Set like a string of pearls within the Mediterranean Sea, the four main islands of the Balearics are the holiday of choice for many. Mallorca (Majorca), Minorca, Ibiza and Formantera all share the delights of beautiful sandy beaches and warming sunshine but each island also has its unique highlights. One of the easiest ways to make sure you don’t miss any of what each has to offer is to obtain a hire car and explore. Most hotels will be able to organise a hire car for you or alternatively there are several independent car hire places in all the main tourist areas.
Mallorca, often thought of as being the place to go for partying, has over 10 million visitors each year. Not all are hedonists, the more discerning go to discover the often forgotten delights that Mallorca has to offer. Spectacular mountain ranges and caves offer the energetic ample opportunities to explore. For those who prefer to take things at a slower pace, jump in your hire car and check out the small idyllic villages set amongst the spectacular scenery of the Tramuntana mountains.
Mallorca also has some outstanding monuments of historical interest including Castell d’Alaro- a Moorish castle high in the mountains and Pollentia – the remains of a Roman City.
However, in our opinion time spent exploring the capital Palma where luxurious modern yachts moored in the harbour rub shoulders with more permanent historical monuments. Here are three of the best:
Bellver Castle (17th century)
Unique in Spain, this castle is of a circular design. Walk up through the woods for the most amazing views of Palma and then back down the steps to the harbour.
Cathedral of Santa Maria
This is a beautiful Gothic building with amazingly colourful stained glass buildings.
Royal Palace of Almundaina
This is still in use by the King of Spain so visiting is limited. Worth mentioning are the tapestries from several centuries.
Ibiza loves festivals! Unsurprisingly from the island that brought us the ‘rave’ there is a vibrant and colourful live music and festival scene. Pop culture though, is not the only focus; May heralds the International Film Festival and several religious and historical celebrations occur throughout the year. There is even one festival dedicated to the humble mushroom.
Here are three of the most flamboyant;
The Medieval Festival
For three days in May, the narrow cobbled streets of D’Alt Villa plays host to jugglers, puppeteers, jester, falconers, snake charmers and much more. People dressed as knights and princesses roam the streets and typical foods and live music help set the atmosphere.
For days, either side of the summer solstice in June, parades, bonfires and dancing continue throughout the night all around Ibiza. Saying ‘goodbye’ to the old and ‘hello’ to the new, people are encouraged to throw an old item into the fires. .
Festes de la Terra
Old Town vibrates to the sound of street music, dancing and performances at the beginning of August. An eight day long party celebrates various long-established religious events. The eating of watermelons is central to this festival
Colonial and Menorcan architecture are interspersed by bars and restaurants around the harbourside at Mahon. Although very lively at night, during the daytime the narrow cobbled streets can offer a peaceful and calm haven. One of the more tranquil islands, Menorca is best known for its watersports, outstanding beaches and warm azure seas.
Here are two of Menorca’s more unusual beaches:
This small coarse sanded beach is only reached by a short but steep walk down a limestone gorge. There are many fissures and Bronze Age caves worth exploring and shore is ideal for rock pooling. Swimming and snorkelling are also good here but best be aware there are no facilities.
Known as ‘Queen of the Calas’ this is a beautiful bay surrounded by pine forests and vertical cliffs. It’s a great place to go for long, scenic walks along coastal paths to secluded beaches or for just enjoying the scenery and water activities on offer.
The smallest and quietest of the Ballearic Islands, Formantera offers similarly beautiful beaches but, having no airport of its own, a ferry from nearby Ibiza is the best way to access it.
It is possible to hire a car here but Formentera encourages more pollution friendly alternatives. Most people get around by hired moped or bicycle.
The capital, Sant Francesc Xavier has the crystal clear sea at one side and two large lakes at the other making it appear to be an island of its own.
Perhaps a heritage of its past hippie phase, Formantera has a strong nude beach culture not best suited for the body shy.