Walk this way: springtime in Sóller

by tara.stevens

A recent hiking trip to Sóller convinced me that there is more to this little part of the island than meets the eye

My recent hiking trip to Sóller was a revelation. Think of it if you like as the Peak District of Majorca, criss-crossed with ancient cobble-stoned ‘highways’ that served as trade and transport routes through the mountains during Moorish reign.

Undiscovered landscapes and ancient wonders

Until relatively recently it was considered easier to get from Soller to Marseille than to Palma, and when you strike off into the hills from either the inland town of Sóller or the seaside Port de Sóller it is easy to see why. People living in the remote stone cottages sprinkled through the hills still transport their foodstuffs by mule and communicate by conch shell horns. And once you’re up among the dramatic peaks with sweeping views of the Mediterranean on one side, and the empty plains of Majorca on the other, the rest of the world feels reassuringly far away.

Woven in between are terraces of gnarled olive trees, sweetly blossoming almonds, and citrus trees dripping with fruit. Goat bells bongle, birds chatter, wood smoke rises up from the chimneys of the little towns and villages below, while the sky shifts from cerulean blues to moodier pearly greys. It’s one of the most stunning landscapes I know, and there are roughly 140kms of footpath to explore, much of it easily accessed from either town. Sóller can easily be reached from Palma by train (see my How to get around Majorca page).

Circular routes

Using either town as a base it is possible to walk out from your hotel and take a bus back. Routes can be planned at: http://tib.illesbalears.cat, (+34 647 786 886/+34 971 177 777). They connect the Port de Sóller, Sóller, Lluc, Calcari, Deià, UIB, Hospital San Espasses, Palma and the Platja de Palma and run every 15-20 minutes from 7.30am until 8.30pm, with reduced service on Sundays. You can also arrange pick-up from the end of your trail through your hotel.

Guided routes

All of the hotels in the Associació Hotelera de Sóller offer guided hiking trips from February-June and September-October. Some are free - eg for a three-hour easy walk from Port de Sóller to Fornalutx, up to 28 euros for the fairly challenging summit to Puig de Galatzó (five hours). The 19 euros ramble to Cala Tuent is a mid-level walk that takes three and a half hours, but rewards with a dip in the sea at the end and a gorgeous boat trip back. Contact Bàrbara (+34 649 476 599) or Eduard (+34 699 109 133) for more information about hiking trips and schedules, or if you want to organise a guided hike lasting two to eight days through the Tramuntana stopping at refuges and local hostals en route. Both are English speaking.

What you need

Proper walking shoes, sun cream (the sun can be surprisingly fierce at this time of year), plenty of water and snacks are essential. Take a lightweight, waterproof coat too, and wear breathable layers so you can easily strip down or wrap up as necessary. I carry a couple of Compeed (fake skin plasters) and a spare pair of socks too, just in case of blisters or wet feet.

Top five walkers' hotels

I was a guest of the Hotel Es Port, an atmospheric 15th-century manor house just a minute or two’s walk from the old fishing quarter and beach of the Port de Sóller .

The Hotel Marina (Paseo La Playa s/n, Port de Sóller; doubles from 71 euros) is a little more expensive with the best rooms facing the beach. It’s been in the same family since 1931 and their paella draws foodies from all over the island. A spa will open on the roof later this spring.

Next door is Los Geranios (Paseo la Playa 15, Port de Sóller; doubles from 125 euros), which offers a luxe penthouse apartment for those wanting to stay longer. The views from the terrace over the almost perfect circle of a bay are eye-popping.

In the inland town of Sóller, the eight-room Hotel Vila (Plaça Constitució 14; doubles from 99 euros) boasts fabulous Art Deco features, with great views over the square and some of the best modern Mallorquín cooking in the area.

In pretty Fornalutx you’ll find Ca'n Reus (Calle de l’Auba 26; doubles from 130 euros). Stuffed with island antiques it’s a romantic base for exploring the surrounding hills. Olive Odyssey weekends take place during November, December and January where you pick and press your own olives at a 15th-century press and come away with your own bottle of hand-pressed oil.

Top three foodie walks

From the Port de Sóller to Deià don’t miss lunch at C'as Patro March (Deià; +34 971 639 137) for spanking fresh fish and seafood in a ramshackle beach bar cut into the rocks.

The Muleta loop from the Port de Sóller and back finishes conveniently at Es Faro (Cap Gros de Moleta; +34 605 991 325). It’s pricey but boasts superb views across the bay while offering protection in its conservatory if the wind is getting up.

In the Port de Sóller proper Es Racó d’es Port (Calle Santa Catalina; +34 616 477 153) is an unpretentious little fish restaurant with a terrace up above the boats. Simply grilled local prawns and monkfish in tarragon are exceptional.

