balearic islands

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Spectacular views and glistening blues: This is Mallorca

Looking at Mallorca's sparking clear waterLooking at Mallorca's sparking clear water

The largest of Spain’s three Balearic Islands, Mallorca genuinely surprised me with its beauty, nature, fulfilment to the taste buds and its charming villages. But besides all that, it’s a fantastic destination for a girls trip!

My best friends have made a pretty cool habit of visiting me wherever I’m living (Austin, Los Angeles, Moscow, and most recently, Madrid). I knew that Madrid would not be worth spending an entire week in while they were taking time out of their busy lives to visit me (Sorry, Madrid), and since they had all been to different parts of Spain, Mallorca came out as one of those destinations we all wanted to check out. And we are so glad we did!

Here’s how to spend 4 glorious days in the sunny Mediterranean island, if you want a good mix of the four pillars of an amazing vacation: beach, culture, hiking and delicious food.

Day 1: Arrive in Palma de Mallorca
We debated whether to stay in the capital or a remote location, and in the end, the choice to stay in Palma de Mallorca paid off. Besides being really beautiful with lots of yummy places to eat and drink, it was a great spot to be based out of (less than 20 minutes to the airport and about 1-1.5 hours to all the other ends of the island).

We picked an AirBnb in the center of Palma. Parking was relatively easy, but beware of the street signs of whether it’s permitted for non-resident parking, as we got a ticket and were almost towed once. Oops! [Insider’s tip: If you do get a traffic ticket while in Spain, you get the fine reduced by half if you pay it online within the first 20 days.]

Having taken an early flight and three of us fighting jet lag, we were sleepy and hungry (when am I not, come to think of it?), so a coffee and quick bite were on the agenda. We discovered a lovely cafe near our place, called Mama Carmen’s. Perfect for a brunch or breakfast, with an assortment of really good coffee and beverages – it was just what we needed to refuel for the day ahead.

Perfect matcha latte at Mama Carmen
Healthy veggie breakfast

Beaches: Our first stop was the coveted Platja des Trenc, a beach that is supposed to be the most beautiful on the island. However, parking was no where to be found, so we had to find a new beach and leave Es Trenc for another day, where we could get an earlier start to find parking. I suggest getting there before 10:00 am to guarantee parking, especially if on a weekend. Keep reading to learn about Es Trenc, as we ended up coming back on our last day.

Nonetheless, the next beach we found would be equally beautiful but slightly harder to get to: Caló des Moro – about an hour away due to small roads; get used to it in Mallorca! This required a bit of a walk from the parking lot and then short hike down to the cove with topless sunbathers and sculpted bronzed bodies (really, it was a great place to people watch).

The water at Caló des Moro is blindingly clear, albeit the small sandy beach is packed to the brim with people like a can of sardines, even in early September when we went. Also, once it gets to be about 5:00 p.m., the sun disappears from the cove, as it is tucked away between the cliffs. Plan to come pretty early to make the most of it here. While there is a tiny drink stand at the top of the cove, you should definitely bring a picnic lunch or snacks if you’re staying for a while.

Calo des Moro
Crowded and beautiful
A very cute, albeit limited drink stand at Cala des Moro

Bonus views: If you hike a bit beyond the path to get to the beach, you can explore the craggy cliffs and beautiful background against the sea and golden sunlight. A prime sunset spot, as long as you know your journey back. We hiked okay in our sandals, but I wouldn’t do it barefoot.

Rewarding, isolated views atop Calo des Moro

Bars in Palma: At night, back in Palma de Mallorca, we had a fun night of food and bar hopping. A great first stop for cocktails is at the Sky Bar rooftop bar of the Hostal Cuba (don’t let the name fool you, as it’s neither a hostel or hotel!) It’s quite nice, actually, with yummy cocktails to match.

Next, we checked out a very unusual bar called Bar Abaco – it’s something between a fruit basket that exploded inside of a swanky mansion that is about to have an Eyes Wide Shut-style orgy. Note: we didn’t witness any orgy, but that’s not to say it couldn’t happen in a place like this. It was an interesting experience, where you can tour the whole house, get a drink at the bar, pretend you’ve gone back in time (or future) to a dystopian Victorian-decorated universe that plays music from all centuries, it seems. Bottom line: A really unique experience worth the pricey cocktails.

Bar Abaco
Photo courtesy of http://www.innasky.com/en/abaco-palmas-schonste-bar/
Image courtesy of http://www.innasky.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/P1720928.jpg

Day 2: Frolics and Folies

Beach Club Gran Folies: After waking up and getting dolled up, we headed to a beach club I had heard great things about called Gran Folies Beach Club, about a 40-minute drive outside of Palma in Andratx. After making a slightly dizzying trip down a mountain, we were rewarded with spectacular views of the Balearic Sea with colorful cliffside homes. We were fortunate to get a circular day bed in a prime spot with beautiful views in the club. This beach club has theme parties, like Gatsby Night, where it turns into a party after 8:00 p.m.

