All the magic of Mi­norca

The gen­tle plea­sures of a sail­ing hol­i­day around the Balearic Is­lands

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - TURI CON­DON

WHAT were the Phoeni­cians think­ing? The bay looks un­pro­tected, naked, with barely a tree along the shore. Not at all a suit­able har­bour away from home for a race of sea­far­ing traders.

Ah, but the water is blue, that only-in-the-Med sort of blue.

Per­haps the Phoeni­cians ranked a quick get­away ahead of the com­fort and the shel­ter of Mi­norca’s nar­row in­lets, or calas, bounded by steep cliffs.

Mi­norca, the most north­ern of the Balearic Is­lands, which also in­clude Ma­jorca and Ibiza, has seen hordes of in­vaders over the cen­turies, and the rem­nants of their build­ings are scat­tered along the rugged north­ern coast­line.

From 2000 years ago im­ages drift to mind of bil­low­ing sails and mus­cled row­ers labour­ing across the shal­low bay in wooden gal­leys. We, how­ever, are sit­ting on Mis­tral, a sleek 47ft Beneteau yacht, with a bird’s-eye view of the round stone watch­tower built in the 1700s by a later in­vad­ing force, the Bri­tish. We also have a bird’s-eye view of a portly Ger­man tourist stripped in the sun be­side his camper­van. The ro­man­tic mus­ings van­ish. The port at Sa Nitja, just across from Cap de Caval­le­ria, the is­land’s north­ern­most point, had seen Phoeni­cian and Ro­man set­tle­ments.

Our friends, Paul and Sandy Man­der, bought Mis­tral — a toy dis­carded af­ter the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis — in Spain ear­lier this year, de­cid­ing to cruise in the Euro­pean sum­mers and even­tu­ally sail back to Syd­ney’s Pittwa­ter. We meet on Ma­jorca at its his­toric west-coast town of Soller, where a 100-yearold train line, the Tren de Soller, takes us from the cap­i­tal, Palma,

to start the two-week sail­ing trip. It’s peak sum­mer and Port de Soller har­bour is chock-full of boats jostling for a safe anchorage and try­ing des­per­ately to avoid tan­gled an­chor chains. The French boat own­ers yell at the Ger­mans, the Ger­mans shout at the Bri­tish, the Bri­tish at the Span­ish, and ev­ery­one is yelling at us.

The sail south along Ma­jorca’s coast is brisk; we pass cliffs and green hills tum­bling down to the sea be­side the white­washed vil­lage of Deia, where the poet Robert Graves lived and died.

Over two days we sail up the is­land’s east­ern coast, reach­ing Ma­jorca’s north­east tip as the sun is set­ting. But the wind changes, so in­stead of an­chor­ing for the night in one of the invit­ing bays scat­tered along the north, we press on. ‘‘It’s only a seven-hour night sail to Mi­norca,’’ say our hosts.

An­other day’s sail­ing and there on Mi­norca’s north coast — through what looks like a break in the rocks — is Cala Morell. The crevice turns out to be a plumshaped in­let, com­pact, with steep cliffs, some un­sta­ble look­ing shale-like rock and dirt topped pre­car­i­ously with white­washed houses and vil­las.

Half­way up the cliff is a build­ing that looks like a restau­rant; a small dinghy means some of us have to swim for our lunch.

Life on a yacht is no­madic — choose a bay and an­chor for the night. Fur­ther along the north­ern coast, Cala d’Al­ga­iarens may be more shel­tered than Sa Nitja, but it still smacks wor­ry­ingly of a Phoeni­cian love of open­ness. Nearby are favourite swim­ming beaches with choices for both nude and swim­suited bathers.

The swell is curv­ing around the heads and the wind is get­ting stronger. ‘ ‘ Let’s put out a stern an­chor, to be on the safe side,’’ says our cap­tain. It’s pitch black and the rain pours down (where did this come from in a Mediter­ranean sum­mer?), and then there’s an­other wind change. With the boat strung tight like a big, white, un­yield­ing ham­mock be­tween the two an­chors, the swell hits beam on (for non-sailors, that’s smack on the side). Bang.

