Take a break from Mallorca's turquoise waters and drive inland to the heart of the Serra de Tramuntana mountains for breathtaking vistas, the best lamb and an idyllic boutique hotel to hide away in
Without doubt, one of my favourite things to do when in Mallorca is to take the road out to Alaro, for a veritable feast of lamb at Es Verger, a rustic farmhouse high above the small town, which serves perhaps the best lamb on the island. Highly acclaimed chef and restaurateur Rick Stein visited here whilst filming his Mediterranean Escapes programme and declared it to be the most succulent lamb he’s ever tasted!
First stop - Santa Maria del Cami.
The first part of the route out from Mallorca’s capital, Palma, is quick and easy thanks to the motorway Ma-13 to Inca. I recommend a coffee stop in the market town of Santa Maria del Cami first and sit at one of the many cafes for a café con leche and freshly baked ensaimadas (a local sweet pastry dusted in sugar), or perhaps take a wander around the award winning Macia Batle winery on the outskirts of the town (www.maciabatle.com). If you happen to pass through Santa Maria on a Sunday, the famous market is well worth a stroll around. Shady stalls are laden with fresh local fare - umpteen varieties of cheeses and olives vie with sun-ripened almonds, just-picked fruits and Mallorquin olive oils – the island’s ambrosia. Take my advice though and go early to mid-morning, otherwise the locals will have beaten you to it!
The "Lamb Restaurant"
Joining the main road again, take the sign for Alaro. This small town, once an ancient Arab farmstead, lies at the foot of Mount Alaro, an impressive 825m high. For the more energetic, it will take two hours to walk to the Moorish castle, Castell d’Alaro, whose ruins appear to grow out from the mountain’s craggy rock face. By car it will take only 15 minutes but be prepared for some extremely tortuous bends. This is certainly not a route for the faint hearted, but rest assured the views from the top are well worth the vertiginous drive! We have toured around this area many times, and in different seasons. Our last visit was in the spring before the seering summer temperatures had taken their toll on the lush valleys, and the fields were filled with cherry blossom, but whatever time of year you go, you will not be disappointed on reaching the summit.
People in the know whisper amongst themselves about “the lamb restaurant”! Wooden benches flank long tables, the wood burning oven glows at the top end of the room, and the occasional sheep wanders by the door – this is pure bucolic charm. The food at Es Verger (971 182 126) is authentic Mallorquin fare, but you simply must order the house speciality – ‘codero’ - whilst trying not to make eye contact with the sweetest looking sheep peering in at the entrance! The lamb is slow-cooked in San Miguel beer in the wood-fired oven, which lends the most amazing flavour to this succulent dish. So tender is the meat that it really doesn’t need a knife. Served with traditional patatas bravas (Spanish style potatoes) and house wine, this is traditional foodie heaven.
After lunch, choose either to walk off your meal by following the path up to the castell, whose first historical records date back to 900, or take in the breathtaking views over the plains of Es Pla from just outside the restaurant.
The journey continues....
Returning to Alaro from the heady heights, take the road up to Orient, a small village in the municipality of Bunyola, with stepped streets and stone houses to add to its charm. For another day, take note that Restaurant Orient (971 510 248; closed Tuesdays), on your right as you leave the village, serves award winning suckling pig, and displays its framed accolades on the walls. The best seat is by the arched window overlooking the valley. Sundays are generally very busy with family lunches so go early.
Bunyola and Valdemossa
Continuing on, the road twists and turns through verdant forests down towards the south edge of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range towards Bunyola. This traditional village is noticeably untouched by tourism. The Palma to Soller vintage train stops here several times a day, as it has done for the last 90 years or so, and the tranquil Moorish gardens of Alfabia are close by. Set amongst shaded citrus groves, these beautiful gardens are testimony to the Moors' talents for landscaping and irrigation. Take a moment and enjoy a glass of freshly squeezed lemon juice here before joining the Ma-11 road south for a couple of kilometres, taking a right turn towards Son Termens Golf Club, past field upon field of olives, and arriving onto the Ma-1130 for the short climb up to Valldemossa. This pretty sand-washed town clings to the lower slopes of the Tramuntana range, and was for a short time, home to the polish composer Chopin, and his lover George Sand, who came to escape the gossip of their affair in Paris. A romantic setting for a romantic tale.
The Perfect Hideaway
Before reaching the town, a small sign will direct you to turn off the main road for Mirabo de Valldemossa. A beautiful small country house set high on the hillside, Mirabo has perhaps the most enviable and stunning views towards Valldemossa. A boutique hotel with only nine bedrooms, Mirabo’s sandy façade and traditional shuttered windows blend at ease into the scenery. Dating back to 1500, it has been lovingly kept in the same family since the 19th century, and today, Ignacio the owner, has sympathetically restored it into a contemporary chic retreat. The rooms are split between the house itself and some outbuildings. For a special treat, book the perfect hide-away suite – Porche de las Ovejas – although a Sheep Hut (translated into English) it certainly is not! Stone steps lead you to your private terrace, and once inside, a floor to ceiling glass wall reveals the reasoning behind the hotel’s name, translated as View of Valldemossa. Rooms vary in price from 140 – 360 euros including buffet breakfast and tax, depending on season and size, and most offer views and/or private terraces. It must be noted that due to the peaceful ambience, which makes Mirabo so special, it is not recommended for under 12 year olds.
The infinity pool and communal terrace provide the same incredible panorama across to Valldemossa. An honesty bar by the pool and in the main house provides you with fruit juices, mineral water, teas, coffees, beers, wine, nuts and fresh fruit throughout the day and night. Breakfast is served anytime from 8.30 -11.30am. Just write down your choice of lunch and evening meal from the daily changing menu, and Antonio the manager, will make sure your needs are catered for. Dinner is fresh, traditional Mallorquin fare, ranging from fish and paellas to satisfying casseroles or fritos (an island favourite of fried mixed fish or meat) and is served al fresco in the summer months, next to the lavender garden and lemon trees. For a pre-dinner drink, take your glass up to the roof terrace and watch the sun set behind Valldemossa creating picture-perfect silhouettes. In cooler months, meals are taken inside in the olive press room, and a large open fire welcomes you into the drawing room where books and a selection of music are always available.
Although only 15 minutes drive from the centre of Palma, Mirabo creates the perfect setting for a romantic and peaceful break. A place of tranquility and relaxation, whilst the rest of the island buzzes. This is the Mallorca I love to return to.