Beach Club Gran Folies

Can you spot us?

Now, when I say beach club, I’m not talking about techno-blaring party club scene like Nikki Beach. This is a very relaxed beach club that serves food, drinks and offers folks to escape the hustle of crowded beaches in Mallorca. It’s actually a very romantic and fun spot to get away with your significant other, as we saw many couples here. However, when a fun group of four girls appear in an array of bikinis, safe to say we unintentionally stole the show and disturbed the chill vibe a bit. Everyone was very friendly, and we had a great time.

Note: There are no sandy beaches here, but you can enter the water by walking along the rocks to take a dip, as many people did, and there are stairs going into the water from the rocks. We spent the better part of the day here, swimming, relaxing, eating and just catching up, as best friends who live thousands of miles apart do.

My bikini bod diet is whatever tastes good on vacation
A girls trip for the ages
Dive into the sea to cool off from the sun

For the relatively high amount of money you spend here, I recommend spending most, if not, all day here. The views are really nice and relaxing, the vibe is romantic and you will no doubt wish you could live in this paradise. Soak it all in!

Check out my post on Menorca, Mallorca’s little sister!

Day 3: Towns, beaches and lighthouses

This was perhaps my favorite day in Mallorca, as we really got to explore a full array of what the island has to offer: charming villages, beaches and mountains. Unequivocally we had heard that Sóller and Fortnalutx (pronounced For-nah-looch) were must-see places. Located in the north of the island, they’re about one hour away from Palma. You can take the paid tollway of Highway Ma-11, which is a straight shot through a mountain tunnel, or to take a 30-minute detour through incredibly twisty mountain roads (Ma-11A). We took the tunnel without hesitation, as we wanted to maximize our time in the towns.

Sóller is a perfect place to wander the narrow, cobblestone Balearic streets and have a nice brunch at any of the delicious cafes in the center. As with every European city, there’s a large cathedral (Església de Sant Bartomeu) in the central Plaza d’Antoni Maura.

Charming streets of Soller

But the real treat was the next door town of Fornalutx. It is a medieval gem, enveloped by mountains, picturesque homes brimmed with flowers of every color – and even in September, it was calm and hardly touristy. Take an hour or so to hike through town (I’m not kidding when I say hike, as there are seemingly endless stairs and hills throughout the town). Just about everything about this place is Instagram-worthy!

Soaking it all in
Not crowded, which was the best part

Lush, green and perfect Fornalutx

By this time, we were ready for the beach. We drove to the Northwest tip of Mallorca to explore the long stretch of sandy beach called Platja de Muro. This beach was definitely more crowded and family-friendly, but at least parking was a cinch. The sand is soft, there are no rocks and you can rent sun loungers and umbrellas starting from 10€. The water is crystal clear, despite the beach being crowded and folks playing water sports.

Platja Muro

Taking the plunge off the pier!

Cap Formentor: To top an already adventurous and truly fun day, we chased the sunset on Cap Formentor, or the “meeting point of the winds,” as local Mallorquines call it. And they aren’t wrong! Cap Formentor is a wild peninsula on the eastern tip of Mallorca, giving you stunning (and very windy) views of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range and the glistening Ballearic Sea. There is a crowded observation deck that offers views in all directions, but if you have a daring spirit, drive up the windy mountain road to the Lighthouse of Cap Formentor. The climb up to the actual top of the Lighthouse is an adventure in and of itself, as it’s very steep and the only way in and out. However, it’s phenomenally worth it to watch the sunset from the top.

Views of Cap Formentor
The Lighthouse with steep ‘stairs’ leading to the top for rewarding views
Overlooking Cap Formentor from the Lighthouse

The day wouldn’t be complete without a tasty meal back in Palma at a restaurant called Duke. This turned out to be my favorite meal of where we ate, and I cannot recommend it enough, especially the “artisanally” crafted cocktails. The atmosphere is really fun, dynamic and they really put their heart into every meal they make.

Day 4: White sand and nudist beaches

Before you get excited (or hesitant?) about the nudist beach, let’s start with the fact that in Spain, much like other European countries, it is normal and common to go topless on public beaches. No matter their age, you’ll see women ditching their bikini tops and basking in the sun. As for nudist beach, it was an underwhelming experience, having witnessed only a handful of fully nude folks.

We started the day where we began the trip essentially, at Es Trenc. Only this time we came earlier in the day (on a weekday, I should add) around 10:00 a.m., and we got parking on the street heading leading to the beach easily. Note: you need coins to pay for the parking meters, and you better believe they check the time on those tickets.

Es Trenc is a long stretch of super fine white sand and the clearest, calmest water. It’s not as chaotic as Platja de Muro, especially earlier in the day. To me, this was the best beach of the island.

