Mallorca: Tasting the Flavors and Boarding the Train to Soller
Mallorca is an Island with Beautiful Beaches its own Historic Train and Lots of Great Dining
By Paul Shoul
It is 5:30 am on a crisp morning near the town of Manacor, inland from the coast of the island of Mallorca in Spain.
The founder of Mallorca balloons, Ricardo Aricil, knelt next to two large butane gas burners mounted to the top of the large wicker basket carriage that I would soon jump into. The mouth of the attached 100-foot-tall balloon is held open as he lets them rip.
Flames leap into the center filling it with hot air. Slowly, it rises and takes shape. The basket rights itself and faster than expected we are flying.
It is quiet in the air. The landscape of the fertile central plain below is a stunning patchwork of olive trees, vineyards, and farms bordered by the mountains and then the Mediterranean coast. It was breathtaking.
Fifteen miles and an hour and a half later, we floated gently back to earth to a fantastic meal of local cured meats, bread, and cheese. As one does after doing anything in Spain.
I recently traveled for five days around Mallorca.
Here is What I Found.
Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands off the eastern coast of Spain in the Mediterranean. It is 46 miles wide by 62 miles long with mountain ranges, flat fertile plains in the center, deep caves and 193 miles of incredible beaches, rocky cliffs and secret coves on the perfectly blue Mediterranean Sea. It is postcard beautiful every direction you look.
Palma is the islands largest city and capital. Home to half of the population of Mallorca, the airport, the major port for fishing boats, yachts and cruise ships in the Balearic Islands.
It is a delightful, safe, and walkable city with excellent restaurants, shopping, and ample historical sites that are a must-see on the island. It is also a good base for exploring the rest of the island. Nothing is too far away.
Palma’s Mercat de Olivar
As is in any Spanish town, the central market is the hub of life where you can get anything and will probably bump into everybody. The Mercat de Olivar is three floors of meat, fowl, fruit, vegetables, cheese, cold cuts, a supermarket, a children’s playroom, and even a hair salon. It is in the old section of Palma, a great area to walk and investigate.
In the seafood section on the first floor, was a glistening squeaky fresh array of fish, octopus, crabs, and mounds of the famous Mallorcan red prawns, so sweet they are best eaten unadorned or only with garlic and olive oil.
In the back of the market is a crowded hub of small tapas joints. It’s all a very cool scene packed with tables of locals in a cacophony of conversation and laughter fueled by plenty of beer, local wines, and the freshest most delicious food possible. The Mercat de Olivar is on Plaça de l’Olivar.
Fornet de la Soca: ( traditional bakery)
María José cried when she told me about the economic crisis of 2008. She and her husband Tomeu Arbona lost their jobs as a teacher and a psychologist. “We lost everything” What they still had was their love of cooking and Tomeu’s skill at baking taught to him by his mother and aunts.
In 2010 they acquired this small old bakery in Palma with a commitment to reviving traditional methods and recipes made from local products. In 2018 they were voted the best bread in Mallorca.
The bakery is impossibly adorable with a warm patina on the wood walls and cabinets that only comes from age. It was toasty inside on a chilly day, and the smell of baking bread was intoxicating.
The sweet and savory pastries and my favorite, meat pies were fantastic. Stop by and taste what they are re-discovering today —this is a total must-eat destination.
Castell de Bellver
Built-in the 14th century it is one of the few circular castles in all of Europe. There is a museum inside, and the castle itself is fascinating, but the view of the city and harbor from the roof is well worth the trip.
Located by the sea in a beautiful area to walk, the city’s cathedral is the crowning structure of Palma.
Built in the 14th century, the gothic “Cathedral of Light” has 61 stained glass windows including the ‘Rose Windows.”
Twice a year, if the sun is shining, the smaller of the two circular stained glass windows cast a glowing reflection under the other forming a figure eight. Leave extra time to sit for a while to get a sense of grandeur and history.
Fundació Miró Mallorca
If you already know the work of surrealist painter Joan Miró, then you will need no prodding to visit Miró Mallorca. If not, take advantage of being in his adopted city to see and learn about his works.
They are illuminating. He bequeathed his property overlooking Palma to the public. His two studios feel frozen in time as if he would walk back in at any moment and start painting.
The Train to Soller
The Ferrocarril de Soller ( train from Palma to Soller ) is a narrow-gauge electric wooden train built in 1911. It is the only public transport between Palma and Soller.
Just riding in the wooden seats with the windows open in this old train from another era is a treat.
The one hour journey over the plains and through the mountains via 13 tunnels take you through striking landscapes.
Round trip tickets are 50 euros. A great ride and trip to visit the towns of Soller, Valldemossa, and Deià in the world Heritage Cultural Landscape of the Serra de Tramuntana on the Northwest coast of the island.
The Palma train ends at a beautifully restored art deco train station just off the town’s main square (Plaça Constitució).
Check out the attached museum’s collection of Picasso and Joan Miró on the ground floor.
Soller is a historic town with small shops and restaurants lining narrow side streets. It thrived on the wealth of its large orange, lemon, and olive groves. The train from Palma is known as the “Orange Express.”
