I think of them as the three Graces – Mallorca, Ibiza, and Menorca: Mallorca is Hera, the biggest and mother of the three; Ibiza is Aphrodite, glamorous and ready for fun; leaving Menorca as Athena, the wise, the knowing, and the gin-sipping.
All three Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain glisten in the Med beckoning us to choose like Paris. Thank goodness, the choice was made for me, avoiding another Trojan War, when I was invited by Visit Spain and Traverse Events to spend a week enjoying its sunny coasts, sandy beaches, sky-high hills, and grape-based gin.
Its strategic geographical location in the Med has made it sought after through time by Vikings, Ottomans, Pirates, British, among others. Maybe they just came for the Mayonnaise (It might all be an urban myth, but the story goes that a lady from Mahon, the capital, (Mahon-naise) whipped up a sauce for a hungry Frenchman and the rest is history.)
Combining the megalithic with the modern, Menorca has so many Best Bits, it was hard to pick just ten, so there are a few extras at the end!
1. The Beaches
Now that the conquerors have left, people come to Menorca expected sun and they will not be disappointed. If you are a rock lover, head to the North to find drama. Following paths that lead down long steep cliffs, you come to almost red-sand beaches like the Platja Cavalleria above. Stick to the South and get a completely different experience, coves with sandy beaches, that sometimes take you thirty minutes to hike to or are accessible only by boats hired from Cala Galdana.
2. The Lighthouses
Whichever beach you throw your towel, you will most certainly see a lighthouse in the distance, giving the island an old-fashioned feel. On the edge of the S’Albufera Nature Reserve sits Favaritx, its impressive striped tower beckoning tourists to visit her shores.
There was no gin before the British arrived in the 1700. Now it’s the national drink. More Spanish drink gin than the Brits and, in Menorca, they’re mixing it with lemonade and calling it Pomada. So simple… but Mahon Gin is very different. You’ll have to wait for my podcast next week to find out why!
4. Naveta d’es Tudons
Before any conquerors or tourists took over the island, the natives were busy building this incredible megalithic site (2000-1000 BC), one of the oldest in Europe. Fashioned as an upside down boat, it houses a perfectly preserved burial site. There is a legend surrounding what looks like a missing stone at the top. Two giants fell for a local girl, one building the Naveta and the other a well. The first to complete his task would marry the girl. The one digging for water was successful and, when the other found out he had struck water, he was so angry that he threw the last stone at him, killing him. Maybe that’s why they used it as a graveyard!
5. Mercat de Pescados, Mahon
Mahon, the capital, should not be missed, having the second largest natural harbor in the world after Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The old town is perched on a hill and has some lovely local shops, mixed with high street ones. There is only one place to eat lunch! The Fish Market, housed in a yellow and white 19th Century building in the middle of town, not offers daily, freshly caught fish, but it’s also the spot for the best tapas in Mahon. Order a few bits, have a vermouth and sit and enjoy the view over the harbor.
6. The Food
Since we’re on food, there are a few unmissable bits of Menorcan local cuisine. One is the cheese. It’s everywhere and with good reason. Mahon cheese is served both young and creamy and hard and crumbly. Made from cow’s milk, it has a slightly salty taste due to the sea salt in the grass that the cows eat!
Another Menrocan specialty is the Caldereta de Langosta, their blue spiny Lobster Soup – a Menorcan take on a Bouillabaisse. My favorite restaurants on the island were Es Moli de Foc in the tiny village of Sant Climent & Binifade, one of the few vineyards in Menorca, that also serves dinner.
7. Monte Toro
Monte Tor is the highest spot from which to view the whole island. On a clear day like this one above, I felt I could see all the way to Barcelona. On the top of the Monte, there is the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Bull. Make sure you pop in to see the Madonna, rumored to have been worshipped here since the 13th Century.
Unfortunately for the locals, the whole town of Ciutadella was destroyed by the Turks in 1558 and its citizens were all enslaved. The good news is that when they were rebuilding the city, the Italianate style was all the fashion. Today it’s safe and sound with winding streets, restaurants perched on cliffs and views of the water! It was the first capital city and the buildings are monumental, but in that graceful, light stoned, Italian way. It’s the perfect size for a wander around in the morning and lunch, before heading back to the beach.
9. Cova d’en Xoroi
Cova d’en Xoroi is definitely the sexiest bar on the island – no competition. It’s hard to beat a bar carved out of cliffs especially at sunset. With a Pomada in one hand, I longed to grab the Cypriot for a smooch with the other, but, alas, he was home in London at his desk, designing buildings. At least, I know where to bring him the next time.
10. Isla Lazareto
New in town? In the 19th Century, you better not have a sniffle, because off to Lazareto Island you would go. A former quarantine site and hardly changed since it closed in the early 20th C, Lazareto makes a slightly ominous tourist attraction. Who knows how many ghosts come out at night? Luckily, we were there during the day – so no need to be scared. Just a quick boat ride from Es Castell and upon your return, sit in the lovely harbor and watch the ghosts appear from the safety of your paella.
Although this town was developed in the 1970’s, its fishermen’s cottages, all whitewashed and sunny, ooze style and sophistication. Although a little touristy, sometimes that is not a bad thing. There is a reason why people flock – for me it was the Pomada Granita I found in one of its bars! (Try and find the beach near here so tiny it’s called the Lover’s Beach.)
I couldn’t leave the island, and this post, without a little shopping. The Menorcan sandal has become a classic. Local Mahon-based designer, Llorenç Pons, has updated them in colors and fabrics not seen anywhere else. Land in the capital and head directly to his store, Bobas, on Pont de L’Angel 4, grab a bite at the Fish Market and head straight to Platja Cavalleria!
What are your Best Bits of Menorca? I am always keen to know more!
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