Palma de Mallorca: Boutique hotels and upmarket shopping put a spring in the step of the Old Town

Spring comes early to the Balearics, says James Litston

While the UK shivers in late winter's chill, Mallorca too wears a white blanket – but not of snow. It's the blossom of the island's four-million-plus almond trees, currently at the peak of their ephemeral, vernal splendour.

It certainly looks impressive from a height of 500ft. On my half-hour helicopter tour, I've been whisked down the coast from urban Palma to the open countryside at Mallorca's southerly tip. Turning inland, the shoreline scrub gives way to fields and almond orchards in full bloom.

Beyond, the distant Sierra Tramuntana provides a backdrop to this glorious scene. The limestone peaks are lost amid the clouds, but their upper slopes are gleaming in a dusting of fresh snow. It's the perfect complement to all those petals in the lowlands.

The tour ends in Palma, the capital, which is set on a sweeping bay. Its headline attractions – the cathedral (see "Don't Miss", right), Arab Baths (00 34 971 72 15 49; Carrer del Pare Rafael Serra, 7) and stunning Almudaina Palace (00 34 971 72 73 37; Avenue Antoni Maura, 24) – are sited in the atmospheric (and remarkably intact) Old Town.

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Almond blossom in Mallorca (Getty)

Like the island's interior, Palma's Old Town is resurging. It all began a decade ago with the arrival of its first boutique hotels. Since then, Palma's renaissance has gathered pace. Public buildings have been spruced up, historic façades restored, and new life has been breathed into its hotel and retail scenes.

Designer shopping has recently arrived on upmarket Passeig del Born, where Mulberry, Burberry and Louis Vuitton have opened. New concept stores and cool boutiques are appearing on nearby streets, amid a booming bar and restaurant scene. As for hotels, the last few years have seen several new openings in historic buildings. Hot on the heels of boutique hotels Calatrava and Can Cera, the same husband-and-wife team launched Can Alomar, their latest venture, last summer. Also new for 2014 was stylish Hotel Cort, while Easter will see the arrival of Sant Francesc Hotel Singular – at 42 rooms, Palma's largest boutique property.

It all adds up to a big-city experience on an easy-going, small-town scale, with year-round appeal, good flight connections and an airport just 10 minutes' drive from the centre.

UNPACK

I could easily have missed Can Alomar's unassuming entrance, at Carrer de Sant Feliu 1 (00 34 871 592 002; boutiquehotelcanalomar.com). This neo-Gothic palace conversion has a tiny ground-floor footprint, yet opens into an exceptionally elegant, high-ceilinged, second-floor lounge. The guests-only roof terrace has a plunge-pool and loungers with views of the cathedral and Passeig des Born's treetops. The 16 bedrooms are sumptuously styled, but you should keep curtains drawn in courtyard-facing rooms to avoid baring all to other guests. Deluxe doubles from €273 (£200), room only.

THINK LOCAL

You'll need local know-how (or great map-reading skills) to find Ca'n Joan de S'aigo – but given that it's been here for 315 years, you can be sure the effort is worthwhile. Tucked away in the Old Town's narrow, winding streets, at Carrer de Ca'n Sanç 10 (00 34 971 710 759; canjoandesaigo.cat), this coffee and cake shop has been a Palma institution since it opened back in 1700. It's best known for its thick hot chocolate and sugar-dusted ensaimadas (spiral-shaped pastries) served with home-made almond ice cream. Come early or expect to queue at weekends.

EAT

Occupying the double-height space of a former banking hall, the restaurant at Hotel Cort (00 34 971 213 300; hotelcort.com) is a city-centre gem. Hand-painted floor tiles, antiqued mirrors, and battered panelling set the tone, with tables either in cosy booths, at the window or outside in pint-sized Plaça Cort.

Dishes are designed (but mostly far too good) to share; expect modern Mediterranean plus seafood specials from the raw bar. A pintxo of grilled octopus and the meaty, white-fish ceviche were truly out of this world. Wash it all down with an excellent choice of Mallorcan or Spanish wines.

DRINK

By day, Bar Nicolás, at Plaça del Mercat 19 (00 34 971 724 078; barnicolas.com) draws stylish locals for coffees and snacks on a quiet, leafy square. But as day turns to evening, the tempo steps up. Nicolás is one of Palma's most sophisticated cocktail bars, where perfect mojitos draw a clued-up clientele. The interior, though not large, has a sleek, curving bar and a pleasantly Art Deco feel. Take a seat on the patio space out front and soak up the square's ambiance and architecture, which spans Medieval to Modernist.

SPEND

Among the most exciting – and without doubt the largest – of Palma's new breed of concept stores is Rialto Living, at Carrer de Sant Feliu 3 (00 34 971 713 331; rialtoliving.com). Essentially a one-stop shop for Mallorca's well-heeled expats, this lifestyle emporium stocks fashion, food and home decor across two floors of a renovated palace off Passeig des Born. Everything is hand-picked by the Swedish owners, design duo Klas Kall and Barbara Bergman, so expect Italian men's and womenswear from such brands as Aspesi and Boglioli, fragrances from Byredo, and must-have design books and stationery that can easily fit in your luggage.

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DON'T MISS

Palma's huge cathedral dominates the Old Town skyline. Known locally as La Seu, though officially it is the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Palma, this dramatic, sandstone edifice is in memory of King James of Aragon, who ordered its construction in 1229. Pop inside (catedraldemallorca.info; open Monday-Saturday; €6/ £4.40) to admire its three naves (with touches by Antoni Gaudi) and one of the largest rose windows in Europe. Then stroll the old city walls to appreciate better La Seu's grandiose proportions.

GETTING THERE

James Litston flew with BA (0844 493 0758; ba.com/londoncity) from London City; returns to Palma from £150. Flights currently operate on Fridays, Sundays and Mondays, increasing to daily (except Saturdays) from the end of March.

VISITING THERE

A 30-minute sightseeing flight with Sloane Helicopters costs €449 (£329) for up to three passengers (00 34 971 794 132; sloanemallorca.com).

MORE INFORMATION

fomentmallorca.org

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