48 Hours: Palma

As the crowds dwindle, the capital of this holiday island grows in appeal, offering an enticing blend of ancient streets and modern art.

Ben Ross,Simon Calder@SimonCalder
Thursday 13 April 2017 12:34

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Travel essentials

Why go now?

With half-term imminent, thousands of families will head for Mallorca's beaches and a final burst of sunshine. But the largest Balearic island will remain warm and mainly sunny for the next month or so. Even when the temperature does drop, Palma is full of cafés, shops and culture.

Festivities continue into the autumn, with events such as tomorrow's Festa dies Butifarro in Sant Joan, celebrating the local blood sausage – sometimes served raw.

Touch down

Between them, easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet. com), Monarch (08719 40 50 40; monarch.co.uk) and Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) offer links from a wide range of UK airports.

The airport is 8km east of the city. From the arrivals hall, follow the "Public Bus" signs through the coach parks to the stop for bus 1, which departs every 15 minutes for a number of points around the city centre; the stops outside Corte Inglés (1) and the Plaça Espanya (2) are probably the most useful. The one-way fare for the 20-minute journey is €2.

By metered taxi, the same journey should cost around €20.

Get your bearings

The line of the old city walls wrap a ragged circle around the core of Palma – a tangle of streets and alleys that follow the city's ancient footprint. The main point of reference is the towering Gothic cathedral (3), or Seu, visible from almost every point of the city. Other key locations are the Plaça Major (4), in the heart of the city; and the Plaça Espanya (2) – the site of the city's two railway stations.

The tiny municipal tourist office (open daily 9am-8pm) is set within Casal Solleric (5) at Passeig des Born 27, a gracious conversion of an 18th-century palace, now also comprising gallery space and a café.

The equally diminutive Mallorcan tourist office offers island-wide travel advice from Plaça de la Reina 2 (6), close to the Seu. (Open 9am-8pm Monday-Friday, 9am-2pm Saturday, closed Sunday.)

Check in

Hotel Can Cera (7) at Sant Francesc 8 (00 34 971 715 012; cancerahotel.com) opened in June, its 12 rooms carved from an elegant 13th-century palace. The owners have made the most of the building's original layout, retaining features such as the hand-painted 17th-century ceilings. A light-filled courtyard breathes refinement, as does the classic, understated décor in the spacious suites. Doubles from €195, room only. Note that it will close for a month from 20 November.

Similar in layout, if rather rougher around the edges, is the Hotel Born (8) at Sant Jaume 3 (00 34 971 712 942; hotelborn.com), which offers good-value doubles in a central location from €69, including breakfast.

For the past two decades, the budget option of choice has been the Hostal Ritzi (9) at Apuntadores 6 (00 34 971 714 610; hostalritzi.com). Climb the stairs from a flower-filled courtyard and ring the bell; you are ushered into a welcoming, if slightly threadbare, property with dorm beds for €20; a full English breakfast is €6 more. Single and double rooms are available at €30 and €55 respectively, including a "light breakfast". Wi-Fi is free in communal areas.

Day one

Take a view

The southern flank of the Seu (3) provides a spectacular view across the Bay of Palma from the Carrer del Mirador. To the east, you can see the resorts stretching into the distance; to the west, a forest of masts announces the location of the yacht marina.

Turn around to admire the flying buttresses of the cathedral's exterior, then wander around the main (west) façade to the north side, where the entrance is located (00 34 902 022 945; catedraldemallorca.org). Open 10am-5.15pm from Monday to Friday, 10am-2.15pm on Saturdays; it is closed to all but worshippers on Sunday.

The interior is notable for the slender columns that support one of the biggest Gothic structures in Europe; for a vast stained-glass rose window; and for Antonio Gaudí's wrought-iron canopy symbolising the Crown of Thorns, suspended above the altar and looking like a giant Christmas decoration.

Take a hike

From the cathedral entrance, thread your way through the lanes of the old Moorish quarter. Go north along Palau, nudge right then left into Zanglada, and do the same again into Morei. This widens out to the Plaça de Santa Eulalia (10), named after the monumental church opposite, and a good place to pause for coffee.

Take the street running to the left of the church, Carrer de Santa Eulalia. At the end, turn right and note a splendid Modernista pharmacy (11). Walk across the Plaça Major (4), busy with tourists and street entertainers, and into another ancient street: Sant Miquel. Pass the cloister of the Capuchin monastery (12), which is now an art space; wander in for a free peep if the doors are open. Then bear right along Carrer del Convent dels Caputxins. Abbreviate the walk at the city's vast market, the Mercat d'Olivar (13) to buy the makings of a picnic, or continue to the Plaça Espanya (2).

Lunch on the run

The Hostal Terminus faces you across Plaça Espanya (2). It occupies an old station building and serves good tortillas. (Alternatively, Palma has a good selection of restaurants offering a lunchtime menú del dia for around €15.) To the left of this former station is its still-functioning counterpart, where the picturesque 28km journey to the town of Sollér starts.

