Menorca is the Balearics with the volume turned down, or as one guide book – the Lonely Planet – memorably put it when comparing the island to Ibiza: “It’s more birdsong than Pete Tong.” That’s not to say you can’t go clubbing till dawn – in fact, Cales Coves has one of the most spectacularly situated dance venues in the world – but Menorca is more about nature than nightclubbing; gloriously so.
The one word that summarises the island for me is ‘relaxation’ – a proper, deep refreshment that comes from both scenery and the activities facilitated by Menorca’s natural bounty, but also from a slower lifestyle than most of us experience in our daily lives.
A morning on the beach, followed by a lunch that might stretch across the hottest part of the afternoon, then perhaps a walk or a cycle ride. The evenings are long and social, with the locals not even considering eating their suppers before nine or 10. Somehow the days in Menorca feel luxuriously long and unhurried.
Of course the proximity of sea, with its soothing rhythms, helps. And the fact that the water around Menorca is such an inviting blue, and quite often the sort of turquoise that is found only airbrushed on the cover of holiday brochures. And with so many beaches to choose from, variety is never a problem; there are always at least five to suit your individual needs.
Take families with small children as an example – there are several beaches with shallow and gently sloping waters. One of my favourites is Es Grau, which is backed onto by the national park, with pleasant views of Es Grau’s fishing village. A small child could toddle for a good 50 metres and still not be out of their depth – and the water is as warm as a bath. It’s a perfect beginner’s beach, in other words, with a small bar-restaurant nearby for a light lunch under the ubiquitous pine trees, and kayaks and pedalos for hire.
On the south of the island, Cala en Porter provides a similarly gentle gradient. The sand here is finer and whiter, and beach-beds can be hired, while the eating facilities offer more choice. The snorkelling is good, while its situation in a deep inlet means that the waters remain warmer and calmer on windier days. It is however a very popular beach so best visited in the morning.
When shelter is less of an issue, I prefer Punta Prima – ‘the first point’ on the far eastern tip of Menorca, indeed of Spain. The beach here is much steeper, although there are shallows, as well as an area reserved for families with babies and toddlers. There are shops and restaurants galore here, but for anyone wanting the full resort experience the stunningly situated natural amphitheatre of Cala Galdana is probably the best of the three big resorts (Son Bou and Cala en Bosch making up the set).
And now for the more adventurous beachcomber. These beaches often require the use of a car, and then some 20-30 minutes’ walk from the car parks (often on private land; sometimes with a nominal fee), but they can be well worth the extra effort for the space and solitude they provide. Forget the beaches immediately around Ciutadella, which are small and busy, but strike out north-east from the city to Cala Morell (which is served by the 62 bus from the city), and you have the spectacular Algaiarens beaches. As with all these more out-of-the-way destinations, bring your own picnics.
A perennial favourite of mine is the Cala Mitjana, which requires a short walk through fragrant pine forest (no hardship!) and is an almost perfect cove with clear blue water, with rocks to jump off and two water caves to explore. If you prefer not to share paradise, then a further walk (along the signposted Camí de Cavalls coastal trail), will bring you to Trebaluger and Fustam beaches – favourite destinations for ‘boat tourists’, who anchor off shore and swim in. A new water taxi service now operates out of Cala Galdana and Santo Tomas, providing scheduled services to these beaches – as well as an exciting way to explore the southern coastline.
The northern beaches tend to be more exposed to the open sea, with more wind and waves, with coarser sand. Playa Binimel-la, reached through beautiful countryside, is popular, while the rather more remote Cala Pilar is well known for its red mud, which some smear over their bodies as a natural skin refresher. But if the beaches are not as immediately as attractive as those along the south coast, then the extraordinary natural beauty of this part of the island makes it well worth a visit.
This is the epicentre of Unesco’s Biosphere Reserve – symbolic recognition of Menorca’s status as one of the most pristine islands of the western Mediterranean, its high number of natural habits, and the wide range of flora and fauna (including booted eagles, red kites, Egyptian vultures and the occasional osprey). The wetland natural park of S’Albufera des Grau – an important staging post for migrating birds – is the best place to catch avian wildlife. It has a reception centre, hides and a marked trail. But wherever you go on Menorca, beyond the industrial outskirts of Mahón and Ciutadella that is, you will soon discover how clean and unpolluted the atmosphere is. Breathe deeply.
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