The rein­ven­tion of the Balearics

Tired Sev­en­ties pack­age ho­tels are be­ing re­vamped into min­i­mal­ist havens

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

Move over Ma­galuf – these much-loved Span­ish is­lands are adding a touch of class. An­nie Ben­nett tests the wa­ters

For more than 50 years it has been the beaches – and their cheer­ful but mostly rather cheap re­sorts – that have un­der­pinned the suc­cess of the Balearic Is­lands. Few des­ti­na­tions in the Mediter­ranean could of­fer such an un­com­pli­cated com­bi­na­tion of sun, sand and sheer good value. But tastes and ex­pec­ta­tions change. Most of us now want more from our hol­i­days than sea and san­gria, and the Balearics have been rapidly adapt­ing.

Not only are the tired Sev­en­ties pack­age ho­tels in the more es­tab­lished re­sorts grad­u­ally be­ing re­vamped into min­i­mal­ist havens serv­ing smooth­ies and sal­ads rather than chicken and chips, but many new ho­tels across the is­lands are of five-star stan­dard. And this gen­eral up­grad­ing has been com­ple­mented by a move away from the tra­di­tional beach des­ti­na­tions as hol­i­day­mak­ers seek out calmer, more au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ences in ru­ral land­scapes and less-de­vel­oped parts of the coast. A plethora of bou­tique ho­tels and con­verted farm­houses has sprung up, wel­com­ing a new breed of vis­i­tors who rel­ish lo­cal cui­sine and spend­ing time cy­cling, walk­ing and do­ing yoga and water­sports rather than sim­ply ly­ing on a sunbed.

In truth, it’s a process which has been un­der­way for more than a decade. But re­cently the bal­ance seems to have tipped, so here is our is­land-by-is­land guide to the best of the new Balearics.

MAL­LORCA

Up­mar­ket ru­ral tourism has re­ally taken off in Mal­lorca, where hon­ey­coloured houses in the coun­try­side have been trans­formed into lux­ury vil­las and small ho­tels, which often have one of the ex­cit­ing new wave of Mal­lor­can chefs cook­ing in the restau­rant. While you are still never far from a beach, life in the in­te­rior is all about vil­lage mar­kets, lo­cal fes­ti­vals and long lunches – plus cy­cling, hik­ing, bird­watch­ing and yoga.

The Tra­muntana moun­tain range, which runs down the west of the is­land, has Unesco World Her­itage sta­tus in recog­ni­tion of the in­ge­nious tech­niques used to grow crops on its slopes over the cen­turies. Now, the ter­raced hills pro­vide chal­leng­ing routes for the thou­sands of am­a­teur and pro­fes­sional cy­clists who visit ev­ery year and have stretched the hol­i­day sea­son even be­yond the shoul­der months. Pop­u­lar bases in­clude the low-key re­sorts of Port de Pol­lenca at the north­ern tip of the range, the idyl­lic vil­lage of Deià – which the writer and poet Robert Graves put on the map – or Port de Sóller, which fea­tured in The Night Man­ager, the BBC drama that showed Mal­lorca off at its ab­so­lute best. But there is in­creas­ing in­ter­est in the cen­tre of the is­land, around Al­gaida, Por­reres and the mar­ket town of Sineu, where the flat­ter land­scape suits more leisurely cy­cling and hik­ing and you are likely to en­counter more lo­cals than other tourists.

This is also horse-rid­ing coun­try. It’s a sport pop­u­lar on all of the Balearic Is­lands, but in Mal­lorca there is a ho­tel ded­i­cated to eques­trian hol­i­days. The VMG Horse Ranch (vmghorser­anch.com) opened re­cently near Lluc­ma­jor in the coun­try­side east of Palma, of­fer­ing dres­sage and jump­ing as well as lessons. Fam­i­lies in­ter­ested in horses will also love a day at Es Fan­gar (es-fan­gar.com), a vast es­tate of vine­yards, olive groves and bee­hives near Fe­lan­itx with a race­track and trekking trails.

On the coast, the 2016 open­ing of the first Park Hy­att Re­sort in Europe put the spot­light on Canyamel, a lesser-known part of the east coast. The ho­tel is in the Cap Ver­mell es­tate, home to some top-of-therange vil­las. With a string of se­cluded coves and the his­toric towns of Capde­pera and Artà nearby, this is a great part of the is­land to ex­plore.

Fur­ther down the coast, the area around the at­trac­tive town of San­tanyí is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar for villa hol­i­days, par­tic­u­larly around Cas Con­cos and s’Horta. Then there is Palma, which now has the best range of bou­tique ho­tels any­where in Spain, ri­valled only by Seville. Many are in his­toric man­sions dat­ing back to the 16th and 17th cen­turies, and these tra­di­tional build­ings also lend them­selves rather well to be­ing re­mod­elled as tourist apart­ments, with a wealth of beamed ceil­ings, arches and tiled floors. Hol­i­day lets are also tak­ing over the Santa Catalina neigh­bour­hood, where de­signer bars and vin­tage shops are pop­ping up all over the place.

IBIZA

Just the thought of Ibiza and its full-throt­tle nightlife is enough to put a smile on most peo­ple’s faces, but these days they are just as likely to be dream­ing about do­ing pi­lates on a beach at dawn as danc­ing at one of San An­to­nio’s clubs. A fas­t­ex­pand­ing range of ac­tiv­ity breaks based in the qui­eter cor­ners of this beau­ti­ful is­land in­cludes a hol­i­day from Swimtrek (swimtrek.com), where you spend a week swim­ming in the sap­phire sea around the cliffs in the qui­eter north of the is­land near Porti­natx. Mean­while, Ibiza Re­treats (ibizare­treats.com) this year has a sec­ond base to cope with de­mand for its holis­tic breaks. At the chic Can Lu­mi­nosa on a hill­top near San Lorenzo in the heart of the is­land, guests are en­cour­aged to walk bare­foot in the for­est.

