How to buy in the belle of the Balearic

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Internatio­nal -

Menorca, the Mediter­ranean’s green gem, is so pop­u­lar that Sotheby’s is open­ing an of­fice there, re­ports Ara­bella Youens

While its sis­ter is­lands dove head­first into pack­age hol­i­days and night­club tourism in the Seven­ties and Eight­ies, Menorca re­sisted – and how that has paid off. To­day, it’s an un­spoilt Mediter­ranean haven.

Any­one on the hunt for Miche­lin-starred restau­rants, celebrity spot­ting and fast cars will be duly dis­ap­pointed but, for the in­creas­ing num­ber of buy­ers search­ing for some­thing dis­tinct and dif­fer­ent, the laid-back life­style of Menorca is gain­ing trac­tion.

Some­thing of an in­sider’s se­cret, the is­land’s devo­tees have suc­ceeded in keep­ing it off the radar of the in­ter­na­tional jet set who head in­stead to Ibiza and Mal­lorca. But this is no Mediter­ranean back­wa­ter ei­ther; 18th-cen­tury pala­cios in its for­mer cap­i­tal Ci­u­tadella are cur­rently be­ing swept up by ea­gle-eyed in­vestors to be turned into so­phis­ti­cated bou­tique ho­tels and a nascent tech scene is be­ing es­tab­lished with Menorca Mil­len­ni­als – a gath­er­ing of start-up founders and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists who get to­gether ev­ery June.

Apart from shar­ing a (sim­i­lar-ish) Cata­lan di­alect, the is­land has sur­pris­ingly lit­tle in com­mon with its Balearic sis­ters and nowhere is that more ap­par­ent than in its largely un­scarred to­pog­ra­phy. The clos­est the is­land gets to a Ma­galuf, Mal­lorca’s night­club cap­i­tal, is Cala en Porter, and that’s still some way off.

There are two the­o­ries to this. Some say it was a con­scious de­ci­sion on be­half of the is­land’s aris­to­cratic fam­i­lies, who re­jected the idea of sell­ing their land to make a quick buck (the likes of Club Med were re­fused plan­ning per­mis­sion in the Seven­ties). Oth­ers be­lieve it had more to do with Gen­eral Franco deny­ing them funds for large in­fra­struc­ture projects such as roads and air­ports as pun­ish­ment for sup­port­ing the Repub­li­cans in the Span­ish Civil War.

Re­gard­less, the out­come is glo­ri­ous. Known as the “green” is­land, it was named a Unesco Bio­sphere zone in 1993 to pro­tect its cul­tural her­itage, coun­try­side and coast­line. Menorca’s homes have im­mac­u­late dry­s­tone walls and rus­tic-chic gates made from wild olive wood (any­thing bling is frowned upon by the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties), while the rugged shore­line is punc­tu­ated by small bays with white sand beaches on an aqua­ma­rine sea.

“Menorca re­minds peo­ple of what the Mediter­ranean used to be like 40 years ago,” says Fran­cisco Ar­nau of En­gel & Völk­ers, an is­land na­tive whose lo­cal of­fice has wit­nessed a re­cent turn­around in ac­tiv­ity fol­low­ing the prop­erty crash in 2007. “It’s re­laxed and peace­ful. Ev­ery­one knows each other and you can leave your keys in the car – no one cares.” But that doesn’t come cheap. Prices for the most at­trac­tive prop­er­ties, right on the beach or with sea views, are up 15 per cent year-on-year.

Un­til re­cently, those in the mar­ket for a sec­ond home on the is­land fell neatly into two cat­e­gories: Bri­tish and main­land (largely Cata­lan) Span­ish. But there has been a surge of French in­ter­est. Turn­ing their backs on the tra­di­tional house-hunting grounds of north Africa and Turkey, French fam­i­lies have bought a num­ber of the largest prop­er­ties on the is­land, in­clud­ing a pri­vate coastal es­tate with di­rect sea ac­cess which sold for €11mil­lion (£9.65mil­lion) – the is­land’s most ex­pen­sive sale to date.

Tes­ta­ment to this in­creased in­ter­na­tional in­ter­est is that Sotheby’s has de­cided to open an of­fice in cen­tral Mahón this Septem­ber. “Our con­tacts tell us that more and more wealthy fam­i­lies are mov­ing to the is­land – they love the pri­vacy com­bined with the in­ter­est­ing res­i­dent com­mu­nity,” says man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Ale­jan­dra Vanoli. But with strict rules against the build­ing of new houses out­side A mod­ern seafront villa in the ex­clu­sive re­sort of Cala Morell on the north-west coast. The seven-bed­room house has a large ter­race and an in­fin­ity pool. €1.85 mil­lion En­gel & Völk­ers (0034 971 369 275; en­gelvoelk­ers.com) A five-minute drive from Menorca Air­port is this nine-bed­room coun­try es­tate built in 1886. It sits in five acres, with 10 bath­rooms and a gar­den. €2.2 mil­lion En­gel & Völk­ers (0034 971 369 275; en­gelvoelk­ers.com) des­ig­nated zones, find­ing the Menor­can dream – a tra­di­tional finca with sea views – has its chal­lenges.

“They don’t stay on the mar­ket for long,” says Ar­nau, who is mar­ket­ing El Torre de Sant Ni­co­lau, an orig­i­nal 17th-cen­tury pi­rate tower near Mahón for €2.2mil­lion. Built of the lo­cal mares sand­stone, its honey-gold hues are rem­i­nis­cent of the Cotswolds. With its roof ter­race and re­mote lo­ca­tion, sur­rounded by lit­tle but farm­land, an equiv­a­lent-sized prop­erty of­fer­ing these lev­els of pri­vacy on Mal­lorca would be three times the price. It’s this com­par­a­tive value when com­pared with Mal­lorca, where prices still soar, which is an­other rea­son for the uptick in in­ter­est.

“Us­ing a broad brush­stroke, I’d say that prop­erty prices in Menorca are be­tween 15 per cent and 20 per cent cheaper than in Mal­lorca,” says Colin Gua­naria, a quan­tity sur­veyor who co-founded Menorca’s long­est es­tab­lished es­tate agency, Bon­nin Sanso, in 1988. He cites a min­i­mum bud­get of €500,000 to buy any­thing with a sea or har­bour view, ris­ing to €600,000 for a de­tached house with a swim­ming pool.

The vast ma­jor­ity of his Bri­tish buy­ers are those in their mid- to late-50s who’ve sold busi­nesses and want to come be­tween Easter and Oc­to­ber. That’s an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion: the is­land is sea­sonal. “One of the down­sides to Menorca, but which has helped to main­tain its charm, is the lack of flights in the win­ter – they mostly drop down to weekly ser­vices,” adds Mr Gua­naria.

Sum­mer ac­cess is im­prov­ing, though, with in­creased routes from Bri­tain (BA is op­er­at­ing a route from Ed­in­burgh this sum­mer and Jet2 has started a new route from Lon­don Stansted).

Ac­cord­ing to Spain’s na­tional air­line data­base, Menorca Air­port re­ceived 1.5 mil­lion vis­i­tors last year, an 11 per cent in­crease on 2015. But there’s no con­cern that the is­land will be­come over­run; that’s small change when com­pared with Mal­lorca’s an­nual tourist traf­fic of more than 10 mil­lion.

Thumbs up: the dis­tinc­tively-shaped Cala Macarel­leta on Menorca’s south coast

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