The other side of Mallorca, where nightingales sing and there's not a tattooed lobster in sight

On a walking trip to the Spanish island, well away from the tourist hordes, Jeremy Laurance discovered its hidden charms

What does the name of Spain's largest Mediterranean island conjure up for you? Sun, sand and sangria? Bars crammed with tattooed, lobster-hued Brits, getting noisily sloshed? Probably – if you have never been there.

In 1960, Majorca – Mallorca in Spanish – received 500,000 visitors. In 2008, almost 23 million passed through its gleaming new airport. Mass tourism has transformed the economy – but with unhappy effects on the sea front. Yet away from the high-rise hotels and featureless beaches in the south, there is another Mallorca – beyond the Sierra de Tramontana, the dramatic range of hills that bisects the island. This Mallorca, with its rocky coast, is small scale, and distinctly upmarket. In the limestone hills around Soller, there are quiet hamlets with hidden hotels and a multitude of paths heading into secluded valleys. It was here that we were heading, on an eight-day "Secret Villages of Mallorca" walking break with Headwater Holidays.

The taxi ride from the airport across the Mallorcan plain and up into the hills took 40 minutes. Our hotel, l'Hermitage, a former bishop's palace of ivy-clad golden stone, was a kilometre outside the hamlet of Orient, set on the side of the loveliest valley. From the terrace outside our room we looked across an orchard of young fruit trees – apple, cherry, and apricot – and a meadow dotted with olive trees to a wall of pale fissured limestone rising 300 feet, with a bank of yellow gorse at its foot.

It was dusk and we sat for a few minutes listening to the bells of the sheep as the breeze rattled the leaves of the palm trees above our heads.

Then a bird started to sing like no other I had heard. It began with a series of trills which built through a complex arrangement of whistles and kisses to three high looping notes – heep, heep, heep – like molten silver cascading through the dusk. They say you always know when you hear a nightingale, and now I know it is true. The end of May is their mating season, and the valley was full of them. Their songs echoed across the valley not only in the evening but in the morning, too, pouring forth from the eucalyptus trees beneath which we ate our breakfast. For me, hearing my first nightingale was as exciting as seeing any big beast in the African bush.

It was with difficulty that we tore ourselves away that first morning. Over the next three days we climbed in different directions, contouring across the hillside above the velvety Orient valley, into the forest. One route led up to the crag that supports Alaro Castle, so spectacularly situated that the Moors were able to hold off their Christian assailants for two years. We would not have found these paths on our own – there were few signs and consequently few walkers. Our fellow guests at L'Hermitage were, like us, of a certain age – discreet, polite and, thankfully, non-British.

On our fourth day it was time to move on. Ken, our considerate Headwater rep, took us to Cuber reservoir, on the other side of the range of hills, and left us to walk the dozen kilometres to the Hotel Ca'l Bisbe in Soller, where our luggage would be waiting for us.

White limestone hills, pale new grass and an azure sky framed the lake – it was, momentarily, like Yorkshire in the sun. Bees warmed themselves on the rocky path and the air was still and cool. We climbed gently to the col and then down a winding cobbled path with magnificent views to the sea, following the old pilgrims' way (in reverse) from Soller to the monastery of Lluc. We passed terraces of olive and tamarind, crossed bridges and stepping stones and emerged finally among the orange groves down in the plain, their scent heavy and soporific.

We tramped through Soller's narrow streets to its charming central square. It is dominated by the church of St Bartholomew and by the Bank of Soller, its wrought iron grille as tangled as a skein of wool. The hotel, minutes from the square, was cool and quiet and we sat on the balcony of our third-floor room with a drink, grabbing the last rays of the sun as the swifts wheeled and screeched over the rooftops.

Next day we set off along the old mule track to Deia, where the writer Robert Graves (who is buried there), has been followed by a succession of literati and glitterati – drawn to the rocky promontories and secret coves on the starkly beautiful northern coast.

Twenty years ago I did the spectacular walk from the bay at Deia, winding eastwards, in and out of the pine trees clinging to the cliff, teetering above promontories of bleached rock and aquamarine sea. I was anxious to repeat it but it was not on our itinerary – and we soon discovered why.

Alas, a storm two years ago felled scores of the pines, taking whole chunks of the cliff with them. The walk became an assault course as we clambered over, around and underneath obstacles, and by the time we reached Cala Es Galle at its end we were weary and the sun was low.

Time, then, to call the uncomplaining Ken who returned us to our hotel balcony, where we stretched our aching limbs, drinks in hand, and allowed our spirits to soar free with the swifts.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Jeremy Laurance travelled to Mallorca with Headwater (01606 720 199; headwater.com) whose eight-day "Secret Villages of Mallorca" trip costs from £1,027 per person (based on two sharing a room). The price includes seven nights' accommodation in four-star hotels, breakfast and evening meals, luggage transfers, and route notes and map kit. Flights can be arranged from most UK airports. (Prices with flights start at £1,177 per person from Gatwick to Palma.)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee