BYO Shotgun (Part 1) : A Little Patch of Paradise

Written by Grant Mills on . Posted in City Guides, European Bazaar, Festivals, History, Nature, Society, Travel

I do have to admit a certain closed-mindedness when it comes to notorious party-island destinations. I’ve always been unenthused by the tales I’ve heard from Bali (or Aus-Bali-a as it could otherwise be known), I found few redeeming features in Corfu and please get my head examined if I ever mention Ibiza as a possible destination.

SollerI know that each of these places must have some positive aspects beyond cheap drinks and bikinis – they were, after all, holiday destinations before they became enablers to the young and horny – but the idea of even a brief (but likely) collision with that world has always given me the shivers.

I had similar reservations about heading to Mallorca but the promise of an unmissable and utterly crazy festival had me jetting in to the largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands, the big brother to infamous Ibiza and seemingly-forgotten Menorca.

I could not have had my expectations so soundly exploded (and I mean that literally).

Flying in late, I spent my first night in the beachside, kebab-joint, all-night vodka-coke area of the Platja de Palma, southeast of Mallorca’s capital, Palma de Mallorca. In the dark this lonely beach seemed to be a disappointing facsimile of someone’s idea of a Californian beachfront, all thatched umbrella’s and empty banana lounges.

Though the restaurants and themed eateries a couple of streets back from the sea seemed full to bursting, no one except a few loud-grumbling shop owners and their sycophants lingered on the foreshore.

Soller-7The saving grace of the evening was the Hostal Atlanta where I stayed; a surprisingly clean, friendly establishment that advertises the best burger in Mallorca, and I’m very happy to second that assertion.

The next morning I was glad to get away from my poor first impression of the capital, appreciating the ease, order and free wifi of the central bus station, as I boarded a bus to my home for the next week, the north coast town of Sóller (pronounced soy-air).

Almost immediately my hesitant opinions of the island began to change. We left Palma quickly in our wake and in the distance became aware of the craggy heads of the mountains rearing up suddenly from the sun-coloured plains.

With the mountains of Mallorca there is no gentle introduction. One moment you’re driving through pastures and citrus orchards, the next you’re faced with imposing mountain passes. It’s as if a giant hand did a hasty job of sweeping Mallorca clean of hills; they persist, all cluttered together on the verge of falling into the sea.

Cosseted in the palm of these mountains is Sóller, reportedly the island’s oldest town. It shares its name with the Port of Sóller, which is separated from its namesake by 3 kilometres down a narrowing valley on the sea.

Soller-2These tumble-down mountains, which rear up over Sóller on all sides, make for beautiful days and stunning evenings. The town itself oozes charm, its narrow streets judiciously studded with cute boutiques and artist shops. The obligatory tourist restaurants are contained to Sóller’s main square, which itself is dominated by their church and town hall. Carving the plaza and the town in two is the Sóller  – Port de Sóller historical tramway, which is the most of convenient (if expensive) way to travel between Sóller and the sea.

The festival I was there to attend was even more insane and fantastic than I’d been led to believe but I’ll be covering that in Part 2 so stay tuned. For now I wanted to set the scene and mention a couple of other must do activities on the island.

Soller-6Mention that you’re off to Sóller and people on the island will assume you’re a hiker. Whereas, in Palma’s airport you’re likely to be bumping shoulders with early retirement types pulling their golf-clubs off the baggage carousel, in and around Sóller a great many of the tourists you will see have the lean, underfed look of hikers. Given that over half of the people that go to Sóller are in the over-50s bracket, they are also easily identifiable by their dual walking poles.

In 2011 the cultural heritage of Mallorca’s northern mountain range, the Serra de Tramuntana, was listed as World Heritage by UNESCO. And rambling across its great ridges runs The Dry Stone Walk, 135kms of tracks linking the historic towns of the area with apparently world-class hiking. Look for the ‘GR 221’ signs marking its trail.

Soller-9Even the relatively simple walk from Sóller to the Port and then onward to the Refugi de Muleta offers you a diversity of landscapes, picturesque views and passage through the serene terraced orchards that cling to the hills. And if you reach Muleta for sunset you can enjoy watching the sun disappear into the sea over a tumbler of cheap wine. There’s nothing better!

But for hikers it’s hard to beat the Torrent de Pareis gorge walk, generally accepted to be Mallorca’s best hike. Well, it’s more of a scramble. The Torrent is a narrow cleft that runs inland from the sea, with imposing rocky sides. From one end to the other will take you about 5 hours, spent rock-hopping, contorting yourself through the gaps between giant boulders and creatively trying to clamber over others.

The town of Escorca, at the top end of the gorge, is difficult to get to without transport, but there are several companies on the island that do guided tours of the Torrent and will transport you to Escorca.

The far end of the gorge opens into the port of Sa Colabra, with regular ferries heading back to Port de Sóller. If, like me, you can’t get to Escorca it is well worth catching the ferry around the coast to Sa Colabra and walking up the Torrent until you get sick of it and then turn around. I got 2.5 hours in before turning around, and lament having to do so. It is a fun and memorable walk in which you feel like you’re in the middle of a mountain only recently cracked apart.

Soller-5Sóller is the civilised heart of a rugged and rocky region. If offers the perfect launching pad for adventure sports, hiking or just sipping cocktails in the Mediterranean sun.

And let’s not forget Sóller’s annual festival of Es Firo, a crazy, theatrical combustion of an event. But for that you’ll have to wait for Part 2…

 

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