Europe

Nature Takes its Course in Minorca

written by | Posted on April 1st, 2010

The so-called “Plain Jane of the Balearics” might not be as ostentatious as her neighbors, but she’s got a few hidden gems up her sleeves for vacationers seeking serenity and natural beauty.

There are few places on earth that manage to successfully carve out their own identity by gift-wrapping two differing ambiances into a neat package for those insisting to walk along the road less taken.

Take a group of five small landmasses lying in the sun-drenched Mediterranean, roughly 130 miles from the southern coast of Spain.

Known as the Balearics, the islands achieve the impossible: mixing all the romance associated with island life and presenting it against the astonishingly enchanting backdrop of far-flung southern European towns like those found in Andalucia’s “Pueblos Blancos”—a cluster of dazzling, sleepy, habitually whitewashed mountaintop outposts that from a distance look like a blanket of snow has covered the mountain’s crest.

Of course, upon hearing the words “Balearic Islands,” cognoscenti of remote vacation spots will immediately conjure visions of Majorca and Ibiza, the two most popular—and often overcrowded—islands of the group.

Those are where you should direct clients searching for Euro-style dolce vita holidays awash with celebrities and consisting of long days lolling on sun gilded beaches and nights of loud, excessive carousing that stretches into the wee hours.

But for clients craving a taste for a simpler, semi-rural, patently European lifestyle away from the blinding spotlight, Minorca, the second largest of the Balearics, is the ticket. Although Minorca is usually outshined in glamour and style by its balmy, film star-studded, jet set-favored neighbors, it is no stranger to tourists.

Those who set foot on this island, though, are a different breed who come seeking serenity and beauty.

According to Javier Piñanes, director of the Tourist Office of Spain in New York, “Minorca is a jewel that will never let you down. From beaches to monuments, from gastronomy to handicrafts, from travel adventure to tradition and culture, the warmth and hospitality of its locals will overwhelm you in a lovely place where you can connect with nature while enjoying its 300 days of sunshine a year.”

Indeed, within this 32-mile-long, 9-mile-wide strip of sun-splashed wonders, you’ll find more than 120 beaches—scintillating strands of sand and rocks, the haunt of British, Germans, French and Scandinavians, foreigners who introduced topless bathing to the island a few decades back, a practice incidentally frowned upon by Spanish law.

However, this is an island that’s more proud of the fact that mayonnaise was first concocted in the city of Mahon by a local chef who wanted to perk up a fish dish for the Duc de Richelieu, than for the number of tourists it attracts.

But Minorca more than makes up for its lack of high-voltage lifestyle with its peaceful sandy coves, blue seas and sparkling beaches where you’ll often be the only person within sight. The island is also full of Bronze Age monuments visible from the main roads and the large number of bijou, old-fashioned market towns like Ciudadela and Mahon host enough festivals in their colorful town squares that any visit here will be exciting and memorable.

Getting to Minorca, however, can be tricky. Although there are several daily flights from Palma—Majorca’s capital—to Mahon, the island’s main city where travelers will also find regular connections to Barcelona and Madrid via Iberia Airlines, it’s usually more convenient to include Minorca as part of an itinerary of the Balearics, rather than planning a special trip there from mainland Spain. Other airlines that land on the island, incidentally, include Air Berlin, Air Europa, Air France, EasyJet, KLM, Spanair, and TAP.

A visitor will be completely acclimated in only a couple of days, when the beauty of Minorca—with its dirt roads leading to isolated bays or concealed farms—comes into focus.

And it’s that rural atmosphere and aura of quietude that attracts those interested in agritourism to the windswept island, that many call “The Plain Jane of the Balearics.”

According to figures issued by the Spanish government—which defines agritourism as “a vacation or holiday taken on a farm, vineyard or other working agricultural sites”—agritourism is Minorca’s most popular draw because the island has managed to retain a natural beauty and authenticity that many find both restful and invigorating.