Cala Deia, chiringuito, Deia, Food & Conversation, Food & Wine, food and drink, Frédéric Chopin, Islas Baleares, Majorca, Mallorca, Mediterranean Sea, Palma Majorca, Punta de Sa Foradada, Robert Graves, Spain, tapas, Tinto de Verano, Valldemossa
Villages seem to develop a particular character when they find themselves clinging to the sides of tilted and rough terrain, spilling into valleys over terraced ground. Cathedrals appear more substantial, monuments with steeples and bell towers pierce the sky with more authority, especially when viewed from a lower vantage point. On the northwest coast of Mallorca, which is highlighted by the Tremuntana mountain range, the rugged cliffs, deep blue sea, dry forests, secluded valleys, and bumpy one-lane roads appear as a stark contrast to the flatness and beaches of Palma, with its manicured lines of palm trees, docked cruise ships and buzzing neon atmosphere of the Paseo Marítimo. After a short half-hour drive from the city of Palma, one can find the charming town of Valldemossa, one of these cliff-clinging towns, and just beyond, the village of Deia. British novelist and poet Robert Graves lived here, as do a handful of modern day celebrities, and it is easy to see how anyone with the means would choose to stay here indefinitely. For me, it also adds to the mythology and mystique of a place when I know that an important writer gathered thoughts and inspiration while sitting in a chair in the same place where I am drinking my Tinto de Verano. But it is also for these same reasons that the perceived grandeur of iconic artists is diminished. We are including ourselves in the history of mankind when we visit these places, such as the house of Chopin or the garden of Graves, and we breathe the same air, peer over the same cliff and watch the same sun, and listen to the same kinds of insects buzz in the very trees that grew in their time. I suppose we are all humans trying to see the world truly and understand our own lives. Some of us are just better at it than others.
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Situated high, facing the sun and all its summer heat, the vantage point at Sa Foradada is so impressive that is feels surreal, fake, as if one is suspended above the sea and the little group of moored yachts, the shiny ocean reflecting a piercing light like a giant piece of aluminum foil. In the late afternoon the heat is oppressive, and one has no choice but to mount a counter-attack of cold beers and sunglasses. And as with many places in the Balaeric Islands, the cluster of locals and tourists somehow does not discount the feeling of discovery and satisfaction after finding a special place. Finding these puntas and calas often requires many kilometers of one-lane hairpin turns, hot dusty hikes, and an excellent ability to spot tiny signs hidden behind bushes or overgrown trees. Here, at Punta de Sa Foradada, the cluster of gathering people become fellow sojourners who have come for the simple pleasure of watching the sun fall into the ocean (yes, they clap at the end).
Toward the sea, in Cala Deia, the shingled rocks and clay at the water’s edge are an obvious change from the white sandy beaches found elsewhere in Mallorca. But of one can get past the disappointment of not having perfect, soft sand between the toes, the cliffs and coves provide for a great opportunity for snorkeling and swimming. Underwater, the Mediterranean has suffered in modern times, as the wildlife has become increasingly sparse mostly because the human population has developed more innovative ways to destroy the marine environment indirectly. But even today, a simple mask and snorkel will show a moderately curious diver several species of fish, moray eels, and urchins and ocean fauna. I am always happy to rediscover the perspective while being underwater and listening to the crackle of the moving rocks and distant boat engines, holding my breath and looking under giant rocks to find schools of tiny fish, crabs or bizarre looking plants. Sometimes I feel abnormally comfortable underwater. There are some who complain of the lack of stimuli while diving in the Mediterranean, but these are same the kind over-privileged morons who also have the propensity to find the deficiencies of life in general. They compare every small experience to the best of whatever they have done, and they are always keen to brag about it and use it as an opportunity to belittle the present. To swim around with nowhere to go is a particular kind of pleasure that I never tired of, especially when I am doing it with someone else who also enjoys these simple pleasures.
Near many ocean locales in Spain, there is a chiringuito, or a small bar / restaurant that serves all the things one needs after a hard day of sunbathing and swimming: drinks and snacks (surely you didn’t think you’d get through a blog post of mine without a mention of food). In Cala Deia there are two, one of which consists of a modest wooden balcony clinging to a cave from which the slightly disinterested, aloof waiters bring out cold beverages and salty food (the novelty of the place has apparently worn off on these people long ago). These are not places preoccupied with ostentatious presentations of big plates and small food. Here, there are the basics of acceptable quality, and they are perfect. A spread of grilled calamari, pa amb oli, more pimientos de padrón, olives, and a ceramic pitcher of, yes, Tinto de Verano, makes for the perfect day, especially while wearing still-wet swimsuits and a sunburned face.
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At the risk of including too much in one blog post, I must mention yet another exceptional seaside dining experience. In Mallorca, there are many restaurants where the tables are so close to the ocean, providing such an unexpected natural spectacle that table-side conversation is often simply interrupted by the sheer beauty of the scenery. I wonder if Mallorquíns have grown accustomed to these treasures that are scattered all over their island. Along the coast south of Palma, there are peninsulas that jut out toward the sea and invariably have a modest little restaurant with simple tables and small menus, and the ability to charm even the most austere passerby. The restaurant El Peñon is such a place. With its simple menu and overall modesty in appearance, it is charming and not pretentious. It is a perfect place to feel like you are on a holiday, even if it’s for an afternoon after work. I suppose the catch is you just have to be in Mallorca to get it.
Click here for more photos of my last two weeks.
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..