Plain Sailing: A Voyage Round Mallorca

This Balearic island doesn't conjure up glamorous images. But you get a very different picture from the deck of a luxury yacht. Chris Moss spent the weekend on the water

It was almost a James Bond moment. The stern of the Blue Ocean sliced through the shimmering waves, rising upwards as we cruised at speed out of Alcudia harbour. Blondes chatted and laughed together out on the poop deck. Our Mexican skipper, Ronaldo, passed the helm and told me to keep things under control while he flirted with the passengers. The island was soon a strip of white sand and squat green hills rising on the horizon.

Of course, Mallorca might not be glamorous enough for 007. It's been saddled with too many three-star tower-block hotels and "Agadoo" associations to be truly jet-set. But, inland from the coast the island is sprucing itself up with boutique hotels and restaurants that go well beyond the standard Mallorcan package. Even along the bay of Alcudia there is a move towards smarter hotels and restaurants as low-budget visitors are replaced by wealthier north Europeans building homes.

For once I was on a yacht instead of on the beach. Seen from a speeding luxury cruiser, Mallorca looked enticing. Even better, our luxury yacht was cheap. Groups of 10 can take a day trip, with skipper, for £1,500, or six b&b guests pay £4,000 for three days. This compared favourably with the going rate of £20,000 to hire a similar vessel for a week.

The Balearics were made for boats. A beautiful sea trail is around the Cap de Formentor, with its unspeakably gorgeous bays where the water pools in ribbons of lapis, aquamarine and turquoise. To drive to the lighthouse is a joy, and to gently surf Formentor's waves is heavenly.

From the north coast you can observe Mallorca's transformation from bucket-and-spade destination to place in the sun. Heading east from Puerto de Pollensa towards Can Picafort is an ever-expanding building site. But along Mallorca's eastern flank, it's more a story of ports and bays, caves and castles. While it would be pushing it to claim there are secret beaches, there are some rugged stretches at inlets like Cala Estreta and Sa Font Salada on the north-east coast.

At the newly opened Cala d'Or yacht club I walked along the jetty past dozens of million-pound tailor-made cruisers. Sailors there pay €18,000 (£12,450) for lifetime membership, including a great private restaurant and a chidren's room. Taken in via my hired yacht, the Dutch manager must have viewed me as a potential member and showed me all the extras, including the launderette.

There are some tacky resorts on every side of Mallorca. But when night falls even faux British pubs and amusement arcades look like cosy, twinkling pockets of humble humanity going about its business. I spent one night sleeping on the cruiser. A Fairline Phantom 46, it was kitted out with three bedrooms: one had two bunk beds, another had a tiny, almost-double bed squeezed into a cubby hole, and there was another small double (with ensuite loo) where my wife and I stayed.

There was also a decent- sized kitchen-diner with drinks cabinet and facilities for cooking and washing. All this costs about £500,000 to buy - or £11,000 per week to hire, plus fuel - but it still feels like an upscale caravan when you're cooped up inside. The novelty is sleeping with the gentle lapping of waves, the peace of the sea, and the fact that, as everyone else strolls home to their hotels, you are having a last nightcap in the cabin.

Most cruisers bypass the Bay of Palma, not because there's nothing to see - Palma is a wonderful little town, with all the pleasures of a little Barcelona and none of the pretensions. It's simply that the western, mountainous edge of the island has so much to offer. Snug, once-pretty Port d'Andratx has probably become too developed for its own good, but north of here, through Estellencs, Banyalbufar and Esporles, you get beautiful coasts with bits of real Mallorca hanging on the slopes. Many of the settlements here have been raised on terraces created by the Moors, who constructed a sophisticated network of channels, cisterns and pipes to water their fields. Banyalbufar was "Bany al bahar" in Arabic, meaning "vineyard by the sea", but tomatoes dominate these days and the best wines are grown inland around Binissalem.

Deià, Soller, and, just inland, Valdemossa, are justifiably famous. But they look better from the coast because you can't see souvenir shops or coach parties. Instead, you are able to take in Mallorca's pine forests and the soaring pinnacles of the Serra de Tramunt-ana. This mountain wilderness was for centuries the least attractive region on the island, buffeted by winds from all sides and prone to brief spates of snowfall in the winter.

But the craggy, precipitous formations give the island a much-needed rough edge and, down below, some wondrous, steep-walled inlets. Perhaps the most famous are Sa Calobra, where the rushing waters of the Torrent de Pareis canyon find the sea, and the more serene Cala Tuent, with its crystal waters and stony beach. But there are dozens more that are not served by roads or seasonal beach bars and where the only building is a ruined church. Anchoring in these idyllic watery havens, you get a sense that the only tourists ever to swim here were Vandal invaders and heathen pirates and that Mallorca might still retain a few mysteries after all.

The writer was a guest of Blue Sky Cruising (0870-8550 007; blueskycruising.com), which rents the Blue Ocean. Return flights from UK airports to Palma start at £30 with easyJet (0905-821 0905; easyjet.com).

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