to the blue sea far below when we reached the striking picture postcard village of Deiá with its honey-coloured houses. Sheltered by the mountain from the northerly winds, it spills down to the valley below. Deriving its name from the Arabic, al-da’a (the village), this town of some 850 souls, set amid almonds, citrus fruits and olives, is for many a magical place - a mecca for artists, writers and the affluent.
An outdoor cafe in Valdemossa
In this laid-back bohemian scenario, the well-known writer Robert Graves spent most of his working life and he is buried in the village. Other artists, poets and writers followed, and, today, form a well-established community in the tranquility of Deiá.
A Lush Valley
After lunching in La Residencia, the best hotel in the district, we followed the narrow winding coastal road. At times it seemed that a little turn and we would tumble us down into the sea.
After a short drive we turned and drove into a lush valley bursting with olive and orange groves located between the mountains and the sea in which sits Soller – a town with its surrounding area of some 14,000.
A charming and arty place, Soller is enveloped by breathtaking scenery, rimmed by mountains on all sides – a veritable Eden. Only a half an hour drive from Palma via a newly built toll tunnel, the town is fast becoming Palma’s weekend outing spot.
The tram in Soller
We drove through picturesque narrow cobbled streets then parked by a large square. Here, we rested for a while to relax and enjoy a coffee as we watched an ancient tram load passengers then rattle to the nearby Port. While surveying the scene, one of our group remarked, “They say this part of Mallorca is a hiker’s paradise. Look at these old men! Don’t they look like hikers?”
Another member smilingly asked, “Were they young when they started on their trek?”
A Walking Town
Exploring the town, we found it filled with quaint squares, enticing pastry shops and ice-cream parlours. As well, tapa bars, stylish cafes and chic boutique hotels seemed to be everywhere. It is a walking town that appeals to inhabitants and tourists alike.
Many of the some 10 million annual visitors to Mallorca – 30% German, 30% British and 10% from mainland Spain, with the remainder being mostly from the Scandinavian countries – during their stay usually make a trip to this enchanting valley.
The author and friends in Deia
During our half hour trip back to Palma, I reflected about our day’s excursion through one of the Balearic Islands’ most enchanting regions.
“It is no wonder Nicole is so enthralled with this spot in Mallorca. It must have been here that she developed her passion for the arts!
The aura of landscape in this tourist haven is conducive to enticing those who have an inclination for literature and the arts,” I thought to myself as we tumbled out of the bus in Palma, the heart of the Balearic Island.
1) Taxis are numerous and provide an inexpensive way to get around the coastal resort areas. For trips going inland always agree on the price with driver before entering the taxi.
are two official languages: Castilian Spanish and Catalan. As well, English and German are spoken in most tourist areas.
An olive press in Deia
3) A popular day-tripper destination, Soller can be reached on a vintage train ride from Palma. From Soller a tram takes one to the Port of Soller or a 20-minute walk takes one to a pebbled beach cove with a charming bar, which provides a good place to swim and relax in a dramatic setting. The beach can be also reached by car via a windy lane down the hillside.
4) Pearls are the gifts to buy while visiting Palma. Mallorquin pearls, manufactured in the town of Manacor, are world famous.
5) The favourite Mallorquin sweet is ensaimada – a spiral-shaped bun and sobrassada is the islands’ most famous sausage.
6) Leaving a small tip is customary - in bars, restaurants and hotels, from 5-10% of the cost of food or drink.
7) Visit GoNOMAD to find discount flights to Spain.
Where to Stay:
A street in Deia
If a traveller wants stay on the Coast for a while there is no better place than La Residencia, the best hotel in the district. It has been voted the 4th Best Leisure Hotel in Europe, Asia Minor & the Russian Federation in 2005 by the Conde Nast Traveller readers.
Son Canals s/n 07179 DeiB, Mallorca, SPAIN.
Tel: +34 971 63 9011; USA & Canada, 800 237 1236 (Toll-Free).
Fax: + 34 971 63 9370.
In Palma, one of the top hotels to stay is Castillo Son Vida, situated in a castle of medieval origin, surrounded by 500 hectares of subtropical parkland and with magnificent views of the bay of Palma, the hotel is a 5-star top luxury abode.
07013 Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
Tel: 34 971 790 000. Fax: 34 971 790 017.
For other hotels in Palma see Website: www.mallorcahotelguide.com – Mallorca
For Further Information:
Check Website: illesbalears.es or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tourist Office of Spain
2 Bloor St. W., 34th Floor, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4W 3E2.
Tel: 416/961-3131. Fax: 416/961-1992.
The Spanish Tourist Office
666 Fifth Ave. 35th, New York, N.Y. 10103, U.S.A.
Tel: 212/265-8822. Fax: 265-8864.
Habeeb Salloum is a travel and food writer, as well as the author of five books, who lives in Toronto Canada.
Visit our Habeeb Salloum Page with links to all his stories