Most visitors to Majorca’s capital, Palma are pleasantly surprised by its cosmopolitan and upmarket feel. With the feel of a sanitised Barcelona, Palma is a easy city to explore and enjoy.
Many people just snatch a glimpse of Palma in their wing mirror as they rush from the airport to one of the four corners of the holiday island of Majorca. They are missing a treat.
Palma City Centre
Palma city centre is dominated by two main features; the large modern and imposing harbour, and the huge Cathedral more into the centre of the city. Although Churches hold little personal interest, Palma Cathedral is a huge and imposing sight and some of the Cathedral interior ironwork was designed by that wacky Spanish architect Gaudi. Closer inspection determined it as an early piece, and much less flamboyant than most of Gaudi’s work in Barcelona.
That contrast between Gaudi in Palma and Barcelona seems to be reflected widely within the city itself. Palma comes across as a rather more refined and less showy version of Barcelona, although some of the properties have the same art deco styling. There’s little better to put a grin on my face (in a public place at least!) than turning a corner to come face-to-face with a shop window, which has probably looked the same for almost a century.
The narrow maze of streets in Palma old town are distinctly cleaner than the stained and grubby streets of Barcelona, and with far fewer shady looking characters eying up purses and watches, it has a more relaxed atmosphere. The only downside to the exploration, is that the old town is on the side of a rather steep hill, and on a hot day, it can be a labour of love.
At the end of a busy day in the roasting city, it’s worth treating yourself to a classy cocktail in one of the plush bars in town. We particularly enjoyed the Bacchian excesses of the Bar Abaco (http://www.bar-abaco.com/ Carre Sant Joan, 1, T. 971 714 939), with its lavish fruit and cloth draped stone interior.
Unfortunately, with the waiters allowing people to gawp at the interior on a “free tour”, and take photos, Bar Abaco is not as exclusive as it once was. At 16 Euros a cocktail, I was a little disappointed that the service wasn’t a little sharper and our cocktails were not served with gratis nibbles, but it was still a good experience to sip at a drink and enjoy the atmosphere for an hour. The Bar Abaco has an external courtyard, but to me, it didn’t have the “wow” factor of the main hall. Bar Abaco is located in the narrow maze of old town street just away from the harbour front.
There are plenty of eateries in Palma to suit every budget and taste. Many take full advanatage of the grand old buildings they are located in, and it seems difficult to find a place that will offer you a bad meal. Just wander around and take your pick.
One slightly overlooked place in Palma is Bellver Castle (http://tinyurl.com/bellver T. 971 -73 06 57, entrance 2.50 Euros), an imposing 700 year old military building on a bluff above the city.
Perhaps the thought of the hill walk puts many off, but the castle was very quiet when we visited. The interior is worth a look round as an exhibition explains the development of Palma from its origins, through Roman and Moorish conquests (the Cathedral site was originally a Mosque, which in turn had been built on top of Roman ruins), and on to more recent changes at the turn of the last century, when the original city walls were replaced with some of the art-deco buildings to be seen in the city centre today.
The circular open air courtyard at Bellver Castle must be magical for musical performances, and I enjoyed the stroll across the roof and the view down to Palma. Outside, the sharp angles of the architecture, blue sky and noise of the cicadas confirm you are in foreign parts.
Palma Open Top Bus
Palma also offers an open top tour bus (http://tinyurl.com/palmabustour), but at an expensive 15 Euros each, it is a treat rather than a must-do. To be honest, we didn’t find the tour particularly inspiring (although it is great to feel the wind in your hair as it drives along the coast) and we didn’t discover any fantastic hidden gems en-route (although it does travel to Bellver Castle). The piped Sade and Spanish dubbed U2 accompanying the recorded commentary (ear speakers are provided) grated after a short while.
While I prefer to do my exploring on foot, it would probably be a handy (albeit expensive) way for families or elderly people to explore the city without too much walking.
Sleeping in Palma
We decided to stay a little way from the main action, and found a good deal on lastminute.com at around £65 a night at the 4 star Hotel Tryp Bellver (Paseo Marítimo, 11), a modern 4 star hotel nicely located near the harbour. It's a good place from which to explore the plush boats, is very near some of the bus stops for trips along the coast, and it's not too difficult to walk to the Cathedral.
We skipped the 12 Euro per head breakfast (there are a couple of great little local restaurants for breakfast at the rear of the hotel, away from the harbour front for a third of the price). We also laughed at the thought of paying an extra 25 Euros per night for an upgrade to get a duel carriageway ring-road view room (although the hotel described it to us as a harbour view room). Our balcony at the side of the hotel got a perfectly good view of the front, and was considerably quieter.
The facilities and rooms at the Tryp Bellver are large, clean and tidy, although not particularly memorable. Having our own balcony was nice, as it enabled us to relax for an hour before dinner. It is also worth noting there are quite a few good bars and restaurants within walking distance, including a couple of very good local style and cheaper Italian restaurants along the backstreets away from the front.
Need some time outside the city? Find some ideas within my guide here: http://www.simonseeks.com/travel-guides/day-trips-majorcas-palma-hike-bus-or-catch-train__171870