Forget Majorca's package-holiday image - the island's capital, Palma, makes a decidedly chic choice for a short break, with a lovely old town, great bars and restaurants, and even a crowd-free beach
Sitting right in the heart of the Mediterranean, Palma has all the best bits of Spain. It combines all the style, passion and stunning beauty of bigger cities on the mainland with its own unique identity, culture and wonderful people. It is also the favoured holiday destination of the Spanish royal family, and many celebrities. Majorca itself may still attract package holiday-makers but Palma and its surroundings remain relatively undiscovered by tourists and, luckily, unspoilt.
What to do
At the heart of Palma is a cosmopolitan and historical old town, a fascinating maze of streets in which the city's colourful Arab and Moorish past is clearly evident. There is so much to see and do here, with plenty of sights and museums. However, it is also a city simply to explore, wanderering through the narrow, quiet streets, surrounded by a diverse range of interesting and colourful buildings, or taking a stroll along the Paseo Maritimo.
A must-see is the impressive La Seu cathedral (Calle Palau Reial; www.catedraldemallorca.org), a spectacular sight that dominates the Palma skyline. It took over 400 years to build, and even Barcelona’s famous son, Gaudi, was involved with its restoration in the 20th century.
Bellver Castle (Camilo Jose Cela) is a unique example of Gothic architecture. This fine building, which has been both a castle and, more recently, a prison, has overlooked and protected the city for centuries. It's definitely worth the uphill trek for a visit, if only for the magnificent views. Admission is only about €2 and it’s free on Sundays.
Where to eat and drink
For lunch, try the Cafe Port Pesquer (Carrer Moll de la Llotja), a café beside the port, offering seafood and tapas. Mains cost about €14-€20. Cappuccino Palau March (Conquistador 13) is a romantic and intimate spot that's good for everything from breakfast (from €10) to salads to cocktails. For the best tapas, head to the Taberna de la Boveda (Paseo Sagrera 3).
La Poule au Pot (Carrer Pou 31; +34 971 73 06 57) is a new bistro-style restaurant in the centre of the up-and-coming area of Santa Catalina, beside the Mercat de Santa Catalina food market. Mains here start from €20.
Abaco (Carre Sant Joan 1; +34 971 714 939) is a famous cocktail bar set in a magnificent former coach house in the old town. It's exclusive and expensive, but worth at least one visit. Cocktails (€15-€25) are absolutely huge, beautifully presented and made with fresh fruit juice.
Paseo Marítimo, which runs along the seafront, offers a good section of trendy bars and lively nightclubs, most of which do not get going until after midnight and stay open until the wee hours.
Just a few minutes outside Palma, you will find the little-known stylish resort of Illetas, overlooking Palma Bay. Peaceful, unspoilt and relaxing, with a smattering of coastal inlets and sandy beaches, this is an ideal spot to get away from it all and get to know the locals. With its proximity to Palma, it is amazing that this little coastal resort remains relatively undiscovered, but its residents and visitors seem happy to keep it that way.
We stayed at the original and quirky Hotel Bon Sol, which overlooks a tiny inlet on the seafront. It's a luxurious and stylish family-run hotel, oozing with charm and character. The décor is reminiscent of a medieval castle, combined with 1950s glamour, and there's a relaxed Spanish atmosphere.
Enjoy a glass of cava in the old-world bar, which is relatively unchanged since Errol Flynn stayed here. The main restaurant, a true Catalan gourmet experience, is located in the main hotel building. There is also a second restaurant overlooking the private beach, a stunning location where you can watch the sun set as you eat or sip a glass of rioja. This is a great hotel for a memorable stay, with personal touches and an attention to detail that make it a special retreat. Rooms are all individually decorated, and you feel as through you are staying in a house, rather than a four-star hotel. Prices vary from about €150 to €200.
Illetas is quiet, and does not have much in the way of nightlife, but for an after-dinner stroll and a cocktail, try the chic Virtual Beach Club. Relax in its hammocks or chill at the bar, which is right on the beach. Bar Sorrentos is another good bet for a beer, entertainment or just to relax.
Just a short stroll from the hotel, you will find Illetas's main beach, which is beautiful, and shelves gently into turquoise waters. This part of the coastline never gets overcrowded, and is certainly worth a visit. It has a couple of beach bars, serving snacks and chilled beer and offering a welcome respite from the sun.
Outside Palma, a day trip to the sophisticated inland town of Soller is worthwhile and rewarding. The easiest and most picturesque way to get here is to hop on an old vintage wooden train (www.trendesoller.com; about €17 return) and take a slow journey through the breathtaking and dramatic scenery of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range. Most visitors continue to Puerto de Soller, a coastal resort about two miles westwards; however, I prefer the ambience of Soller itself.
Surrounded by lush greenery, olive and orange groves and rolling landscape, this historical town is a contrast to the south of the island. It’s a good place to wander around and admire the architecture – some of the buildings are over 700 years old. Stop for a café or a glass of wine at one of the many cafes on or around the Plaça Constitucio at the town’s centre, such as Cafe Soller or Luna (36 Carrer de sa Lluna).
Gran Hotel Soller is a grand five-star hotel, ideal for a leisurely lunch or romantic dinner. If you want to stay overnight at this cool and contemporary hotel, luxurious rooms start at €180 per night.