48 Hours In Palma

Mallorca's capital was once a favourite among the rich and famous. Now, thanks to great new hotels, restaurants and designer shops, those days are coming back, says Rhiannon Batten


WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

Because Palma is hip again. During its previous holiday booms in the 1930s and 1960s, Mallorca played host to such glamorous visitors as F Scott Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner. The island capital's new collection of boutique hotels and up-market restaurants - plus its totteringly high number of designer shoe shops - show an ambition to attract their modern-day equivalents. The Copa del Rey international yachting regatta, held under the patronage (and sometimes even skipperage) of King Juan Carlos of Spain, sets off from the Royal Nautical Club of Palma and runs from 30 July to 8 August. For more information call 00 34 971 726848 or visit www.copadelrey.com.

TOUCH DOWN

Palma is served from most UK airports by a range of scheduled and charter operators. The widest scheduled range is offered by easyJet (0871 750 0100; www.easyjet.com) from Bristol, Liverpool, Luton, Gatwick, Stansted and Newcastle. British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) flies from Gatwick; BMI (0870 60 70 555; www.flybmi.com) from Heathrow. I flew with Globespan which has services from Edinburgh and Glasgow from around £70 return (08705 561522; www.flyglobespan.com). From the airport, there are four buses to Palma's Placa Espanya every hour. The journey takes about 20 minutes and costs €1.80 (£1.30) each way; a taxi costs around €20 (£14).

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Palma spreads inland from the sea in a rough fan shape, its centre enclosed by a large ring road. Directly in front of the harbour on a raised mound above the old town walls stand its three grand architectural sisters: the cathedral, the Palau de l'Almudaina and the Palau Episcopal. To the south-west is the port and to the north is the old town, whose narrow streets radiate from the majestic, if touristy, Placa Major. The most central tourist information office in Palma is at Casal Solleric, 27 Paseo del Born (00 34 971 724090; www.a-palma.es), which opens 9am-8pm from Monday to Friday and 9am-1.30pm on Saturdays.

CHECK IN

Two of the city's newest hotels are also among its most design conscious. Hotel Maricel, out on a small bay west of the city at 11 Cas Catala (00 34 971 707744; www.hospes.es), is housed in an ancient building that has been given a new lease of life thanks to lots of expensive leather upholstery, miles of marble and tasteful, minimalist interior design. Outside, there's an infinity pool and a row of steps leading across the rocks straight into the clear turquoise sea. Rooms here start at €320 (£230) without breakfast. In the old town, Puro at 12 Montenegro (00 34 971 425450; www.purohotel.com) is a real party destination, with all-white (and sequinned) decor, huge canopied beds, an award-winning barman and nightly DJs. Doubles start at €175 (£125), including breakfast. If that's beyond your budget, try the Hotel Born, in a 16th-century palace at 3 Carrer Sant Jaume III (00 34 971 7129; www.hotelborn.com); where doubles cost €69 (£49) including breakfast.

TAKE A VIEW

A gentle climb takes you up to the circular Castell de Bellver, from where you can look out over the bay of Palma sparkling in the sun below. The walk will take you a good hour from the city centre and entrance to the castle itself, which houses the City Museum (00 34 971 730657), costs €1.80 (£1.30). It opens 8am-9pm daily except Sundays, when it opens 10am-7pm.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Make up a picnic at the city's main food market, the Mercat d'Olivar, just off Placa Olivar. It opens 7am-2pm daily.

WINDOW SHOPPING

Food is the obvious thing to buy in Palma. Sobrasada, the local version of chorizo, is also the name of one of the best places to buy the spicy sausage. This tiny shop at 1 Carrer Santo Domingo (00 34 971 714887) is stacked to the brim. For a broader selection of edibles, try La Pajarita, a lovely old deli and chocolate shop at 2-4 San Nicolas (00 34 971 716986). For a funky Spanish take on Habitat, head to La Oca at 9 Berenguer de Tornamira (00 34 971 721510). Most shops in Palma are open 10am-8pm daily except Sunday but close for a siesta between 2pm and 5pm.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

