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The elegant side of the Balearics

THERE is so much more to Mallorca than sun, sea and the late-night drunken menace of us Brits in Magaluf. The largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands, the 3,275 sq km atoll has mountains, lush vegetation and close to 100 sandy beaches, many of which are secluded because they are up to half an hour’s walk from the nearest road or can only be approached from the sea.

It is very easy to lose yourself among the white sands, clear waters and blue skies of Mallorca. And it is no surprise to hear that the Spanish royal family have a summer mansion here, or why artists as diverse as writer Robert Graves or painter Juan Miro made their homes there. Even today, the island retains its five-star pull. When I returned from a long weekend there last month, just a few seats ahead on my British Airways flight was Formula One world champion Jenson Button and two pals, all looking suitably relaxed.

A DIFFERENT SORT OF HOTEL
The standout of my stay was the hotel. Instead of the tall unmemorable steel and glass Hiltons we are used to seeing in major cities, the Hilton Sa Torre Mallorca, a half hour’s drive from the island’s capital Palma, was once a 14th century fort, which was later converted into a manor house.

The hotel group spent two years renovating the 55,000 sq metre site, which opened in 2006. Among its highlights, the three-storey hotel boasts a beautiful courtyard, its own gothic chapel, a windmill, two outdoor pools (one for families, one for adults), several tennis courts and a full-sized grass football pitch.

Another nice touch is that all 41 rooms are unique. This is a boutique hotel that has had the resources of a multinational thrown at it and it is well worth the trip.

If you have arranged other accommodation, the Hilton’s new restaurant, Zaranda, is still worth a visit. The group has poached young chef Fernando Arellano to run it. He won a Michelin star at Zaranda in Madrid, and the hotel group wants him to do the same here. Arellano managed to convince 14 of his staff to join him in Mallorca, including his dishwasher. This either says a lot about Arellano’s cooking or the attraction of the island.

Fernando serves an adventurous menu that ranges from broth of roasted turnips with bone marrow and tagliatelli to sautéed lamb’s sweetbread, and his selection of produce and its preparation is first rate throughout.

BIODYNAMIC WINE
The island also has around 40 working vineyards. I visited one of the oldest, Jaume Mesquida, which began in 1945. Today it is run by the fourth generation of Mesquidas, Barbara and her younger brother, also called Jaume, who are mid-sized producers with 25 hectares of land and who ship 200,000 bottles of red, white and rose wines a year. Barbara is an infectious advocate of the wine trade and explains that three years ago the vineyard switched to a biodynamic system, an organic method of farming that uses few pesticides, lets weeds grow between the vines, and does not use machines during the two-month harvest because they believe the heavy pickers damage the fertility of the earth. Barbara, 30, says: “It’s not good to spoil this land with pesticides for bigger crops that will only last for a few years. I want to pass this land on to the next generation. That is important.”

And sitting in the afternoon sun at a table under the vines, eating paella and drinking her dark fruity rose, Rosat de Rosa, it was hard not to believe she was on to something.

THREE PLACES TO STAY IN MALLORCA
Hilton Sa Torre Mallorca, Llucmayor
The Hilton group threw money at this former 14th century fort and the result is breathtaking. Double rooms from €240. Tel: +34 871 963 700, www1.hilton.com.

Hotel Tres, Palma
This Scandinavian-run business is everything and more that you would expect from a boutique city hotel: cool, modern and super-stylish. You are also in the heart of the capital’s eating and entertainment quarter. Double rooms from €170. Tel: +34 971 717 333, www.hoteltres.com.

HM Jaime III Hotel, Palma
A sleek and bright five-star hotel in the centre of the capital. Rooms from €135. Tel: +34 971 725 943, www.hmjaimeiii.com.

THREE PLACES TO EAT IN MALLORCA
Cappuccino San Miguel, Palma
A relaxed bistro in which to have lunch or a light bite in the afternoon. Great local art on the walls inside and a large garden out back. 53 Calle de San Miguel

Zaranda, Hilton Sa Torre Mallorca, Llucmayor
Adventurous eating such as sea snails and bone marrow from head chef Fernando Are- llano, who was head chef in the hottest restaurant in Madrid. He looks set to put Mallorca on the map too. 8 Cami de Sa Torre

Es Faro de Muleta, Soller
Set just outside Soller next to the town’s lighthouse, this restaurant has a beautiful view of the natural harbour, and serves a great selection of John Dory, sea bream, king prawns and scorpion fish. Puerto de Soller

IBIZA
There is something about Ibiza that is tremendously pleased with itself. The third largest island in the Balearics has a worldwide reputation as a party island, and in Pacha and Privilege has two of the largest clubs on the globe that attract the hottest DJs.

However, it seems every islander believes they are personally responsible for this success. Everyone is haughty. It is the only place on earth I have ever been checked over by pensioners to see if I was wearing the right designer gear (I was not).

Unless you are a clubber you should avoid San Antonio on the south of the island. But even to the north in Ibiza town’s hilly old quarter Dalt Vila – which has great restaurants, architecture that dates back to the 13th century and stunning views over the bay – you may still be unfortunate enough to turn a corner at night and mistakenly find yourself among hordes of young beery revellers. That said, inland there are a number of beautiful hilltop towns like San Agusti with Greek-style white flat topped houses and stunning locals churches, which have recently become fashionable haunts for the rich to marry in.

Two years ago the island banned after-parties held between 6am and noon, in a bid to encourage more general tourism. This is still work in progress.

THREE PLACES TO STAY IN IBIZA
Ibiza Gran Hotel I, Ibiza town
Five-star international luxury. It’s good but you could be in any major hotel in the world, which is a bit of a shame.

Double rooms from €500 (high season). Tel: +34 971 806 806, www.ibizagranhotel.com.

Quilibra Aguas de Ibiza Hotel, Santa Eulalia
A funky five-star hotel with plenty of character. Double rooms from €370 (high season). Tel: +34 971 319 991, www.aguasdeibiza.com.

Mirador de Dalt Vila Hotel, Ibiza old town
Small but beautifully formed luxury hotel based inside the walls of the old town, which is a World Heritage Double rooms from €480 (high season). Tel: +34 971 303 045, www.hotelmiradoribiza.

THREE PLACES TO EAT IN IBIZA
Can Berri Vell, San Agusti
Good food in a picturesque hill top town. Try for a table in the garden. Placa Major

Yemanja, Cala Jondal
This and the Blue Marlin next door are two of the coolest beachfront bar/restaurants to be seen in on the island. The food is surprisingly good, and then relax in a sofa and watch the waves come in. 07830 San José

Ses Roques, Santa Eulalia
Great seafood and stunning views of the rocky coves just outside Ibiza’s third largest town, Santa Eulalia.

Platja de Cala Compte

NEED TO KNOW: THE OTHER BALEARIC ISLANDS
MENORCA
The second largest island in the group of four often does not get the attention it should because of its bigger brother Mallorca and its glamorous smaller sister Ibiza. But Menorca, at 780 sq km and a population of 88,500, has as many beaches as Mallorca and plenty of traditional villages inland.

FORMENTERA
The smallest of the Balearic Islands at only 83 sq km and a population of just 7,500. You can only reach the island by boat from Ibiza and it is known for long unspoilt beaches.

HOW TO GET THERE
British Airways flies three times a week to Mallorca and Ibiza from London City Airport, which moves up to five times a week in July and August.

For more information contact: www.britishairways.com

For more information about the Balearic Islands go to www.illesbalears.es

For more information about Ibiza go to www.ibiza.travel