Spanish anchorage

The tiny island of Menorca is perfect for families and sea monsters, writes Louise Levene

Teenagers go to Ibiza. Their parents go to Menorca. Perhaps mindful of what happened to Ibiza, with its 24-hour rave culture and high-rise hotels, Menorca took care to keep tourist building in check. The bulk of the holiday accommodation is in villas and apartments, all tastefully made in that Hispanic Lego of white walls and terracotta roofs prettily decked in bougainvillaea. These developments have the air of an affluent home counties suburb: friendly, safe and ideal for straightforward family holidays. Unlike the bigger, now very fashionable Majorca, Menorca really hasn't any hidden corners: the whole island is only 48km across.

Stick a chicken in the air

The main carriers are Airworld, Air UK and Monarch - bookable through agents such as Menorca Travel (01625 586337). Monarch flies there very cheaply (for example, a return ticket from Gatwick, leaving on 19 September, costs pounds 135) but there is a reason for this. The airline has recently trimmed back to an austere, no-frills service. Even soft drinks are charged for, and the food usually includes something that many travellers will have presumed to be extinct: chicken supreme with mixed veg. Among the many tour operators offering packages to Menorca are Thomson (0990 502580), Airtours (0541 500479), First Choice (0161-745 7000) and Unijet (0990 336336).

Where am I?

The airport is a short drive from the capital but, frankly, everything is a short drive. The place is tiny. Roads are well signposted and most people speak excellent English - indeed, if you go in high season most people are English.

Not now, darling

Menorca, like all such places, is full in August, with every third person of school age. From January to March, the dank, bitter Tramontana wind blows down through the Pyrenees and makes early spring cold, damp and unpleasant; in a bad year it can be chilly and rainy as late as Easter. May and June are ideal, with the roadsides carpeted with wild flowers. Late September and October, when squashes lie ripening on the roofs, are also a good time to go.

Local customs

As you would expect from an island that is patronised by the English bourgeoisie, there is a rigid dress code: faded shorts will be worn at all times. Shoes should either be terminally tatty espadrilles, mildewed Docksiders or similarly sand-blasted Menorquin shoes. These are a strange, open-toed, sling back affair, worn by men and women alike. The aim of the game is to look as though you are just in town for the day while they regrout your yacht. A large cork key-ring placed casually on your table as you lunch at the Club Maritime, and an old Captain Watts/Force 4 carrier bag, should do the trick. If you do acquire a boat, it should have wood visible on the superstructure. Menorquin boats are ideal.

This need not prevent you from accepting lavish hospitality on a vast white glass fibre Sunseeker that berths 12, and has en suite showers and a sun deck the size of Venus - as long as you always remember to refer to the boat afterwards as "Brian's gin palace".

Where's the beach?

The emphasis on boating culture is understandable on an island whose highways criss-cross the pretty landscape efficiently, but which has no coastal road as such. The loveliest beaches can be reached only by yomping some distance. If you have small children you will presumably be encumbered by a beach umbrella, a coolbox and a shocking-pink, inflatable sea monster, which can make journeys across country impractical. Fortunately, there are plenty of charming developed beaches for people who need to know where their next plate of mejillones con patates is coming from.

A little Spanish town

The main towns of Mahn and Ciudadela are both very beautiful, but become virtually off limits during high season. Unless you are prepared to spend at least an hour driving round and round small Spanish squares desperately waiting for someone to free up a parking space, do not bother trying. Mahn has an excellent fish market and covered fruit and vegetable market (currently in the throes of redevelopment). It also has one of the longest and deepest harbours in the world, which explains its huge strategic importance during the Napoleonic wars. The various ghastly-looking harbour boat trips are in fact rather interesting, whether it's the old quarantine hospital, or one of Richard Branson's harbourside homes.

Shopping

Well, if you insist. Menorquin shoes come in all colours, and Spanish ceramics are everywhere, the best value being in the large, rather grim factory shops. Most street markets sell lace tablecloths, but these are made in China. The island has a thriving dairy industry and produces countless varieties of delicious cheese. Local bakers sell kilos of extremely moreish, gooey macaroons called amargos, which travel surprisingly well. Nelson's fleet was based here for some time, and when the gin ran out they did the only sensible thing and started a gin factory. Cheeses and deliciously dry local gins all come in handy gift packs, and can be bought at the airport on the way out.

Ready to order?

Generally speaking, the really good restaurants tend to have Soho prices, although the pain is eased considerably by a currently favourable exchange rate. Most restaurants will have several set menus, but it's best to avoid anything with photographs of the food displayed outside, particularly in high season. It's well worth trying Catalan dishes such as the Hispanic bouillabaisse, caldereta. A word of warning: never have anything with lobster in it. It is seldom nice lobster, and your nagging annoyance at the absurdly inflated price could well spoil the rest of your holidayn

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 - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003