Mallorca’s stylish seaside capital, Palma is a vibrant place for a year-round weekend away where food, architecture and fashionable boutiques are just a few highlights
Way back in the 1930s, Palma was a favourite holiday spot for rich Europeans who moored their yachts in the harbour city to dine in its restaurants, admire the magnificent architecture and revel in the Palmesanos’ sense of style. Over the years, its noisy neighbour Magaluf hogged the limelight and the Mallorcan capital slowly lost its shine. Now, however, the worm has turned. With its rich history, design hotels, colourful food markets, fantastic restaurants and blossoming art scene, Palma is once again attracting the bold and the beautiful for a weekend away.
What to do
There is a lot to see in this charming city, which was once a powerful player in Muslim Spain. Start at La Seu Cathedral: the beating heart of the old town (comprised of the Sa Portella and Sa Calatrava districts), it towers over the waterfront in all its massive gothic splendour. Dedicate a morning to exploring this ecclesiastic wonder, which supposedly contains relics such as three thorns from Christ’s cruxifiction crown. Gaudí had a hand in later renovations, adding new stained glass windows and designing the wrought iron canopy over the altar.
Learn more about the island’s history at the Museu de Mallorca (www.museudemallorca.es) in the Palace of the Counts of Ayamans, a collection of archaeological artefacts and some artworks. For a more up-to-date dose of culture, check out the Es Baluard Museum (00 34 971 908 200; www.esbaluard.org). The city’s answer to the Tate Modern, it is full to the brim with 20th-century Iberian art from the likes of Picasso, Dalí and Miró, who lived out his latter years in the city.
For spectacular views head up high to Castell de Bellver, a perfectly round 14th-century castle in a pretty park overlooking the bay of Palma. It is a good hour’s walk so go armed with a picnic lunch of sobrassada (local spicy sausage), pa moreno (rye bread) and ensaïmada (sweet, sugary pastries) from the central food market, Mercat de l’Olivar.
After the sun sets, join the fashionable Palmesanos in the Santa Catalina and Llotja quarters, where music, food and fashion take centre stage every night of the week.
Another reason why Palma is a popular weekend getaway is its proximity to beaches – if want to dip your toe in the balmy Med try Ciutat Jardi, a blue flag cove five kilometres east of the city.
Where to stay
Puro Hotel is urban chic at its best and one of the hottest addresses in the old town. Think clean lines, white walls and quirky objects. Palacio Ca Sa Galesa is a restored 19th-century townhouse with an enclosed courtyard where the rooms are classic and swish. Book into Hotel Tres and you will get high arched doorways, wooden floors and oodles of modern art. Head to the roof terrace for a swim and amazing views over the city’s rooftops.
Where to eat and drink
La Bodeguilla (00 34 971 718 274; www.labodeguilla.com) wine bar and restaurant serves great traditional dishes, such as tender grilled squid, with a modern twist and over 200 wines by the glass. La Taberna Del Caracol (00 34 971 714 908) on Calle Sant Alonso is a low-key alternative with fabulous tapas – the island’s ubiquitous pa amb oli (bread with oil) and arros brut (dirty rice) – served in a cellar bar behind the cathedral.
For a decadent drink, the best place in town is the opulent Abaco (00 34 971 714 939) in the Llotja district. Check out the beautiful candlelit courtyard with its exotic birds, sculpture and fountains. The harbour front hotel and restaurant Portixol (00 34 971 271 800; www.portixol.com) is another fantastic spot to relax with a cocktail and watch the sun go down over the Med.
To really push the yacht out book a table at Plat D’Or Restaurant at the Hotel Arabella Sheraton (00 34 971 787 100) in the wealthy residential area of Son Vida, just outside Palma. Here chef Rafael Sánchez turns out elegant, Michelin-starred cuisine.
Time running out?
Head to a bar or café in the old town and order some local wine, little of which is available outside of the island. Reds from Ánima Negra bodega (www.annegra.com) come recommended.
Plan your day carefully: many places close for mediodia, including restaurants. While it translates as midday it is usually some time between 4pm and 8pm.
Currency is the euro. Palma is one head of GMT and a two-hour 30-minute flight from London.
EasyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com) flies to Palma from Gatwick, London Luton and Stansted. Iberia Air (0870 60 90 500; www.iberia.com/gb) flies daily from Heathrow to Palma via Madrid.
Palma Tourist Information Offices: Parc de les Estacions (00 34 902 102 365; www.islas.co.uk).
This guide first appeared in Food and Travel magazine.