Traveller's guide: Menorca

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

With a newly completed coastal path and more beaches than Mallorca and Ibiza combined, this Balearic island is ideal for walkers and families, says Mick Webb.

Much smaller than Mallorca and less noisy than Ibiza, low-key Menorca is the Balearic island that can easily slip under the holiday radar. Apart from two very attractive towns (Maó and Ciutadella) the island's main draw is its beautiful, mainly undeveloped coastline, with more beaches than Mallorca and Ibiza put together. It is a good destination for young families, thanks to its small resorts and mid-range hotels, and increasingly for walkers, since the Camí de Cavalls, the path around the island's coast, is now complete. Walk Menorca (0161 408 1399; walkmenorca.com) is a new company which offers guided walks along selected stretches of the path during the mornings and a hire car for exploring the island after lunch. A week in September starts at £540 per person, for bed and breakfast, excluding flights.

The capital, Maó (formerly known as Mahó*), is on the island's eastern end, perched above one of the world's great natural harbours. Fifty kilometres away, at the western extreme is beautiful Ciutadella. The road between them (the ME1) is the island's spinal cord, and connects its three small rural towns (Alaior, Es Mercadal and Ferreries). Turnings to the north and south lead to the handful of resorts and coastal villages. The ME1 also marks a geological divide between Menorca's ancient top half of red sandstone and its limestone southern half. You can appreciate the contrast in landscapes from the top of Monte Toro, a short drive from Es Mercadal and the island's highest point. It may only be 358m above sea level but the views encompass the whole island.

Menorca wears its prehistory on its sleeve, with a scattering of interesting and accessible sites. Talatí del Dalt is 4km from Maó, next to the main road to Ciutadella (00 34 902 929 015; menorcaweb.net/talati; admission €4). It was built by the Talayotic people, whose culture existed from 1500BC until the arrival of the Romans here in 123BC. They owed their name to their Talayots, cone-shaped stone structures, possibly watchtowers.

The enduring skills in working stone are also celebrated in the island's most unusual museum, Lithica, just outside Ciutadella. The sculptural spaces of a worked-out quarry have been planted with a sequence of striking gardens (00 34 971 48 15 78; lithica.es; €4).

For three separate periods during the 18th century the island was in British hands, which has given it some quirky legacies. On the grassier fields of the interior you'll see herds of black and white Friesian cows, while in Maó you'll find elegant Georgian-style mansions, as well as a gin distillery which was introduced by the first British governor, Sir Richard Kane.

The holiday resorts are dotted around the 200km shoreline. The largest north coast resort is Arenal d'en Castell, with several large hotels around a perfect shell-shaped bay, while neighbouring Son Parc has the island's only golf course. In the south, where the beaches are longer and mainly fine white sand, Cala'* Porter, San Tomàs and Cala'* Bosch are similar purpose-built resorts, with Cala Galdana, backed by cliffs, enjoying the most attractive setting. Direct Holidays (0844 800 7576; directholidays .co.uk) has a week's all-inclusive for a family of four at the Hotel Playa Azul in Cala'n Porter for £726 per adult and £464 per child, including flights from Stansted on 20 August.

Mick Webb visited Menorca as a guest of Walk Menorca (0161 408 1399; walkmenorca.com).

Dining out

When in Maó, you should definitely try the mayonnaise, which was invented here, as well as the local cheese and, of course, the fresh fish and seafood. Good value lunch menus (about €15 for three courses and wine) are available pretty well everywhere, though the island's signature dish caldereta de langosta, "lobster casserole", can cost up to €70. It's a speciality of the many waterside restaurants in the fishing village of Fornells, and in nearby Playas de Fornells, where the Café del Nord at Local Comercial 5 (00 34 971 37 66 97; cafedel nord.com) provides a very tasty €20 caldereta as well as a lovely sea view.

