Less is more in the Balearics - Europe - Travel - The Independent

Less is more in the Balearics

Menorca is full of hidden delights. Jonathan Bennett reports

Say the word Menorca to most people in Britain and the usual response is thanks, but no thanks. On the list of desirable holiday destinations it ranks somewhere between Torremolinos and Skegness. Which is odd, because for discerning Spaniards - and for Brits in the know - Menorca is a carefully guarded secret.

Say the word Menorca to most people in Britain and the usual response is thanks, but no thanks. On the list of desirable holiday destinations it ranks somewhere between Torremolinos and Skegness. Which is odd, because for discerning Spaniards - and for Brits in the know - Menorca is a carefully guarded secret.

Often lumped together with its Balearic sisters Ibiza and Majorca, Menorca is very different from both, and not just because it has managed to escape the worst ravages of mass tourism. Most of Menorca is still very rural, criss-crossed with stone walls and rolling pastureland. Partly it's to do with the island's rich heritage. Stand in front of one of the many mysterious taulas, prehistoric T-shaped altars that stand more than three metres high, beside the ruins of stone watchtowers, and you can still feel a certain calm energy emanating from them. Or visit Calescoves, a beautiful, forked bay, with neolithic tombs carved high in the cliff-face, where you can drink from the same spring as the Romans did. Look inland, up the overgrown gorge you will have walked down, and you see a view that has changed little in the intervening two millennia.

In the 18th century the English occupied the island, recognising the strategic importance of the port of Mahon, the second largest natural harbour in the world. From there they were able to dominate the Mediterranean for almost 100 years; if it hadn't been for the treaty of Amiens in 1802, Menorca, like Gibraltar, might still be British.

In fact, Mahon, the capital, still has a certain English feel to it, not least because of its ubiquitous bow windows. Friesan cows, red clover and colonial architecture are other reminders of English occupation, as is some vocabulary: you can still find the children's game mérvils (marbles) and boil water in a quítil (kettle). Gin is still made locally and drunk during local celebrations, the most famous of which is Ciutadella's Festes de Sant Joan in June.

Where Mahon has hidden delights, Ciutadella is most people's immediate favourite, with its small, quaint harbour lined with fish restaurants and its two dramatic squares, one pine-filled and shady, the other an elegant stage set lined with colonial buildings and palaces of pinkish sandstone. The area behind is a delightful labyrinth of cobbled streets, brightly painted townhouses with wooden shutters and the carved façades of tiny churches that deepen to red with the evening sun.

So why does Menorca enjoy such a poor reputation among the English? The answer is a combination of laziness and lack of information. Most package tourists end up at one of a handful of resort ghettoes. But escape is simple: rent a car. Most roads are excellent these days, and from as little as €20 (£14) a day, paradise awaits.

Sant Tomas and Son Bou in the south have the longest beaches, with white sand and clear, turquoise waters. Both have a handful of large hotels, but a five-minute walk will take you to areas of beach backed by dunes and woodland. Other beaches in the south tend to be smaller, at the end of short bays wedged between high cliffs: Cala en Porter, for example, or Cala Galdana. Less spoilt, though harder to get to, are the beaches of Macarella and Cala en Turqueta, which are small and charming, but there's a long drive along narrow lanes to endure as well as parking fees. The north coast is more rugged and less developed, and access can be more difficult, though Cala d'Algairens, Arenal d'en Castell and Cala Mesquida are all pretty and easy to reach.

Beaches, though, account for only about 10 per cent of the coastline. The rest is rocks and cliffs, which is what makes Menorca such a good place for scuba diving. "The rugged landscape of the coastline continues below the water," explains Ali Lee of Ulmo Diving in Addaia, one of 10 authorised dive centres on the island, though about 20 more "pirate" outfits spring up in the summer. "Every year we're noticing an increase in the quantity and size of the marine life we see here," she says.

One of the delights of Menorca is not just looking at sea life, but also eating it. The island has some excellent seafood restaurants, particularly in Mahon and Ciutadella, as well as Fornells in the north, famed for its spiny lobster stew, a simple dish that used to be eaten by fishermen.

Menorca also has several restaurants serving haute cuisine. Andaira, in Mahon, is a sensual treat of flavours and textures that defy description, created by young chef Carl Borg and served by his partner Ariadna Belloch. Two miles south, the tiny villages of Torret and S'Ullastrar between them have at least half a dozen gastronomic restaurants along a single stretch of country road, no more than a mile long. La Caraba is probably the best, with Sa Parereta d'en Doro a close second. In Ciutadella, Café Balear serves excellent fish and meat in elegant but unfussy surroundings.

With so much to see and do (and eat), Menorca, known as "the lesser Balear", has far more to offer than its larger neighbours. Perhaps that's why it's such a well-kept secret.

The Facts

Getting there

GB Airways flies to Mahon four times a week from £155 return. Book through British Airways (0845 773 3377; www.ba.com).

Being there

The Hotel Port Mahon (00 34 971 362 600, www.sethotels.com) offers doubles from €63 (£45) per night.

Car hire is available from Autos Menorsur (00 34 971 36 56 66; www.menorsur) from €65 (£46) for three days.

Further information

Spanish Tourist Office (020-7486 8077; www.tourspain.co.uk).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week