The route from Barcelona
to the northern half of Mallorca was believed to be a three day and two night journey. That was a rough estimate, but with steady wind conditions this seemed a likely approximation. Sailing in the Mediterranean is a tricky business. Their is either too much or too little windy. Unlike the average tourists who arrive on the island by ferry or plane, we relied on the wind. We were adventurers, keen to discover some of the less inhabited areas of the largest Balearic island, Mallorca.
It was my first long sailing voyage. I lucked into the spot the night before after striking up a conversation with the first mate at the Sonar Music festival in Barcelona. After a few sangrias, she invited me to sail with her and the Santa Lucia’s Captain to the Spanish Balearic islands. I didn’t need to consider anything. I was on the boat. I had been staying in Barcelona for two weeks, and I was ready for a adventure at sea.
With a massive headache from the night before, I made my way south to the harbor of Barcelona. I climbed on board the Santa Lucia and was immediately introduced to the Captain. Laurent was a tall skinny French man who sat on the deck smoking hand rolled cigarettes while reading the current weather report. The report claimed there was ten to fifteen knot wind just off shore. With the premonition of good weather, we set out to sea.
Laurent was a charming fellow who had grown up sailing in Brittany. His face glowed with the steady sunburn he had acquired from the his many weeks on the open water. His journey had begun in Dijon, and in one month he maneuvered south through the many locks and canals that lay between Dijon and the Mediterranean. Laurent had heard that the northwestern part of Mallorca was very mountainous. Early on we all agreed that we were looking for an adventure as opposed to a tourist holiday.
The Santa Lucia was a good ship. We were well equipped with an array of sails, dinghies, and snorkeling gear. For our culinary needs, we had adequate amounts of dried pasta and assorted canned goods ranging anywhere from pork pate to the delicacy of sardines in a jus de tomate. Though it was not a gourmet cruise ship, we made do.
We said good-by to Barcelona, and made our way out to sea. On my first afternoon I had become sea sick. I was now paying the price for the many sangrias I had consumed the night before. I was worried if I had made the right decision by jumping aboard the Santa Lucia. There was no going back to the mainland. I had to stick out like every other sea sick sailor.
After three days of silent seas, we finally found steady wind. By the late afternoon of our fourth day at sea, we spotted Mallorca. It was a sight to see. Just over the blue water lay the massive island of mountains, rock, and sand. The coastline was rugged and the mountains were green and lush. Enormous cliffs and rock walls shot out of the sea.. With wind in our sails, we gleefully approached the largest of the Balearic Islands.
The next morning we estimated that we were five kilometers north of our first destination, Port de Soller. There had been no wind during the night, and we awoke no closer than we had been the previous day. Laurent emptied the remnants of two old gas cans into the outboard engine and motored the Santa Lucia towards land. We wound our way south along the rocky cliffs and navigated the Santa Lucia into an immense out cropping of rocks. Behind the great rock faces was the beautiful Port de Soller.
As we pulled into port, our small outboard motor stalled and died. After five long days at sea, it was somehow fitting that we would spend ten minutes struggling to row the Santa Lucia to shore.
The old fishing village was nestled around a large elliptical cove that was hidden from the sea by a massive rock buttress. Beyond the cove was a small array of old buildings that housed the usual assortment of fine restaurants and odd pubs. Our first steps quickly took us to an old Mallorcean bar. We sat on the patio and drank carafes of cold beer as the mid day sun rose in the sky.
Port de Soller was a beautiful village. One had the feeling that it was once a very distinguished fishing village. Though the fishing was still prominent, the main industry of the town was tourism. There were enormous tour boats and cruise ships that docked in the port. Tourist buses buzzed in and out of the town.
There was a great selection of restaurants just off of the boardwalk. Mallorca is known for food. In Port de Soller, we witnessed some very creative cooking in cafes and restaurants along the beach front. There are many beach side cafes that dish up Mallorcean classics like Paella. Though there are frightening amounts of tourists in the high season, the town still maintained its original character and charm. The natural confines of mountains and sea have preserved the old world charm of the port. It truly is a sight to see.
After spending a large part of the afternoon fixing our run down engine, we headed into town to dine. After drinking many bottles of Spanish rose, we enjoyed a massive pan of Paella at one of the many outdoor cafes. Though the Mallorcean cuisine delves far beyond the classic Mediterranean dish of Paella, we thought it best to enjoy a classic dish cooked in it’s authentic environment. After four days of canned tuna and sardines, we were happy to wine and dine on land.
After two relaxing days in Port de Soller, we headed out to sea. As there was little wind, we motored north. The north western side of the island was rugged and untouched. Due to a lack of wind, we decided to find a small cove where could we could anchor for a few days. We were heading towards the northern most part of the island, the cape de Formentor. The cape was tricky sailing and we wanted to wait until we had ideal wind conditions.
