The editor of the Independent's weekend pages refers to this weekly feature on cheap charter-flight destinations as the 'grot spot'. And, indeed, the main package-holiday airport cities normally do not have much to recommend them to the discerning traveller.

Palma, on Majorca, however, is a notable exception. At last week's convention of the Association of British Travel Agents, which was held in the city, travel professionals and journalists alike expressed genuine surprise. 'It wasn't at all what I expected,' somebody said to me. 'Palma's a real city - and it's so pretty.'

There are handsome buildings, a fine harbour, a striking Gothic cathedral, elegant avenues - and hardly a tower-block hotel in sight.

There are plenty of hotels - including a couple of very good ones such as the Melia Victoria - along the seafront Paseo Maritimo. But when the package-holiday business took off in the early Sixties, the bulk of the development took place outside Palma in resorts such as Palma Nova, Magaluf and Arenal.

The city has therefore managed to remain largely a grot-free zone, which makes it an attractive base. Within half an hour of getting off your flight - Palma is just two hours from London - you could be dipping your toes in your hotel pool, or getting your teeth into a few platefuls of tapas in some cool back-street bar (Palma has a surfeit of cool back-street tapas bars).

If you want to find a base on the island outside Palma, you will be spoilt for choice. You could stick a pin almost anywhere and find somewhere alluring. The best-known spots include Valdemossa where Chopin stayed a winter, and Robert Graves's home, Deia. Attractive seaside places include Puerto de Andratx, Puerto de Soller, Puerto Pollensa and Cala D'Or.

One of the beauties of Majorca is that, although it is large, it is compact - from east to west is no more than a two-hour drive.

There are good bus connections and train services from Palma to Soller and Inca. The island is also

perfect biking country: bike-hire places can be found everywhere.

Getting there: Palma is the best- served charter airport in the whole of the Mediterranean; there is never a shortage of seats and there are usually plenty of last-minute offers. At present, expect to pay from about pounds 90 return from Gatwick, pounds 110 from Manchester. Leading discount operators include Avro (061-489 2989), Falcon (061-745 7000), and Unijet (0444 458181).

Because of the intense competition from the charter operators, the scheduled carriers, British Midland (071- 589 5599) and Iberia (071-437 5622), have to offer attractive deals. For

example, British Midland has a return Superapex from pounds 129; Iberia's Moneysaver fare currently costs pounds 159. Both airlines also offer advantageous car-hire rates; for example, Iberia

offers seven days' car hire from pounds 131, including unlimited mileage and all extras.

Accommodation: Majorca has some of the best hotels in the Mediterranean: the best known includeE La Residencia (010 34 71 63 90 11) and Es Moli (010 34 71 63 90 00) in Deia; Hotel Formentor (010 34 71 86 53 00) in Formentor; Bon Sol (010 34 71 40 21 11) in Illetas; and the excellent Vistamar (010 34 71 61 23 00) near Valdemossa. Expect to pay from about pounds 80 to pounds 90 per room per night.

You can be sure that you will find a hotel room at the right price on Majorca: altogether the island has a total of 150,000 rooms at all prices.

The latest development is agroturismo: the tourist board has produced a 'Countryside Stays' brochure that lists farmhouses and other old country buildings converted into small up- market hotels with half-board accommodation available from about pounds 40 per person per night. Further information from Consorci per la Dinamitzacio Economica Al Medi Rural, Foners, 1-5E, 07006 Palma de Mallorca (010 34 71 46 38 62).

Books: Pat Fenn, best known for her French Entree guides to the regions of France, has now spread her wings to Majorca. Entree to Mallorca (Quiller Press, pounds 6.95) follows the same highly readable format of the French books. Those keen on walking should take Landscapes of Mallorca, published by Sunflower Books.

Further information: Oficina de Informacion Turistica, Avenida Jaime III 10, bajos, Palma (010 34 71 71 22 16); Spain National Tourist Office, 57-58 St James's Street, London SW1A 1LD (071-499 0901).

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