Last month my 2 boys and husband spent a few days in Mallorca enjoying the sun, beaches and Spanish way of life. We stayed on the beachy, resort-filled side of the Island but drove south to Palma de Mallorca for one day to see what the capital has to offer.
I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful, sophisticated and stylish coastal city bustling with tourists and locals alike. The city sits on the edge of the Mediterranean and overlooks its sparkling azure waters with palm trees dotted all over and is as picture-perfect as what I’d seen in internet photos before arriving.
It reminded me a little of Barcelona with it’s dusty coloured walls, colossal Cathedral (although this one is actually finished!) and narrow intimate lanes of the old city and there is the exciting fusion of relaxed beach life mixed with energetic city life as in Barcelona.
An assortment of Havaianas and heels, a hustle and bustle of the employed alongside cafes brimming with holiday-makers wiling away the time sipping on cocktails in the sun. Our time was very sort in the capital so there was no exploring the night-life for us, but I’ll be sure to go back sometime to experience what I hear is a very vibrant bar scene after dark.
In the meantime, here are my top five daylight (read kid-friendly) favourites…
The Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma is not somewhere that you’d have to seek out, it’s an immense Gothic structure that sits atop the former citadel of the Roman City and cannot be missed. It is 121 meters long, 55 meters wide and its nave reaches 44 meters tall (which is taller than that of Notre Dame and Reims cathedrals) making you feel pretty small in its shadow. This truly impressive cathedral sits on the edge of the water boasting spectacular making ocean views.
There is lots of bustle going on around the cathedral, horse rides, souvenir sellers and oodles of tourists making it a fun and festive atmosphere to meander around and just opposite the Cathedral is the Royal Palace of La Almudaina. We took an audio-guided tour of the palace learning that it was originally built as an Arabian Fort, and still has Arab bath relics, it was later claimed as the official Royal residence in the 14th century and is still used by the royal family for state receptions and ceremonies when they visit Mallorca – so it is still very much a working palace. The courtyard is great to hang around imagining life as a royal as well as good place for kids to have a small run, jump and climb without being reprimanded by museum officials – whew!
2. Meandering through the narrow lanes of the old city is the best way to explore. Not far from the Cathedral and Palace is the old Arab Quarter, made up of a maze of streets concealing government buildings, courtyards, galleries and museums. I kept wondering what was behind all the beautifully embellished and huge wooden doors with over-sized brass knockers, I envision secret gardens and beautiful apartments. The streets are mostly cobblestoned and traffic-free making a slow amble á pied the easiest way to experience all the details. There are beautiful examples of Spanish architecture all over the metropolis crossing over centuries from the Arab baths, Gothic churches, Medieval houses, Baroques facades, modernist touches by Anton Gaudí (father of Catalan Modernism architecture mainly found in Barcelona), modern sculptures and a huge mural by Joan Miró at the Parc del Mar. In fact Miró spent 30 years living on the island and you can visit the foundation devoted to his works in the city too. We could’ve spent a few days meandering around the city exploring all the architecture, museums, parks and galleries. The whole place is very sightseer friendly and you can find tourism offices with plenty of information and ideas on what to do and how to explore.
3. Eat and eat often. We hadn’t done much ‘googling’ on where to go or what to do in Palma, so we randomly chose café’s and restaurants that looked lovely from the outside (oh yes, and kid friendly), although the Spanish in general are very accommodating to children and they are made to feel welcome anywhere. The Capital is swarming with places to eat, some look more traditional than others, but you can find restaurants, café’s and tapas bars – there are even old converted wine cellars specializing in Mallorcan fare and of course Michelin Starred restaurants, basically something for any palette.
I expect that most of the places are as good as the ones we chose. We had a wonderful lunch at Mari-Lin, where we tried a few delectable specialties. Most places serve a lunch menu for a set price, there will be the dish of the day with an entrée and/or dessert – always a good way to discover new dishes and generally a more cost effective way to have a two or three course meal.
My Spanish is not much to write about, however I did learn to ask for two things; an Aperol Spritz (a refreshing mix of Aperol liquor, Cava and sparkling water – okay so the word is universal, I guess not much Spanish needed here!) and a Cortado (a short espresso with milk) – both of which are delicious!
Throughout our day we had lunch, coffees, drinks and ice creams all at different places – just an excuse to try the local cuisine, sit-down to enjoy the view as well as to people watch and soak in the Palma atmosphere. When in Spain right?
4. Take a walk along Passeig del Borne. The city’s most important shopping hub, nicknamed the Golden Mile of Palma, a beautiful tree-lined avenue creating a canopy from the sun. In the center of the avenue there are little café’s and along the edges you’ll find loads of luxury (Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton, Caroline Herrera, Mulberry) as well as high street stores (H&M, Zara, Benetton, Massimo Dutti, C&A). I especially loved the hues of this avenue, the buildings that flank the avenue are painted in all different shades perhaps apartments with their flower boxes hanging from the balconies. They look like scoops of sorbet ice-cream sitting beside each other all with contrasting stained shutters. This promenade has been home to many demonstrations and fiestas over the centuries and still remains the heart of city life hosting many music and dance parties throughout the year.
5. Buy yourself a little souvenir. It might be a little silly and even if it’s something inexpensive it’s often nice to keep or to take snaps and add into your photo album – we found a fan along the way which kept our kids very busy and has made it into the album. There are loads of little stores, boutiques, markets and souvenir shops in the town that sell Mallorcan keepsakes, such as magnets, jewellery, espadrilles and fans. Wooden children’s toys are very popular as well as dried flowers used as table decorations. You’ll easily find artists and artisans selling original paintings and handicrafts dotted around the main sites.
The Island is well-known for glassblowing dating back to the 2nd century and well as pottery and ceramics, leather goods and production of artificial peals – all of which you can find in markets and ateliers. If you’re into local flavours and produce then grab yourself some Mallorcan delicacies such as nuts in honey, herb Liqueurs or packed sobrassada (sausage) or visit one of the many local produce stores and markets to find other local favourites.
If you’ve visited Palma or are from this beautiful city please add some of your favourite places – I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.
For so much more info on Palma de Mallorca visit the tourist city site http://www.seemallorca.com/palma