Other spe­cial­ist op­er­a­tors, such as Madrid-based Co­ra­zon Travel (cora­zon­travel.com) are set­ting up tours fo­cus­ing on the gas­tro­nomic scene, with vis­its to or­ganic farms and vine­yards, while the in­crease in high-end restau­rants is a clear il­lus­tra­tion of grow­ing de­mand. Miche­lin-starred chefs with a pres­ence on the is­land in­clude Fer­ran and Al­bert Adrià at Heart (heart­ibiza.com) in the Ibiza Gran

ho­tel, while nearby on Tala­manca beach, the Nobu Ho­tel Ibiza Bay (see panel), which opened last sum­mer, of­fers the epony­mous restau­rant plus enough other eat­ing and drink­ing op­tions to keep guests amused with­out leav­ing the premises. Paco Ron­cero, who has two stars at his Madrid restau­rant, is at the helm of the mind-bog­gling Sublimo­tion (sub­limo­tion­ibiza.com) in the Hard Rock Ho­tel on Playa d’en Bossa (tele­graph.co.uk/ tt-hardrock­ibiza), where din­ner costs up­wards of £1,500 – one of the world’s most ex­pen­sive. Don’t panic, though. Ta­tel, over­look­ing the beach in the same ho­tel, is run by renowned chef Nino Re­dru­ello, and of­fers su­perb Span­ish food in a sump­tu­ous set­ting but at more rea­son­able prices.

Fur­ther west, away from the dis­trac­tions of Playa d’en Bossa, de­mand is grow­ing for up­mar­ket vil­las. There are some spec­tac­u­lar prop­er­ties in Por­roig, Es Tor­rent, Es Cubells or Cala d’Hort, so much so that de­mand now dras­ti­cally out­strips sup­ply in July and Au­gust.

MENORCA

Menorca has al­ways been a quiet, laid-back op­tion, and in many ways it is ahead of its neigh­bours when it comes to a more imag­i­na­tive hol­i­day of­fer­ing. It has had Unesco Bio­sphere Re­serve sta­tus since 1993 and has been en­cour­ag­ing sus­tain­able tourism for years, long be­fore it be­came fash­ion­able.

While it has a few fam­ily re­sorts, most of the is­land is un­spoilt coun­try­side sur­rounded by spec­tac­u­lar beaches, many with su­perb con­di­tions for div­ing, kayak­ing and pad­dle­board­ing. On the south coast, where the sea is calmest, good ar­eas to stay in­clude Biniguas and Son Saura. Es Grau, in a coastal na­ture re­serve in the east, is an at­trac­tive small re­sort that is great for fam­i­lies.

Beaches on the north coast are wilder and more dif­fi­cult to ac­cess, but For­nells has a beau­ti­ful nat­u­ral har­bour and one of the best places for div­ing. This is also one of the best places to try the Menor­can spe­cial­ity caldereta de lan­gosta, a rich lob­ster dish that is just one of the gas­tro­nomic high­lights of an is­land that is fast de­vel­op­ing its rep­u­ta­tion among food­ies. A new gas­tro­nomic hol­i­day this au­tumn from An­nie B’s Span­ish Kitchen (an­nieb­spain.com) is al­ready fully booked, but more dates might be added. You can visit lo­cal vine­yards, ru­ral cheese­mak­ers and drop in at the tiny Xoriguer gin dis­tillery by the har­bour in the cap­i­tal, Mahón.

Un­like neigh­bour­ing Mal­lorca, the is­land does not have dozens of bou­tique ho­tels, but there are some gor­geous ones, such as Tor­ral­benc (tele­graph.co.uk/tt-tor­ral­benc), a for­mer farm­house that has one of the best restau­rants on the is­land and from May will also be serv­ing the first wines from its own vine­yards. Also on the lux­ury spec­trum Cugó Gran (tele­graph.co.uk/tt-cu­gogran) of­fers nu­tri­tion re­treats as well as yoga, pi­lates, walk­ing and other ac­tiv­i­ties.

FOR­MENTERA

With ar­guably the best beaches in the Balearics and a laid-back vibe, tiny For­mentera is a quiet par­adise for na­ture lovers. Most peo­ple hire bikes to trun­dle along the more than 60 miles (97km) of tracks that criss-cross the ru­ral land­scape – more than 70 per cent of the land is pro­tected – to reach se­cluded beaches or to eat at a feet-in-the-sand water­side restau­rant. The fact that you have to get there by ferry – or yacht – means you are wind­ing down even be­fore you step on to the glit­ter­ing white sand.

Un­til re­cently, there were few ho­tels, and most of the apart­ments and vil­las were pretty ba­sic, but the is­land now has a hand­ful of very smart places to stay. The re­open­ing last year of the Gecko Ho­tel & Beach Club (see panel) is the most ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple of the shift up­mar­ket. The boho bolt­hole on Migjorn beach has been re­vamped by Pablo Car­ring­ton of the Maru­gal group – which also in­cludes Cap Ro­cat in Mal­lorca, and Tor­ral­benc in Menorca – and is now a glam­orous haven where guests loll on ca­bana beds un­der palm and ju­niper trees in be­tween ses­sions with yoga guru Yian­nis An­drit­sos.

HOT DAYS AND COOL NIGHTS The moon rises over La Seu, the spec­tac­u­lar cathe­dral in Palma, Mal­lorca, main, while the sun shines on Menorca, above, and the many mari­nas of the Balearics, left

IN­FIN­ITY COOL Gecko Beach Club in bo­hemian For­mentera

Ibiza eats: Paco Ron­cero

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