One of Palma's loveliest old balconied mansions is Can Marques at 2a Carrer Zanglada (00 34 971 716247, www.canmarques.net) - a traditional Balearic house that was once owned by a rich coffee baron. You will need to time your visit carefully. It opens 10am-3pm on weekdays, 11am-2pm on Saturdays and not at all on Sundays, and admission plus a tour costs €6 (£4.30). From here, wander on to the Museu de Mallorca at 5 Carrer Portella (00 34 971 717540), which houses a mishmash of Mallorcan art and artefacts. One of the most interesting exhibits is the diminutive army of naked bronze warriors displayed in semi-darkness in the basement, which are thought to have been used in cult worship. The museum opens 10am-7pm from Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-2pm on Sundays; admission is €2.40 (£1.70).

WRITE A POSTCARD

Take a table at the opulent old café Ca'n Joan de s'Aigo at 10 Can Sanc (00 34 971 710759). Order a coffee and an ensaimada - a fluffy swirl of pastry - to help fuel your imagination.

TAKE A HIKE

Walk along the Passeig Maritim (also known as Avinguda Gabriel Roca) and Passeig de Sagrera - a long, yacht-lined stretch of coast that curves around the southern edge of the city. Start out in the west by Porto Pi at dusk and bar-hop right the way around to finish up at Varadero, the perfect sunset bar opposite the cathedral on Moll Vell (00 34 971 726428).

AN APERITIF

C'an Barbara, a small marina on the west side of the city, is more laid back than many parts of the capital (though it gets wilder as the night goes on). There are several good bars where you can order a glass of pomada - a gin and fresh lemonade cocktail invented on neighbouring Menorca. Try the newly-opened Woody (00 34 971 402312), with its stone-wall interior and shady tables outside.

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

Santa Catalina is an up-and-coming district to the west of the old town that boasts some of the city's best restaurants, including the cosy Fabrica at 23 Carrer Fabrica (00 34 971 453125). It is owned by an Englishman, though you'd never guess from the hearty Spanish menu. House specialities include supreme of bronze bream Mallorcan style with steamed potatoes, pine nuts, raisins and saffron. Three courses will set you back around €30 (£21), without wine; the three-course lunch menu costs €18 (£13). The catch is that it's closed throughout August, but there are plenty of other good places in the surrounding streets.

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

Palma's vast Gothic cathedral at Placa de l'Almoina (00 34 971 723130) was restored under Antoni Gaudi's direction in the early 20th century - though don't go expecting his Barcelona-style Surrealism. The cathedral museum is open 10am-6.15pm from Monday to Friday and 10am-2.15pm on Saturdays, admission is €3.50 (£2.50). If you just want to see inside the cathedral, nip in for free during one of the Sunday masses at 9am, 10.30am, noon, 1pm or 7pm.

A WALK IN THE PARK

The Parc de la Mar is an ambitious artificial lake built in the 1980s between the cathedral and the harbour. Unfortunately, a busy autopista runs alongside it, but it's a good place to get your breath back between sights. For Alhambra-style landscaping, head to the Jardins de s'Hort del Rei, or King's Gardens, on the western edge of the city.

OUT TO BRUNCH

The new Museu Es Baluard at Placa Porta de Santa Catalina (00 34 971 908199) vies with Palma's Spanish Contemporary Art Museum to display the best of the island's modern art - but its restaurant wins forks-down on location. Open from 10am on Sundays, its black-and-white tables are perched glamorously above the old town walls. Try the house salad - a crunchy mix of lettuce, prawns, sweet chilli and sesame seeds for about €15 (£11).

TAKE A RIDE

The diminutive Palma to Soller railway (00 34 902 752051; www.trendesoller.com) has been going for over 90 years. The one-hour journey is well worth the ride not just for the views (mainly fields of citrus and olive trees), but also for the pretty wooden railway carriages. Six trains a day leave from the station just north of Placa Espanya; a return ticket costs €11 (£8).

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

The C'an Miquel ice cream parlour at 6 Avenida Jaume III (00 34 971 724909) is Mallorca's answer to the weird flavours mixed up by Ferran Adria, with Roquefort sorbet and rose sherbet among its eclectic selection. There are also about 15 different variations of chocolate but take a gamble and try the basil sorbet. It sounds strange but it works - good old mint choc chip will never taste the same again.

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