PORT DE SOLLER, MALLORCA —Krisztian is topping up our glasses of delicate red wine, just as plates of fresh calamari and prawns bathing in garlic and tomatoes arrive at our table.
It’s another alfresco dinner tonight. This time it’s quayside, overlooking the soft sand beach and a string of yachts leading into the Balearic Sea. The shades of turquoise and navy blue that make up the coastline are bleeding into the sky, the perfect canvas for the sun that’s slowly setting as we tuck in.
Krisztian, our waiter and owner of the restaurant we’re dining at, was born in Hungary, went to culinary school in Canada and zigzagged around the world as a chef. But there was something about Mallorca — and Soller, particularly — that always beckoned him back.
He explains: When you’re asked as a child to paint a picture of paradise in your mind, you imagine a pristine beach, bordered by sky-high palm trees, a few boats dotted in the distance, and colourful little matchbox houses, tightly knit together, cascading down the mountainside.
He got to Soller a decade ago and realized he’d arrived at the postcard destination etched in his dreams. Krisztian made Port of Soller home and poured his culinary training into his restaurant, Kingfisher. And, well, the rest is history.
His description is spot on.
Above: Palma's beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria sits like a beacon.
Mallorca is one of the four main islands that make up the Spanish archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea, alongside Formentera, Menorca, and Ibiza. While tourists often flock to Ibiza — the most popular of the Balearic Islands — or the likes of Barcelona, Seville and Malaga on the mainland, travellers who want a true taste of Spain shouldn’t miss Mallorca.
There are a handful of ways to take in the largest of the Balearic Islands and each region has its own appeal. Adventure-seeking travellers head north to the likes of Pollenca and Alcudia, where the dramatic Tramuntana mountains skirt the length of the coast. Think of swimming, kayaking, snorkelling and hiking against a backdrop of enormous limestone cliffs and rugged forests, grabbing lunch in a lazy village, then taking a siesta in your finca – a farmhouse turned rustic hotel.
The entire eastern coastline of Mallorca has beaches that have been labelled as some of most stunning in the world. From Cala d’Or to Cala Ratjada, hundreds of beaches dot the region — some are secluded coves just waiting for your beach towel to touch down and others are surrounded by quaint seafood restaurants, local markets and shops. Visitors and locals alike pack up their car with just the essentials — bathing suit, sunscreen, cold drinks and snacks — to spend the day beach-hopping as they chase the sun.
Finally, there’s southern Mallorca, home to Palma Nova, Arenal and — with some notoriety — Magaluf. This corner of the island is Spain’s response to the Jersey Shore in the U.S. or Phuket in Thailand, a Sin City of sorts, packed with bachelor parties, flashy nightclubs and, in a nutshell, excess and debauchery.
In short, whatever you’re looking for from your next holiday, it’s likely Mallorca will fit the bill.
Above: The island's winding roads connect remote villages and fishing villages where sunsets are truly beautiful.
Our adventure on the island begins in Palma, the capital city. It’s a metropolis built along the seaside — call it the fraternal twin of Barcelona, a mishmash of modern architecture sat next to aging flats in that quintessential Mediterranean palette of fading shades of red, orange and yellow. There are polished boutiques, sun-kissed, well-dressed locals, and its very own cathedral steeped in Catalan history.
We spend our mornings meandering through the city’s cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways, taking snapshots of the pretty balconies, with laundry out to dry alongside bright bougainvillea toppling down building facades. This is genuinely my favourite thing to do in whatever European city I’ve transplanted myself in.
The only way to spend afternoons are poolside, icy cocktail in hand, and in good company as you work your way through a charcuterie board of Balearic Island spoils. I’m talking about soppressata, a spicy twist on chorizo; jamon iberico, or Iberico ham, which needs no description; queso de Mallorca, a creamy light sheep’s milk cheese; and queso de Mahon, an aged mature cheddar from the smaller neighbouring island, Menorca. Mallorca is a top producer of almonds, apricots, and olives (and, in turn, olive oil). The trifecta appears at virtually every meal — and charcuterie boards are no exception. We pile the ingredients strategically onto pan con tomate, a Catalan staple which is toasted bread, smothered in fresh tomatoes and garlic and drizzled with olive oil. We laugh, sip and nibble away until it’s time for a dip in the pool – a welcome respite from the blazing sun. Or maybe all of that eating.
It’s true, the island cools off at night. At dusk, the summertime heat simmers down, businessmen unbutton the tops of their dress shirts, stilettos are traded in for open-toe sandals, and everyone makes a beeline to the rooftop patios, the tapas bars and the main drag, La Rambla, with its string of open-air restaurants in the piazza.
Bar hopping is a genuine Spanish pastime and with good reason.
Above: The harbour at Porte-De-Solle is ringed with terra cotta homes and filled with million-dollar yachts.
How much fun are tapas bars? We snack on only the classics: ham croquettes, Padron peppers, patatas bravas, garlic chili prawns and plates of Manchego cheese with more Iberico ham as we rub shoulders with the lively waiters who keep our glasses of sangria flowing.
The waiters can’t understand a word of English through my boyfriend’s Australian accent and, well, he can’t understand them either. But through hand gestures, sincere smiles and laughter, and a good dose a patience, an alliance is somehow formed. One waiter even returns to our table with a fresh jug of sangria on the house.
By closing time, we spill out of tapas bars, bellies full as we finish off the last few sips of sangria and stroll hand-in-hand through the city’s Old Town back to our hotel.
After a few days of lush city life in Palma, it’s time to drive to Port de Soller, just an hour’s drive north through the centre of Mallorca.
The Soller Valley has been dubbed “an island within an island” — a condition born out of its geographical history as a trading bay. The so-called Road to Soller, which only opened in the 1990s, takes you through the longest tunnel on the island then spits you out just blocks away from the storied horseshoe bay that is the Soller seaside.
My boyfriend tells me I’ll know we’ve arrived once we pop our heads out of the tunnel, and he’s right. There it is: that stunning turquoise water and kilometres of beach nestled around a picturesque little fishing village. Everything smells like lemon and oranges because of the endless fruit groves and beach lovers descend, but only by the handful, to the water to spend the day playing along the warm shoreline.
We spend our days eating breakfast on our balcony just paces from the beach, sunbathing in the shallow waters, then go for a drive, taking in the view from the mountains beside a sheer vertical drop into the deep blue Mediterranean.
At dinner, as Krisztian tells us his story, diners pass by, bid him farewell and promise to return for another heaping helping of his cooking at this same time next year.
They’re from Germany, England, the United States — all corners of the world, really. Some have permanent holiday homes, others have their go-to neighbourhood they return to each summer. Just like Krisztian, they keep coming back.
He’s jotting notes of where we ought to visit during our stay on the island — his must-see recommendations.
There’s Valldemossa and Deia, rich in history and Medieval architecture, Fornaluxt, allegedly Mallorca’s most gorgeous town, Llucalari, a tiny village renowned for its waterfall and mud pools.
As Krisztian is still plotting away our itinerary, we realize our week here just won’t suffice. Between the beauty of the island and the locals’ hospitality, we absolutely understand why everyone comes back. And just like the rest of his loyal diners, we promise we’ll return to see him — and Mallorca — again.