It may not scream luxury, but if you have a young family in tow, you should try this sunkissed island, says Leo Bear
GOOD NEWS, parents. I have mastered the art of the family holiday. It took several attempts: Hong Kong (hideous jetlag), Tuscany (perpetual carsickness) and central France (“bo-ring”). The magic word is Mallorca.
Ibiza’s level-headed big sister boasts immaculate beaches, hundreds of well-kitted-out villas and an impressive food scene. At just over two-hours’ flight time from the UK, it’s no wonder this Balearic breakaway is a top choice for couples with kids (the Camerons love it).
My merry clan included my hubby Charlie, Clem (3), Plum (8 months) and our bikini-ready au pair Almudena (24). We’d hired Xemarri, a four-bedroom villa on the southern tip of Mallorca, for a week to help us regroup after the toll the new baby had taken on all of us.
Tucked down a dusty track 45 minutes from the airport, the villa was surrounded by almond groves, ramshackle fincas and plum trees. We quickly fell into an unselfconscious routine of splashing around the pool, bbq-ing and taking long walks during the coolest hours of the day. We never encountered another soul, which is remarkable considering nearly 5m holidaymakers flock to the sunny south each summer.
As it turned out, they were all at the beach.
At Cala Llombards, our closest child-friendly beach (15km from the villa), almost every inch of sand was covered by towels, parasols and UV-blocking baby tents. Usually, this kind of thing fills me with horror but somehow, here, it didn’t matter. Perhaps it was the joy on Clem’s face as the scene unfolded, or maybe it was the prospect of taking Plum for her first ever dip in the Med. Most likely it was the fact that Cala Llombards is one of the most picturesque little coves in Europe. With craggy rocky outcrops perfect for teenagers to leap from, sand as soft as the Maldives and a scented backdrop of pine trees, it is truly idyllic. There’s a lop-sided beach bar serving glass-bottled Cola that brings to mind 1970s Jamaica and rows of wonky thatched parasols, just add to the old-fashioned charm of the place. Several wider beaches adorn Mallorca’s southern coastline, including Cala Mondrago, Es Trenc and Ses Covetes to name a few, but Cala Llombards is hard to beat in the prettiness stakes.
Further inland, Mallorca has plenty of other draws for little ones. Aqualand water park and nature reserve La Reserva (which has great hiking and ziplining), are the pick of the bunch. In Palma there’s an aquarium should the weather turn, but with our kids being too young for such folly, we stuck to our usual selfish routine of shopping and eating.
Most of this was done in Santanyi, a sleepy market village of old sandstone townhouses interspersed with family-run bars and cafes. Powerful coffee and piquant tapas at Es Moli and Alchemy kept us going on the days Plum had us up half the night, and when the market stalls appeared (twice a week), we filled our baskets with local padron peppers and the sweetest watermelons we’ve ever tasted. But no matter how masterful our grocery shopping, self-catering only took us so far. Most evenings, we left Almudena with a bottle of rosé and zoomed down our dusty track to explore Mallorca’s foodie side.
From 19th century fortresses to convent-cum-art galleries, Mallorca’s dining scene is something to be celebrated (see “where to eat” below). The only problem is, although it’s easy to get around by car, Mallorca is big – the largest of the Balearic islands. Some nights we were on the road for more than two hours getting to and from Palma. But the plates of glistening slow-cooked pork chops and the minarets of earthy artichoke risotto more than made up for it.
By the end of the week, we had gazpacho practically coming out of our ears and zillions of recipe ideas to take home. But far more valuable than any souvenir or recipe, was the realisation of how fun family holidays can be. Mallorca has changed my attitude towards taking the kids abroad – we’ve got the goofy photos to prove it.
NEED TO KNOW: MALLORCA
Leo flew to Palma with Monarch (monarch.co.uk). Flights to Mallorca start from £36.99 one way. Make airport parking easy with Meteor’s meet and greet service meteormeetandgreet.com. Car hire starts from £9 per day or £60 per week with rhinocarhire.com
WHERE TO EAT:
An intimate restaurant set in an olive press within La Residencia, an Orient-Express hotel at the top of medieval hill village. Here you’ll find some of the best-looking dishes on the island courtesy of Spanish executive chef Guillermo Méndez.
A chic gallery-cum-restaurant within the walls of a converted convent. Chef Mark Fosh is the first Brit to receive a Michelin star in Spain. This is his flagship.
Sea Club, Cap Rocat
A 19th century sandstone fortress overlooking Palma bay. The hotel consists of a maze of tunnelled walkways, moat bridges and bunkers reflecting its previous incarnation in the chicest of fashion. Drinks are served on glass-topped bomb trolleys and its pool has the best views on the island. The Sea Club is a great al-fresco spot for lunch.
Es Verger, Alaro
A rustic Mallorcan restaurant that serves heavenly suckling pig and stewed lamb. Set high above Alaro, the road is not for the faint-hearted. Take a walk up to Alaro castle and admire the views.
+34 971 182 126
Forn de Sant Joan, La Lonja
You can’t do better than Forn de Sant Joan for innovative tapas. It’s located in an old bakery in Palma’s old town and run by brothers, Carlos & Christian. The best Jamon Iberico we’ve ever tasted
La Bodeguilla, Jaime III
Spanish food with an avant-garde twist and a collection of more than 200 Spanish and Mallorcan wines.
WHERE TO STAY:
Mallorca Farmhouses (mallorca.co.uk / 0845 800 8080) offers a selection of cottages, farmhouses and villas all with private pools and maid service. Prices in 2013 start from £828 a week based on 12 sharing Xemarri. PR contact for Mallorca Farmhouses: Beth@citruspr.co.uk.
Deliciously Sorted Mallorca (www.deliciouslysortedmallorca.com) is on hand 24/7 to create the ultimate Mallorca experience.
Top tip: Order “plane presents” from MyTravelSurprise.com.