Soaking up our last day in Mallorca
If you didn’t do a Baywatch run, did you really go to the beach?

For lunch, we drove through a cute town called Ses Salines, where we grabbed a bite at a super trendy and cute restaurant called Cassai.

Trendy, full of light and plants
Bar at Cassai
Gotta stick to the classics sometimes

The next and final beach we decided to visit was Cala Varques, on the southeast part of the island. It was pretty hard to find using Google Maps, and here’s why: this place requires a good 30 minute hike though a forest to reach the Cala. And it’s a nudist beach. I’m talking full frontal of guys and gals. The beach here was definitely 18+, you’ll catch whiffs of marijuana and they sell alcohol with edible straws on the sand. There are people playing music, slacklining, surfing, hiking and just relaxing. The day we went, the sea was quite rough, so swimming in huge crashing waves did not happen. It was a neat beach to check out, but it’s a very particular vibe that I concluded was not for everyone.

A doggies enjoying the sea breeze
Some folks may be brave enough to cliff dive, but it’s very high up and dangerous

Mallorca is the Goldilocks of the three Balearic islands – if you’re looking for a fair-priced European vacation with sunshine, beautiful beaches and tasty bites, look no further – especially if you have a girls trip in mind. Have you been to Mallorca yet?

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The marvels of Menorca

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACala Macarella, Menorca

Ahh, the Spanish Balearic islands… just the name immediately brings to mind crystal clear, azure water, bronzed bodies, bright sunshine and delicious foods. That’s exactly what I got in Menorca when I went in July!

I spent a good 4 days exploring Menorca, which is the chilled out little sister to Ibiza and Mallorca, offering more affordable prices and equally beautiful calas, or coves. It’s a great place for couples, families with kids and solo travelers. Here’s a quick and easy itinerary to maximize 4 days on this small but precious Spanish island. I recommend renting a car to explore the island, as I found it much easier to travel around without the burden of waiting on buses. One downside is it’s a small island, so expect equally small two-way roads that occasionally become congested with slower drivers, but they are scenic and lush with forests.

Day 1:

I stayed in Cala Galdana in the south of the island, versus in either Ciutadella or Mahon (the two largest cities). Cala Galdana has everything you could want, with a half-resort and half-tiny coastal town feel. There’s a nice beach within walking distance, many restaurants and supermarkets, and lots of accommodation choices. I stayed in a charming apartment “Encanto del Mar,” which had incredible views from the large balcony (although admittedly, there was no AC in 2018, so that was tough in July).

View from Apartamentos Encanto del Mar in Cala Galdana

Cala Galdana is located between several beautiful beaches and calas within relatively short hiking distance (hiking level: beginner to slightly moderate across 2-5 km). The one I checked out and fell in love with was Cala Macarella (and Cala Macarelleta, which is a cove within a cove nearby). It’s about 25-40 hiking from Cala Galdana, depending on your speed; bring water to stay hydrated. The beach in Cala Macarella is beautiful with soft white sand, and there are many families here. There’s also a restaurant, snack bar, restrooms and showers (for 1€) on location, so you don’t necessarily need to bring a packed lunch here. Most other calas, however, are remote and don’t have any bars or restaurants, so just make to know beforehand if you need to bring some food and plenty of water.

Cala Macarella

A brief hike away from Cala Macarella offers a spectacular view of the bluest water your eyes will see, as you enter Cala Macarelleta. It’s a great photo op, plus a chance to appreciate the beauty of this island.

The view on the way to Cala Macarelleta

Once you get to Cala Macarelleta, you can be sure to find a crowded beach of mostly younger adults and topless girls (hey, it’s the European way!). A word of caution: not sure if it was bad luck or just the timing, but in July it was jellyfish season, and they were everywhere around the island. Several people I saw got stung, so just a word of warning… Nonetheless, I soaked up the sun a bit before heading back to Cala Galdana.

Note: You have the option to hike further from Cala Macarella on to get to Cala Turqueta, which I hear is beautiful too. After a long day in the sun and water, the last thing I wanted to do was hike another 3 km to a new beach, totaling 5 km on the way back to Cala Galdana. Perhaps if I had gotten an earlier start on the day, it would have been absolutely fine.

Cala Macarelleta

I don’t know about you, but I love seeking out a beautiful sunset spot when on vacation. I picked the lighthouse Far de Punta Nati in the Northwest tip of the island. The car park is a bit of a walk from the lighthouse itself, and it’s best to get there an hour before sunset to get a spot, otherwise just park on the small road heading to the lighthouse. While I was surprised to see the lighthouse closed for visitors (it was  chained shut), tourists have clearly avoided this by climbing over the fence to the edge of the cliffs. And from there, you pick a ‘comfortable’ rock to sit on and you wait for the sky to begin its miraculous change. I brought sandwiches with us to have dinner there on the spot, so depending how hungry you get, you might think about bringing some food too, as it’s pretty remote out there and it’s during the Spanish dinner hour. While we did have a few last minute clouds encroach on our sunset, it was still a memorable and beautiful view.

