PALMA DE MALLORCA, SPAIN - The lunchtime crowd at the Bodega Tapas Bar on trendy Avenue La Rambia are too busy consuming pinchos (small snacks) to notice the strangers in their midst. Glasses of txikito (young white wine) and zurito (quarter pints of beer) line the tiled bar waiting for a server to collect them. A festive mood hangs over the legendary bar with the low-hanging ceiling where tables are set so close you rub shoulders with your neighbour
There are lots of pinchos to choose from — croquettes, stuffed peppers, tortilla de patatas, anchovy and cod seem to be the most popular. Soon a young man appears and asks what we’d like. He quickly recognizes the puzzled looks on our faces and offers to assist.
“I will make up a nice plate for you, señor — you will like it,” says the server before disappearing into the kitchen.
Our mouths water in anticipation as we watch others gobble down the traditional Basque treats in an establishment that has been serving them for centuries.
When our server returns with a plate that’s overflowing with a variety of goodies, he asks what has impressed us most about this lovely Spanish city where small, narrow streets wind and twist until they spill out into large neighbourhood squares filled with statues of national heroes.
Above: Palma's stunning cathedral is one of the largest and loveliest in Europe.
We tell him the city’s massive cathedral is one of the most impressive structures we’ve ever seen.
“La Seu (aka Palma de Mallorca Cathedral) is our Taj Mahal — no, it’s better,” says the server with a twinkle in his eye.
After lunch, we make our way along the lovely, shaded La Rambia, which formed part of the legendary Roman Road, in the direction of the massive cathedral, which is one of the most famous and beautiful Gothic structures in all of Europe.
Started in the 13th century, the cathedral took hundreds of years to complete and we owe its existence to King James I of Aragon, who almost died coming to Mallorca in 1229 to fight Arab occupiers. While en route, a violent storm almost sank the young king’s ships and, fearing for his life, James prayed to God and promised if he was spared, he’d build a temple on the island in honour of the Virgin Mary.
Above: The circular Bellver Castle is unique in Europe.
After arriving safely and defeating his Arab enemy, James quickly began fulfilling his promise and used the foundation of a small mosque built earlier by the Muslims to create the Christian masterpiece that now stands as a beacon on the island.
The wow factor inside this massive cathedral — it stretches 121 metres in length and 55 metres in width — ranks right up there with other great Christian churches, including St. Peter’s Basilica.
Ironically, because it was built on the foundation of the old mosque, the cathedral that’s made of the best Mallorcan sandstone, faces towards Mecca instead of Jerusalem, like other Catholic churches.
Spain’s legendary architect Antoni Gaudi was brought in to help with the cathedral’s restoration in 1901 but the temperamental artist abandoned the project in 1914 after becoming embroiled in an argument with contractors.
Three naves rest on 44-metre-high octagonal pillars inside the massive structure and eight chapels line each of the naves. The royal chapel at the back of the church houses the tombs of King James II and King James III.
One of the many impressive features about the cathedral is the huge arched entrance and its facade resplendent with Gothic sculptures. The cathedral’s treasury is filled with a trove of priceless pieces, including two large Baroque silver candelabras that were made in the 15th century and several pieces made of pure gold.
Above: There's plenty to keep your attention in beautiful Palma.
The cathedral is not the only impressive structure the kings named James erected in Mallorca. The Castell de Bellver (Bellver Castle) may not be as impressive as the cathedral (few buildings in the world are) but it’s still a highlight that many visitors seek out when here.
Built in the 14th century by James II and completed by James III, the Gothic-style Bellver is one of the few circular castles in Europe and was used for many years as a military prison. It now captivates tourists with the many historic artifacts displayed in its museum.
The castle originally served as the royal residence and offers visitors stunning panoramic views of Palma de Mallorca.
Other impressive sites on Mallorca include the Capocorb Vell, ancient ruins that date back to 1000 BC, the Caves del Drach, which provides great acoustics for music concerts, and Fornalutx, a village just outside Palma, which qualifies as one of the most picturesque places in Spain.