Pollensa: culture, calm and creature comforts

by Glynis

Majorca was never on my travel wish-list - until a trip to the quaint, historic town of Pollensa revealed that there's far more to this Spanish island than sun, sea and sand (though they're there too)

We zipped along 35 miles of motorway from Palma  to Pollensa, a medieval town in the northern corner of Majorca. It had been a short, 2-hour flight from Luton airport, conveniently on our doorstep.   The roads were mainly dual carriageway; having just stepped off the plane into blazing summer sun,  we found our car in the airport car hire zone, and negotiated the route quite easily. Pink bouganvillea bordered the hard shoulder; beyond, acres of olive trees. Majorca had never been on my must-visit list, but everyone I knew who had visited Pollensa had nothing but compliments. Would I feel the same?

Our destination was a renovated townhouse in the oldest part of the town, booked through Owners Direct. We eventually arrived after negotiating a maze of narrow streets flanked by ochre-coloured stone houses, shutters closed against the heat of the evening sun. Our house was a mix of original beams and exposed stone walls, neutral minimalist decor and a granite staircase. The courtyard garden was dominated by a large lemon tree, weighed down with fruit.

So far, so good. Our intention for the week was to have a heady mix of culture, countryside, sea and relaxation. Pollensa did not disappoint.

What to see and do

Sunday is market day in the Plaza Mayor, Pollensa's main square. Only one minute round the corner, the square was already crammed by 10 am  with locals and some tourists. A smattering of Spanish would have helped ( guiltily made mental note to learn some at least) but sign-language and digital scales sufficed.  An elderly woman wheeled home a sack of spuds on a make-shift trolley, whilst we walked home laden with dried ham, cherries, peaches, enormous red peppers, aubergines and olives. Lunch sorted!

If art's your thing, on the square are two galleries, the Galeria Bennassar and Galeria Major, exhibiting contemporary art and ceramics. Both are worth a browse, though bringing any larger exhibits home might prove tricky.

In July and August, there is a renowned music festival (www.festivalpollenca.com) where you can find notable perfomers; this year, cellists from the Berlin Philharmonic were performing, as well as jazz and opera.

The Calvari steps, right in the town centre, are a must - all 365 of them. At the top is an old church, as well as spectacular views. As you descend, do pop into some of the tempting shops, where you can buy jewellery, clothes and luxurious toiletries.

When the heat starts to overwhelm, head for the port - Puerto Pollensa - a 10-minute drive away. Here, you will find a wide sandy bay and safe bathing. At the northern end of the bay, the beach is narrower, with plenty of hotels and cafes right at the water's edge; if you want an expanse of sand, aim for the southern section of the bay.

Feeling energised and ready for a climb? Head for the Puig de Maria, a 1,000ft hill, accessed by a steep path that zigzags to the summit. At the top is an ancient convent - and a cafe. The climb takes from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your fitness. The view from the summit is worth the excertion, but be warned that coming down is as hard on the knees as going up!  If you are completely exhausted or fancy something different, rooms are available on a bed and breakfast basis,- but be warned that they are described as "simple".

Further afield

You are never too far away from other towns and historic sites, such as the monastery at Lluc. Pilgrims still come here.  Even if you have no religious convictions, you will appreciate the setting in the mountains and the sheer scale of the building. You can even stay  in an ensuite room. The monastery has a quality restaurant and interesting botanical gardens. We glimpsed a swimming pool that was strictly out of bounds, so reckoned it was for the residents.

If walking is your thing, several walks start from here, or in the foothills of the surrounding mountains. High summer is too hot for strenuous walking, so come earlier in the season.

Where to eat

There are numerous restaurants tucked away in the maze of streets. For something slightly different, try La Font del Gall (www.lafontdelgall.com), right next to the famous cock fountain. Owned by a Scottish couple, it serves dishes that are European with a Scottish twist. I enjoyed fresh fish kebabs, whilst my partner had venison steaks.  Prices were reasonable though not exactly cheap: a 2-course meal for two with a glass of wine set us back around £40.

The Italian restaurant on the main square, Il Giardino (www.giardinopollensa.com) has a good selection of fish dishes as well as more traditional food. Prices tended to be slightly higher here, possiby because of the location , with most main courses around the £12-£15 mark.

Pop round the corner, and you will find their patisserie. If you are watching your waistline, keep away! We bought the most delicious bread, pizzas, chocolate cake, strawberry slices, lemon meringue pie, exquisite chocolates, local jams and honey. 

The evening atmosphere in the Plaza Mayor and the surrounding streets is lively but sophisticated. There is plenty of opportunity to eat al fresco and watch the world go by as the sun sinks on the mellow brickwork. This is not the place for you if you want to go clubbing!

If fish is your favourite, head for the fish shop near the Euroski supermarket, where the counter groans with every kind of fish that you can imagine - and more. The delightful owner presented us with some free langoustines and extra prawns -  possibly as a thank-you for our attempt to order an enormous sea bream in Spanish - and we felt guilty again as she said "A present for you" in perfect English.

Where to stay

Our house was booked very easily through Owners Direct (Hotel Juma and the Hotel Ca'l Lloro offer quality accommodation right in the centre of the town. The Juma is in the main square, so be aware that noise may emanate from those eating al fresco at several restaurants there, including the hotel's own.

Final thoughts

Pollensa offers sun, sand, culture, nature and medieval charm, on a scale small enough to be intimate, but not so small as to be claustrophobic. My final memory is of a singer's voice - emulating Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee or Ella - drifting from the nearby Hotel Ca'l Lloro as I dozed off to sleep on a warm July night. Sweet dreams.