We found a lovely cove just some ten kilometers north of Port de Soller. This was the high light of the journey. Everything we had set out to find came to fruition in this tiny bay. We were one of three small sailing vessels anchored in the bay. The bay itself was sculpted from granite rocks. At the center of the bay was a red pebble stone beach. Beyond the beach were hiking trails that wove their way through the rugged mountains. The cove was perfect for fishing and snorkeling.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this seemingly remote cove, was that it did contain a bar. Though it was not your typical bar, it was a bar nonetheless. Upon the pebbled beach was a small pueblo. Under a tattered canopy was a wooden picnic table that had a small display of wines and bottles of cheap Spanish beer which included forty ounce bottles of Xibecca. A small family lived in this pueblo and sold beverages to the few tourists who were lucky enough to stumble upon their hidden cove.
During our three day sojourn we were blessed with clear nights and light winds. On our second day, we managed to rig together a fishing rod out of an old oar and fishing line. We didn’t have much to fish with, but the small Dorsal fish seemed to appreciate our efforts. We caught several fish with small strips of bacon or what the French call “lardon”. In the evening we rowed a shore in the small dingy and grilled the Dorsal fish over an open fire.
Mallorca is a perfect spot for the fisherman. There is a plethora of fish and seafood ranging from tuna to octopus. In early June, the tuna were mating. On our voyage to the island, there were loads of tuna darting along the wake of the Santa Lucia. We ran into a crew of German sailors who had chartered a beautiful fishing boat for the week. There are many companies who charter boats for fishing and sailing trips.
After two very relaxed days, we sailed north towards the Cape de Formentor The next two weeks were spent along the northern shore of the island. The wind was steady, and we managed to sail from the Cape de Formentor to the enormous Bay of Alcudia. We sailed, we snorkeled, and we fished. When we grew sick of the small quarters of the Santa Lucia, we would dock in a port and venture into the small seaside towns for a bit of night life and local culture.
The night life along the coast of Mallorca was quite predictable. From Alcudia to Pollenca, we found English pubs and small out of date night clubs that played the bad Spanish pop music. Most of the activity happened along the boardwalks and small plazas of the coastal towns. In Pollenca there were a few tiki huts along the beach that served good cocktails and played decent House music. We were much happier spending time along the beach. Rather than buy expensive drinks in cheap clubs, one can always buy a fairly inexpensive bottle of local wine and relax on the beach. Mallorca is not Ibiza. There are a lot of young people and a few decent clubs. Unlike Ibiza, the night life is not worth a specific pilgrimage.
Our voyage around Mallorca was more serene. We had the luxury of staying on the sea. We spent many nights anchored off remote points all along the northern coast. We visited ports only when we needed fuel or groceries. Alcudia and other tourist towns along the northern coast are better suited for families. Snorkeling and sailing are some of the main attractions of the region. There are dozens of rental establishments that align the beaches. It is easy to rent a catamaran or a wind surfer for an afternoon sail. If you don’t know how to pilot one of these sailing crafts, there are always sailing lessons and sailing schools offered in both English and Spanish. The large Bay of Alcudia is a perfect area to learn how to sail. The bay itself is ten to fifteen kilometers wide, and the winds are consistently steady.
Though the towns are rather over run with tourists, there are many small and out of the way areas that are much less crowded. If beaches and crowds aren’t your thing, then I suggest traveling inland through the mountains and the wine country. There are many small bed and breakfasts type establishments that can be found either through word of mouth or in more in Mallorcean tour guides. If you’re keen on adventuring through out the island then I suggest you check out the Rough Guide to Mallorca or AA Explore Mallorca. Both guide books have in depth listings of hotels and bed and breakfasts throughout the island.
Mallorca is a large island. There is lovely countryside just south of the Bay. Escaping the coast is a beautiful way of seeing the authentic and more historic Mallorca. It is inland where the colorful Mallorcean culture and heritage still flourishes. Mallorcean are very proud of their culture and of their heritage. Though there are many languages spoken on the island, the native language is Mallorcean, a dialect of Catalan.
If you consider yourself to be a sommelier, the Mallorcean wine tours may be just up your alley. The island has a blossoming reputation as a wine producing region. It is the east part of the island that is known for the wine. Cava and the local variatel Anima Negra are the most sough after wines. Binissalem is the largest wine region on the island, and it is here where the exquisite Mallorcean Cava is produced.
Mallorca is a majestic island with many hidden treasures. There are many adventures to be had. If you don’t have access to a sailing boat, I suggest back packing the island. Take a ferry in to Palma and head north either by bus or car. After a few lovely days in Port de Soller, I suggest hiking north along the coastal trails. From Port de Soller, there are many trails that run along the way to the cape de Formentor and into the rugged mountains beyond. In the Rough Guide to Mallorca you will all the information you need to get the adventure started.
It is a big island, and there is a lot to see. It was unfortunate that we could not sail around the whole island, but we did not encounter the right conditions. After two and a half calm weeks of sailing, we decided to scamper back to the mainland. Fortunately there was a 10 knot wind blowing from the northeast. Finally we found steady wind! Three days after departing from the Port d’ Alcudia, the Santa Lucia arrived north of Barcelona in the coast of Brava. From the port city of l’Estartit, I said good bye to the Santa Lucia and hitchhiked my way back to the busy and turbulent city of Barcelona.