We lev­i­tate off the gen­er­ous queen-size bed that takes up the aft (rear) cabin. It’s all hands on deck. Let the rear an­chor go, and hope the buoy we have tied to it marks its spot in the morn­ing. As I make the tea, I thank heaven for our bot­tle of 18-year-old whisky.

This bay looks like the real thing. It’s long and deep and cuts in­land like a bul­bous river. On the shore is For­nells, a town al­most at the cen­tre of the north­ern coast; it thrives on tourism; nearby beaches are good and the is­land’s only golf course at Son Parc is close.

Mi­norca is only 695sq km, so the main sights can be cov­ered in two days in a hire car — the pre­his­toric ta­lay­ots or me­galiths dat­ing from 1400BC and the vil­lage of Es Mer­cadal with its good bak­eries.

With the yacht an­chored safely ( fin­gers crossed) in For­nell’s har­bour, we ex­plore Ci­u­tadella, the is­land’s former cap­i­tal on the western tip. At the other end of the is­land is Ma­hon, the city that has as­sumed the man­tle. Ma­hon is the cap­i­tal’s name in the Castil­ian or Span­ish lan­guage; in Cata­lan, it’s Mao. Every­thing here has two names, mak­ing di­rec­tions con­fus­ing. Ma­hon brought may­on­naise to Western palates. The cheeses from Ma­hon are also good, but are known as Mao cheeses.

The me­dieval walls en­cir­cling Ma­hon have nearly all been torn down; a rem­nant of the orig­i­nal wall is the stone gate of Pont de Sant Roc, which sur­vived the Turks’ sack­ing of the city in 1535.

Be­fore the Ot­toman Em­pire, Mi­noans from Crete were among the ear­li­est peo­ples to oc­cupy Mi­norca. By the fifth cen­tury there was a large Jewish pop­u­la­tion. Mi­norca was also sacked by the Van­dals, but ex­pe­ri­enced some sta­bil­ity un­der Ro­man rule. Dur­ing the 18th cen­tury the is­land was con­quered by the Bri­tish, the French, the Bri­tish again, the Span­ish and again the Brits, be­fore re­turn­ing to Span­ish rule in 1802.

Wan­der­ing through the Mu­seum of Mi­norca, the si­lence is strik­ing. The beau­ti­fully re­stored stone build­ing is perched high above Ma­hon’s har­bour and was once a Fran­cis­can monastery. The quiet is not rev­er­ence for the re­dis­cov­ered trea­sures — a small bronze bull from the third or fourth cen­tury BC, or the first Pan­dora bracelet. Our small party — our hosts, us, their daugh­ter and her fi­ance, plus a Span­ish fam­ily and a Bri­tish cou­ple — has all these trea­sures to it­self. I won­der if we have ar­rived on a re­li­gious hol­i­day. ‘‘No,’’ says the help­ful at­ten­dant, ‘‘ev­ery­one is at the beach.’’

Dur­ing our last few days of sail­ing , we find the best of the calas. At the south­ern tip of Colom Is­land, the water is so clear that the knotty im­prints of an­chor chains on the sandy bot­tom seem only a few feet away. There is a for­est of sea­grass on one side of the bay, an arch of beach and shal­lows stretch­ing to a far­ther white sand bay.

I have just fin­ished singing the praises of the Med: no sharks, no sea lice and no stingers. Then, pad­dling through turquoise water, it bites me. The small pink jel­ly­fish, like many things on Mi­norca, is beau­ti­ful. And prob­a­bly one of the few ag­gres­sors left on the is­land.

DION WE­STON

Paul and Sandy Man­der aboard Mis­tral as it pulls out of the har­bour at Ma­hon, the cap­i­tal of Mi­norca

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