The Far de Punta Nati Lighthouse
Lighthouses are always so peaceful to me
Even with a cloud closing in, it was a memorable sunset at Far de Punta Nati

Day 2:

Get a head start on your day and head to Cala Pregonda. Or more accurately, you can’t actually park at Cala Pregonda, since the road leading up to it is private; instead you have to drive to the Binimel.lá beach and park at the restaurant Binimel.la. Then prepare for a bit of a hike (25-30 minutes) to reach the first beach that you may assume is Cala Pregonda, as there are tons of people here. It’s what I thought too, as I planted myself in the sand and chilled on the beach. If you keep hiking 15 more minutes, you’ll reach the actual Cala Pregonda. On the way, savor the views of of both coves.

One side of the beach as you approach Cala Pregonda
The shimmering sea in the middle of the calas
The actual Cala Pregonda, a bit less crowded as it’s farther to reach

Making my long trip back to the car, I was very hungry, so I grabbed a bite at the Binimel.lá restaurant, a beautiful finca remade into a place to get food and drinks after the beach. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a window that faces the sea to enjoy the breeze and the views. The food there is quite good, but be prepared for a wait when you go for lunch, as it’s the only place to eat in the vicinity and a popular spot.

The next stop was the beautiful Cala Morell, which is a small cove amidst a charming white-washed town. I will say the beach was a mix of sand and pebbles, so it was not comfortable to walk on compared to the sandy coves. Here I would recommend to go mainly for the view and an hour of sunbathing, maybe even stay here a night if you like the vibe. The crowd is definitely more adults, no families from what I saw, and some nude sunbathers. Ahh, Europe!

This way to the playa
Cala Morella

In the evening, it was time to check out Ciutadella, one of Menorca’s largest port cities. And let me say, it’s such a gorgeous place! It has colorful, medieval streets and a really nice port filled with restaurants where you can watch the sunset. There are plenty of places to shop and eat, you won’t get bored here. As with any European town, there is a main square, a cathedral and palaces comprising the old town. If I go back to Menorca, I would almost certainly stay in Ciutadella.

Charming streets of Ciutadella

Lovely harbor
Venice vibes in Ciutadella

Day 3:

I decided to check on the Southeast corner of the island, and you guessed it: another cala! This time it was Cala de Binidalí, which has an easily accessible parking and a brief hike down. This beach had a lot of jellyfish when I was there, as it’s common in the summer time. This was not my favorite cala in terms of aesthetics, but what I did like was there there were far fewer people at this beach. Folks picked a space on a boulder or the sand and relaxed. After an hour or so in the beaches, I made my way to Binibeca Vell, a tiny white washed village that I had gotten several recommendations to visit.

Bininbeca Vell is a whitewashed town that mimics authentic Balearic fishing houses. It has narrow alleys, white streets and houses, and there are actually signs to be quiet, as it’s a residential/resort community. It’s worth a short stop in to get lost in the white streets and then eat a delicious meal on a terrace in of the restaurants nearby. Parking is pretty easy along the streets, just mind any signs that require a permit.

Coming back to the apartment, I enjoyed the last rays of sunshine on the balcony of Cala Galdana, welcoming the cooler temperature. By then, it was time for dinner (which, in Spain, is about 9-10 p.m.). Plenty of restaurants in Cala Galdana, and I recommend you try ‘Alaska’ – it has excellent tapas and seafood for a decent price.

Cala de Binidalí
Some seaweed but otherwise ultra clear water at Binidalí
Bininbeca-Vell
Against the white-washed walls of Binibeca-Vell
Small white church in Binibeca-Vell

Day 4:

Keeping in mind that on the fourth day I would be parting with this magical, tiny island, I decided to head in the direction of Mahón, the capital, to enjoy a few hours exploring the historical center and harbor – plus it’s conveniently located by the airport. While Mahón is a very nice city, I wouldn’t stay there if I came back. It’s a good place to spend a few hours, and several boat tours take off from the harbor, but I didn’t find the city as charming as Ciutadella. Plenty of restaurants and shopping in the historical center, with several churches and an outdoor market on Placa Esplanada. If you’re traveling with kids and don’t feel like walking, there’s a 50-minute tourist train that shows you all the city highlights, including the harbor. There is also a 19th century fort called Fortalleza de la Mola that overlooks the city, if you fancy a historical introduction to the city culture.

After a nice lunch, it was time to wrap up the trip and head to the airport. I will definitely be coming back to this lovely island!

Mahón port

Are you planning a trip to the Balearics? Give a shout below with your plans!