Other restaurants worth going out of your way to find are Maó's seafood specialist, S'espigó, at Moll de Llevant 267 (00 34 971 36 99 09; sespigo.com) and Ciutadella's cave-like La Guitarra at Carrer Dolors 1 (00 34 971 38 13 55) for traditional Menorcan meat dishes.

City culture

Maó's centre straggles along a cliff above the prized deep-water harbour with its bars and restaurants. In the old town there are small plazas with striking 18th-century buildings, and a market. The monastery of San Francesc houses the Museum of Menorca (00 34 971 35 09 55; illesbalears.es, €2.40). Ciutadella has an exquisite old town of cobbled, arcaded streets and churches and a harbour. Don't miss the Gothic cathedral and museum (00 34 971 481 297; €2.50).

Beaches and water activities

The white sandy beaches of the south have attracted development but there's usually an unspoilt bay close by. Cala Macarelleta, west from Cala Galdana resort, is a study in white and turquoise. The north coast is more rugged but has beautiful bays such as Cala de Algaiarens, near Ciutadella. The Bay of Fornells is an almost enclosed body of shallow water ideal for learning to sail and windsurf. Wind Fornells (00 34 971 188 150; windforn ells.com, two two-hour windsurfing sessions cost €136). For diving and snorkelling, S'Algar Diving (00 34 971 15 06 01; salgardiving.com) is in S'Algar's Paseo Marítimo, near San Luis. A two-hour "try dive" cost €75pp.

Walking and wildlife

The whole island has been classified a biosphere reserve by Unesco because of its striking flora and fauna which include booted eagles, red kites, Egyptian vultures and the occasional osprey. The best place for serious birding is the natural park of S'Albufera des Grau, between Maó and the lovely bay of Es Grau (00 34 971 356 303; menorca.es). It has a reception centre, a couple of hides and marked trails. The historic trail El Camí de Cavalls (elcamide cavalls.cat) follows the coastline and is suitable for horses and mountain bikers too. Its 20 sections average 10km. Those in the south are flatter than the more dramatic, challenging northern options.

Accommodation

The Hotel Port Mahon at Fort de l'Eau 13 (00 34 971 36 26 00; sethotels .com) has high-season doubles with breakfast from €140. It's a 10-minute walk from the centre, as are the nearby Royal Apartments at Carrer Carmen 131 (00 34 971 36 95 34; aparta mentosroyal.com, apartment for four costs from €125, breakfast €5pp). The Hotel Tres Sants, pictured, at Carrer San Cristòbal 2 is in the heart of old-town Ciutadella (doubles with breakfast from €110; 00 34 971 48 22 08; grupelcarme.com). North east of Ciutadella is Biniatram, a 500-year-old farm-cum-country hotel with pool and tennis court. It's a 20-minute walk to the pretty bay of Cala Morell. High-season doubles start at €118 per night, with breakfast an extra €8pp (00 34 971 38 31 13; biniatram.com).

Private villas and flats are available for rent across the island (Owners Direct 020‑8827 1998; ownersdirect.co.uk).

Travel Essentials

Getting there

The most frequent flights to Menorca's only airport, 4.5km south-west of Maó, are from Gatwick. Monarch (0871 940 5040; monarch.co.uk) and easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com) compete. The latter also flies from Bristol and Newcastle, while Jet 2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com) flies in from Glasgow.

From Menorca's airport, bus 10 runs to the city every 30 minutes between 6am and midnight and costs €2.

A taxi will cost about €10.

Getting around

A bus network connects the major towns and resorts.

The red and yellow coaches of TMSA (00 34 971 360 475; transportesmenorca.net) run between Maó and Ciutadella (70 minutes, €4.75) and also to the south coast resorts.

Autos Fornells (00 34 971 154 390; autosfornells.com) links Maó with the resorts on the north coast, including an hourly service between Maó and Fornells, for which the fare is €3.10.

More information

00 34 902 929 015; menorca.es.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone