Majorca’s on song in the off season
MARKET DAY in Santanyi and the sellers are using the 28c sunshine to dry sliced tomatoes on trays, flies swarm around thin sticks of spiced sausage and locals are drinking Majorcan wine in the shadow of the gigantic 18th-century church.
it could be July. The only difference is there’s not an english voice to be heard. And that’s because i’m here out of season.
An hour ago, my mother and i were sitting on the ryanair plane in Palma airport, thinking we’d miss the Saturday morning market. But with no queues at passport control or at the car hire desk, we arrive just before the traders begin to pack away their stalls.
‘They look like a fat person’s bottom,’ says my mother, as we pass a vegetable stall bursting with bright red beef tomatoes. The grapes are huge, too, the size of golf balls. But while the produce is big, the prices are small. i find dresses for €2, huge bottles of local olive oil for €3 and, at a chic wine bar we stroll past on the way back to the car, we gulp down two glasses of chilled wine and are charged €6.
it makes me wonder why more of us don’t come here before the hordes arrive from May onwards, or after they leave in September. hotel rates are cheaper, too.
Towns don’t come much prettier than Santanyi, in the south-east. Golden sandstone buildings, most with rustic cactus-green shutters, line the streets that lead to pretty squares where elderly men and women sit under lemon trees and children play tag.
our base is Can Ferrereta, a beautifully restored 17th-century Majorcan manor which is the town’s latest hotel. it doesn’t look much from the street but step inside and the vast reception, with stone arches and rustic beams, leads to a huge paved pool area dotted with olive and cypress trees and stripped sunbeds.
OUrfellow guests are fashionable Americans and ridiculously goodlooking Scandinavians, who, like us, are looking for empty beaches, quiet but exhilirating hikes and delicious food in the shoulder season.
We drag ourselves from our beds early the next morning and head to a bakery. ensaïmadas (curls of feather-light pastry topped with icing sugar) are piled next to lazos (bow tie-shaped puff pastry sticks) and xuxos (deep-fried, custard-filled eclairs). Farmers are pulling their tractors on to the pavement so they can pick up breakfast and lunch.
The sun burns through the last sluggish cloud as we drive to Cala Llombards, a cove just ten minutes away, with our wicker bags overflowing with pastries and fruit from yesterday’s market.
A short walk from the car park leads us to a white-sand inlet with traditional fishing houses built into the rocks and a gully of deep turquoise water. We spend the day reading and swimming.
A 40- minute drive north to Majorca’s elegant capital, Palma, the next morning takes us past crumbling buildings, olive groves and vineyards. We are staying at Can Ferrereta’s sister property, Sant Francesc hotel Singular, in the city’s historic quarter.
We drop our bags and head straight up to the chic rooftop pool. Behind my sunbed, amid a jumble of terracotta roofs, rise the soaring spires of the 13th-century cathedral, La Seu, while the gothic facade of Sant Francesc church rears up from the square. The sun sits high in the sky, reaching almost 30c, so we escape the heat and walk to La rosa, in the centre, for pinchos.
Locals are propped up on the tiled bars, drinking vermouth, while chefs prep dishes in the open kitchen. i go for a Chardonnay, my mother orders a rioja and we devour plates of white asparagus with orange aioli (delicious), spicy patatas bravas, salty Padron peppers and creamy spinach and blue cheese croquettes.
We arrive at 12.30 pm with no booking and by 1pm it’s full. ‘You were lucky,’ a smiling waiter says, as we leave past a snaking queue outside.
The composer Frederic Chopin first arrived in Palma in November 1838 and wrote to friends: ‘The sky is turquoise, the sea blue, the mountains emerald and the air? The air is as blue as the sky.’ He might not say the same if he were to visit in summer today. But the island regains its laid-back charm and natural beauty in the months either side, and local life resumes.
Sitting in a quiet square on a sunny November day, i couldn’t agree more with Mr Chopin.
B&B doubles at Can Ferrereta from £258 ( hotelcanferrereta.com). Doubles B&B at Sant Francesc Hotel Singular from £250 (hotelsantfrancesc.com). Ryanair London Stansted to Palma returns from £45 ( ryanair.com).