Window shopping

If "Take a Hike" also Wore Out Your Shoe Leather, then you're in the right place. Mallorca is the home of Camper (camper.com), the fashionably functional global shoe brand that has its headquarters at Inca, a town in the centre of the island – and two outlets in Palma, at Sant Miquel 17 (14) (00 34 971 726 254) and at Avenida Jaume III 16 (15) (00 34 971 71 46 35). Both shops feature striking red and white interiors; footwear prices kick off at around €100 a pair.

Take a ride

If you missed this year's Joan Miró exhibition at London's Tate Modern, then now is the chance to catch up. The Spanish artist spent the latter part of his life in Mallorca, and the dramatic Miró Foundation clings to a hillside in the suburb of Cala Major, 5km south-west of the city centre (00 34 971 701 420; miro.palmademallorca.es). Open 10am-6pm Tues-Sat; to 3pm on Sun; €6.

Bus 46 will get you there in 25 minutes, but you could cycle instead. The ad-hoc bike-rental scheme, akin to London's "Boris Bikes", can be used only by residents, but Palma On Bike (16) at Avenida de Antoni Maura 10 (00 34 971 718 062; palmaonbike.com) rents cycles for €14 per day. A well-maintained cycle path hugs the sea shore en route.

An aperitif

Tucked away at San Feliu 13a lies 13% (17), a charming deli-cum-tapas-bar that specialises in Spanish and Mallorcan wine (00 34 971 425 187; 13porciento.com). A glass of rioja with about 13 per cent alcohol is €3.20.

Dining with the locals

Rewind the clocks to well before you arrived in the city and book a table at Simply Fosh (18) at Carrer de la Missió 7a (00 34 971 720 114; simplyfosh.com). Here, the pared-down contemporary style of the restaurant throws a sharp focus on the mouthwatering Menú Degustación – fresh cod and glazed beef cheeks among the delights on offer – that costs €58 per person (plus €35 each for wine). If time travel is beyond you, call ahead and see if you can squeeze in to Marc Fosh's newest eatery, Misa Braseria (19), around the corner at Maçacnet 1 (00 34 971 595 301; misabraseria.com).

Day two

Sunday morning: go to church

The Seu (3) so dominates Palma that it's easy to overlook the city's other ecclesiastical treasures. Remedy this with a brief tour, starting at the ornate façade of Santa Eulalia (10), reputed to be the oldest parish church in Mallorca. Pass along Sant Francesc to the triangular plaça overlooked by the 17th-century Basilica de Sant Francesc itself (20) (9am-12.30pm daily, 3.30-8.30pm daily except Sunday; €1.50). Continue along Ramon Llull and walk under the archway at the end of the street. Beyond, information boards reveal this as the site of a shrine once used by the Knights Templar (21). Turn back and take a left down Pelleteria, passing on to Monti-Sion, where the eponymous church (22) has ornate carving around the door. Final stop: the 17th-century Convento de Santa Clara (23), reached by turning left down the street of the same name. Ignore the restoration work inside and enjoy the sunshine as it streams through the ornate stained-glass window and glitters on the gilt-covered altar. Outside, at an entrance on the shady square, the nuns sell pastries to hungry passers-by, 9am-12.30pm and 4.15pm-6.10pm daily.

A walk in the park

The maps dished out by the tourist board make it look greener than it really is, but Parc de la Mar (24) is a rewarding place for a stroll, with the Seu and city walls on one side and the sea on the other. Ranks of palm trees, a neat rose garden and a lake pierced by a huge fountain of water complete the picture.

Out to brunch

From Parc de la Mar, head along Passeig de Sagrera to the pretty Plaça Drassana, a tiny square ringed by bars and cafés. In the north-east corner, Bar Coto (25) at Plaça Drassana 12 (00 34 609 881 040) has expanded its reach into the building next door, now called Bar Coto Dos. Inside both, the walls are pink and the cushions gaudy, a motif that continues on the chairs arranged outside. The "Breakfast Coto" is a €8.50 platter of cheese, ham, chorizo, bread, butter and jam, plus coffee.

Cultural afternoon

Time for one last burst of modern art. Head to the striking Es Baluard (26) at Plaça Porta Santa Catalina 10 (00 34 971 908 200; esbuluard.org; 10am-8pm daily except Monday; €6), an extraordinary concoction of glass, steel and concrete all but hidden behind the looming city walls. The sculptures scattered around the space outside are pleasantly whimsical, particularly the rusting metal rats that pose near the boardwalk on the roof – notable for its dramatic views across Palma. Yet beyond a collection of Picasso ceramics and a batch of Miró paintings (plus temporary exhibitions) there's not quite enough art on show. Never mind: the building is the star here, and there's a restaurant to cater for your bodily needs.

Icing on the cake

Something Moorish? The Arab Baths (27), or Banys Arabs, at Can Serra 7 date back to the 10th century, and are well worth the €2 entrance fee (9am-6pm daily), not just for a view of the interior of the domed bath house itself, but also for the tranquillity afforded by the small garden outside – the perfect place to contemplate two days of Mallorcan marvels.

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