Near the small village of Sant Elm, on the westernmost point of Mallorca, there is a collection of coves and beaches, surrounded by jagged, granite cliffs and winding one-lane roads. Most of the northwest coast of the island consists of this rugged landscape, in contrast to the plains and beaches of Palma. Just off the coast of Sant Elm is the island of Dragonera. Even in the height of the busy summer season, there are many places in Mallorca out of tour bus access, and this is one. There are the always-present, sour-faced families on holiday, but after a short walk past the lines of beach chairs and straw sombras, or after some extra kilometers by car and you’ll find some small beach with relatively little to spoil the experience.
Yesterday I set out to get lost by car, with the vague idea of finding a lighthouse somewhere on one of the extremities of the island. As expected, the roads got smaller and the hills turned to cliffs, with grand views on either side. After seeing a single over-turned car, and an unharmed, but startled-looking family standing on the side of the road, I was reminded of how easy it can be to lose control after gazing even momentarily at a valley full of vineyards or terraced plantations. I wonder what that family was looking at before they flipped over their blue rented Fiat.
The rain began to clear in the afternoon, but not before another typical arid-air, desert display of lightning and thunder; it was in then I found the lighthouse at Cap de sa Mola, just past the village of Port D’ Andratx. Especially on an island, finding the outer edges of a land mass is both comforting and illuminating to me, as if it is helping to build a mental map of my surroundings. Lighthouses are always built on precipices, as a visual aid to navigation for sailors, but I often use them as a guide from the other side, from land looking out, to delineate and clarify where I am.
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Inland, the town of Valldemossa seems to slide down the Tramuntana mountain range. The sky is pierced by a few stoney monuments, most noticeably La Cartoixa, or Real Cartuja, a now-secularized Carthusian monastery. Frederic Chopin lived here for a year in 1838.
The streets are narrow and nowadays, in conjunction with summer festivals, there are ribbons of pastel paper draped across streets from balconies and rooftops. As I walked through the steep passageways, a parade of drummers, lead by a whistle-wielding man with a baton, marched through the streets, yelling and pouring on each other chalices full of water.
I wandered down the hill among the draped Mallorquín flags and pictures of Saint Catalina Thomás, and I found a lone cat sunning itself. It squirmed and let out a lazy squeak as I reached down to scratch its head. To my right, I saw a cluttered door adorned with an oak barrel and bottles of wine. There was a stairway that led down to a dark bodega.
Inside, there was a slightly drunk, chain-smoking old man, pouring wine out of wooden barrels. He was very proud of the hand-made drink he was serving, a slightly sweet, highly alcoholic wine, easy to drink although with the over-used name of “Blood of the Bull.” There were 10 chairs inside the room, four of which surrounded a small shelf and a window with a view of the entire valley. A fresh breeze swept through and kept the room comfortable. I liked that I was drinking wine made locally and served full to the top of the glass, without the marketplace measurements and regulations normally present while buying and consuming wine in a public place. On the wall were strung pieces of salchichón and next to my table were chunks of Mallorcan goat’s cheese and the ever-present leg of Jamón Serrano. The old man offered me a free taste of the white wine and a sampling of tapas, and all was good in the world.
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While traveling, there are few things quite as satisfying as finding a small place of happiness without the help of something like TripAvisor or Google. Sometimes you find it just by wandering, other times there is a local who considers you worthy of the secret’s knowledge. A restaurant in Cala Blava, south of Palma, isn’t exactly hard to find, but it is a gem and it won’t be found in Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree. What ever this restaurant lacks in ambience, it makes up for in views and food. It has a terrific terrace overlooking the ocean, the city of Palma, mountains, and the sunset.
This late evening, the brilliant sunset perfectly complemented the pimientos de Padrón, an elaborate goat cheese salad, steamed mussels, an extremely rare grilled entrecote, potatoes au gratin, a cold gin and tonic, and the best company I could ever ask for. I now have officially forfeited my right to complain about anything for a long, long time.
Click here for more pictures of my day in Valldemossa…etc..