For 7 euros, take the historic wooden tram at the rail station on the short 5 km trip to the port. The tram somehow manages to squeeze through the skinny streets of the town without hitting anyone, passing just a few feet in front of cafe tables. The port is beyond beautiful — a perfect round bay surrounded by cliffs and mountains.
Eat and sleep in Palma de Mallorca
I loved this little boutique hotel located right in the heart of exactly where you want to be in Palma. A restored 15th-century palace, the rooms were quite comfortable; the restaurant was spectacular with a delightful breakfast buffet of traditional Mallorcan fare and al la carte menu.
Walking out the door onto the stone streets of this historical section, you are minutes away from the castle and all the hubbub of the harbor.
Iberostar Grand Portals Nous
I have stayed in Iberostar hotels all over the world and have come to respect them. The Grand Portals is the most unique.
An adults-only 5-star hotel located close to Palma and designed by Dutch interior designer Marcel Wanders, it is flashy, trendy and bold. From the rooftop water cascade pool to the quirky giant eye sculpture that separated my bed and bathroom.
It Comes with a Car
It is on a lovely beach, has a luxury spa, excellent restaurants and themed rooms and suites including stargazing, gamers and a Naughty suite. The two-level penthouse even comes with a car.
Beneath all the flash was excellent service, a very comfortable spacious room with an ocean view, huge bed, balcony patio, and the best shower I had on the trip — typical Iberostar.
The restaurant has a modern take on traditional Mallorcan local food and products. As Chef I van Crespo said,” I know the exact location where all of my local ingredients come from.”
Nixe Palace is an excellent five-star hotel right on the beach in Palma. The main terrace has an outstanding view of the bay. Apparently, the Spanish soccer team stays here frequently, but they would not divulge any names. I had dinner at the Nixes Beach bar. Great atmosphere overlooking the beach. Try the cod stuffed with shrimp — a very impressive dish.
Baiben Restaurant, created by chef Fernando P. Arellano (2 Michelin stars) has a beautiful dining room and bar area with a killer ground-level view of the harbor. Puerto Portals is the playground of the rich and famous.
The suckling pig tacos, Iberico ham, and lamb kebabs were delicious starters. The main course of grilled Sea bass with herb intensive lemon chermoula sauce was outstanding.
On the eighth floor of the 4-star Almudaina hotel is a relaxed restaurant, terrace and bar area with a panoramic view of the cathedral and port in Palma.
Have a drink, a tapa, take in the city, and I recommend dinner at the restaurant. It was exceptional.
Located only 20 mins from Palma in the fertile center of the island, Finca Serena sits amongst 40 hectares of citrus, wine, and olive groves. The renovated limestone farm house’s main building has 25 large rooms and suites with gardens decks and beautiful views. The decor is all stone and soft earthy tones, white on white luxurious yet straightforward.
A well-outfitted spa and glorious swimming pool overlooking the valley.
The restaurant Jacaranda was one of the best I visited. All local products served with their estate olive oil and ingredients from their gardens.
A beautiful, peaceful place I would gladly stay in again.
Abuocassa olive oil is shaking up the oil world. Their methods based on ancient observations of picking multi-colored olives in varying states of ripeness, combined with modern advances in harvesting and production.
They never use olives that sit on the ground and possibly ferment. Rather than pressing them, they have one of only four machines in the world that use centrifugal force to extract the oil. The result is award-winning olive oil that is incredibly clean and flavorful.
Located on a beautiful 12th-century Finca; tours of the estate and entire process of olive oil production are available in advance through their website.
A fantastic restaurant located right on the coast in Port de Pollenca, with ocean views and giant old wine barrels lining the dining room. Jose Antonio Cadenas is the second-generation owner, following in the footsteps of his father.
I had an incredible paella covered in shrimp that rivaled some I have had in Valencia where the dish originated. A
super hospitable place with everything you want to eat in Mallorca. ( thanks for the limoncello Jose!)
A gorgeous hotel in a stunning location overlooking Port Soller, I had lunch in the sun at the alfresco Cap Roig Brasserie. Perfectly fried calamari, and sardines. Padron peppers. Sweet local red shrimp in olive oil and garlic and excellent octopus. A great dining experience and one of the best views in Sóller.
One of the five Serrano hotels in Cala Ratjada, I had lunch in their top-floor restaurant. A perfect spot with a long balcony overlooking the beach. I tried the traditional Mallorcan “dry soup.”
Made from leeks, tomatoes parsley, peppers garlic and lots of cabbage. Toasted bread is added that soaks up the broth, and thus, dry soup. Formed into a round and topped with a poached egg it is a uniquely Mallorcan dish.
A New Favorite Place
Sometimes I am asked what my favorite places in the world are. This little island has made my list. The beaches are unbeatable, the gastronomy is world-class, and the history and Spanish culture give it depth and pace of life that I love.
Paul Shoul is a Northampton, MA-based photographer who doubles as a staff writer for GoNOMAD. For thirty years he’s lived in the Pioneer Valley and chronicled life there through his work in the Valley Advocate. He’s also been seen in the Boston Globe, New York Times, BBC, the Chronicle of Higher Education and many other publications. Today as well as shooting around the world for GoNOMAD he works for local nonprofits, banks and advertising agencies.