Going it alone

Though the more obvious paths are well sign-posted I recommend the official Mapa Excursionista/Hiking Map Mallorca Tramuntana Central E-25 by Editorial Alpina at a scale of 1:25,000 (12 euros) for more challenging routes. Make sure you let your hotel know where you are going, your planned route and an estimated time of return. And take a mobile phone with you for emergencies.

Refuge-to-refuge hiking

Refuges are small, simple guest houses that provide serious hikers with food and a bed for the night. It’s a memorable – and extraordinarily cheap - way to see the island. There are currently five refuges scattered throughout the Tramuntana with details of each at www.conselldemallorca.net/refugis (Monday-Friday 9am-2pm; +34 971 173 700). Reservations are essential, especially at weekends when they tend to be booked solid.

The Ruta de Pedra en Sec is the most popular route through the central Tramuntana (the GR-221) and incorporates two cheap, refuge options. Can Boi in Deià has three dorms (with four, six and 18 beds). Refugi Muleta is perched on the edge of a cliff next the lighthouse above the Port de Sóller and makes a spectacular finish to a hike (or indeed a lunch stop if you don’t want to stay over). It has one dorm of 30 beds so be prepared for a bit of a slumber party.

Both places are scrupulously clean, and serve food at the following times: breakfast 8am-9am, lunch 1.30pm and dinner at 8pm. Doors are locked at 10pm and lights are out strictly at 11pm so this is not a place to come to party. Expect to pay around 11-20 euros for a dorm bed, breakfast 4.50 euros, lunch and dinner 10 euros.

For more information and to plan your trip, take a look at Tour Spain (www.tourspain.es) and the Associació Hotelera de Sóller (www.visitsoller.com).

tara.stevens

I've been writing about food, wine and travel in Spain - pretty much in that order - since I moved to Barcelona nearly 10 years ago. I've contributed to innumerable guidebooks (among them Time Out, AA, Dorling Kindersley and Wallpaper*) and written features for many magazines like Conde Nast Traveler, Scanorama (Scandinavia Airlines inflight), and Olive magazine.

I first went to Majorca for a Time Out Guide about five years ago and now I can't stay away. It's like a condensed, tapas-sized version of Spain, more than entertaining for a weekend, plenty satisfying for longer stays.

 

MY MAJORCA

Where I always grab a coffee: Ca’n Joan de s’Aigo is no secret, but every time I stay in Palma I make a beeline for it in the morning. The red velvet banquettes and crystal chandeliers make me feel like I've woken up in another era, the coffee and ensaimadas (a local, snail shaped breakfast pastry) are good, and all in all it’s a rather glam way to start the day.

My favourite stroll: I'm a walker by nature, so this might seem rather long, but what I like to do is head down to the cathedral, have a good poke about it then cross the road over to the sea. When I get there I turn left along the Platja de Can Pere Antoni and keep going until I get to Portixol. Great for blowing away the cobwebs, especially if there's a bit of a storm brewing.

Fiction for inspiration: A Winter in Majorca by George Sand paints a bleak picture of the island in the early 19th century, but its kind of refreshing to read something that isn't all ra, ra, ra. Lucia Graves' (Robert Graves daughter) account of life in Spain and of growing up in Majorca over a century later is a bit more forgiving and uplifting. If you read both you come out with a balanced view of a people and a place.

Where to be seen: lunch at Marc Fosh's latest venture: La Tasca de Blanquerna with a big glass of local wine, or if I'm in the mood, a glitzy champagne brunch out at Puro Beach.

The most breathtaking view: it's a bit of a hike (though you could get bus numbers 3, 4, 20, 21 and 22) but worth it for magnificent sea-city views from the Castell de Bellver (meaning 'lovely view' in Catalan, it is also an eye-popping piece of architecture). If you can't be bothered to go that far, views from the terrace at El Baluard, Palma's museum of modern art are also pretty good.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: Palma's quite a mellow city generally, but if peace and quiet is what I'm craving I get out of town to one of the south coast calas (beaches) for a swim and a walk along the shallow cliffs there (it's a bit like floating on a raft).

Shoe-aholics beware: the whole of the area around the Born is filled with completely seductive shoe shops. Good value compared to anything back home, but lethal if you’ve a credit card to flex. You have been warned.

Resort soundtrack: Buika is an Afro-Mallorcan singer whose sultry, sexy, moody blending of jazz and flamenco shot her to fame with her album Mi Niña Lola in 2006. Best absorbed with a Xoriguer gin (from neighbouring Menorca) and tonic.

Don’t leave without: exploring the rest of the island. I love driving the wiggly-windy lanes between Deià and Soller and beach hopping en route (steep access but worth the effort) and going for a fresh grilled fish at the only bar on Cala Torta, up near Artà.