The term “tranquility” must have been evolved there! Rocky cliffs and bays surrounded by green pine trees and fine sandy beaches. The perfect scenery for the idyllic vacation.
When I visited Menorca for the first time I was so overwhelmed and immensely impressed. An impression so deeply anchored and remains with me until today and makes me think very often of the mysterious atmosphere and the strange feeling that captured me whilst there.
During my entire stay, I was struck by a strange shudder, which I can’t describe in words. My first step on the island seemed to set me back in time in the midst of tales and turbulent happenings from the last centuries. It’s as though I was living in the past.
There was something that put a spell on me and I accepted it willingly. Passing long historic facades and Moorish palaces. I could hear the hooves of horses on the cobbled streets and a sweet oriental scent filled the narrow city streets. Behind every corner lurked voices and laughter and that seemed to disappeared as I got closer. At that time I didn’t know about the interesting past the island holds and what it was trying to tell me.
It was already March and relatively warm with 20 degrees. We took the ferry from Port de Alcudia in the north of Majorca, towards the northeast to Ciudatella. Only a 2 hours journey and you can clearly see the outline of the island on the horizon.
During the crossing I gather as much information to see what experiences might lie ahead for my short visit.
Here are some facts:
The earliest traces of human presence are dated to about 2100 BC. Menorca, the easternmost point of Spain, was conquered, occupied and ultimately influenced by many cultures. With 695.7 km2 and a distance of 47 kilometers between the cities Mao in the north-east and Ciutadella in the south-west, Menorca is the second largest island of the Balearic Islands. The highest point is the Monte Toro with an altitude of only 357 m it is possible to view the whole island.
From Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians to the Romans, Moors, Spaniards, Englishmen and Frenchmen. They have all known about the strategic position of the island and used it to their advantage. Each of them has left their historical legacy, which can be found today in the language, food culture, social customs and traditions and building facades.
The island is divided into two regions. The wind rugged coastline of the north with its almost untouched natural landscape to the southern coast and the mostly flat sloping beaches and bays. The contrast is really so great that I sometimes had the impression to be on two different islands.
Menorca is relatively flat and the absence of high mountains ensures a constant cool wind blowing. For this reason, the residents have named the winds as such, Tramuntana for the northerly and Migjörn for the southerly. Another reason why it’s a little cooler than the other Balearic Islands in the summertime.
We decided to explore the island by car and based ourselves in Ciutadella. For a small island and a relatively 280 km coastline, there are supposedly over 105 beautiful beaches and bays for us to experience. The most famous ones to visit are Cala Macarelleta, Cala Galdana, Cala en Turqueta, Cala Mitjana, Son Bou, Bidalli ….. the list could go on and on.
We found some beautiful spots and were stunned by their beauty and tranquility. It may well have been the early season that we almost felt alone.
Actually something I had not expected on a Mediterranean island was the green plains and the herds of cattle grazing there in the heart of the island.
Cattle breeding, milk and the famous Queso Mahón are the main agricultural products which are also exported to the other islands. The cheeses here are particularly special. Since 1985, it has been awarded the quality seal – Denominación de Origen – a strictly tested standard according to old tradition.
The most famous product, however, is the Gin Xoriguer, recognizable by the old windmill on the bottle. Named after the port of Mahón, it is distilled there and can be enjoyed with soda or a slice of lemon. If you mix it with lemonade you get the refreshing drink Pomada which must be sampled.
What surprised me the most was the fact that Mahón is the birthplace of the world-famous mayonnaise! As Salsa de Mahón, it began its triumphant journey around the world from here. The recipe made of egg yolk, salt, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic was a popular sauce among the Menorquins centuries ago.
After the French duke Richelieu was expelled by the English, he took the recipe to France. Only the garlic was left out. Knowing this we all have been able to enjoy a bit of Menorca.
Today, the administrative capital of Menorca is Mao (also called Mahón). Supposedly, the city was named after General Mahon, the brother of Hannibal. It was appointed capital in 1722 during the English occupation from 1708 to 1756. The old British architecture still evident today displays the distinct traces of its turbulent past.
Built on a big cliff, the city offers a magnificent view down to the harbour. With a length of 5.5 km and a width of up to 1.2 km it is the largest natural port of the Mediterranean and has always been a safe place of retreat for the respective occupying powers. Today you can enjoy delicious fish dishes, seafood and other Menorca specialties along the harbour walls in numerous restaurants.
The fish market, located directly above the port of Maós, offers not only fresh catches but also a wonderful view over the sea in one of the small bars. I just had to join the islanders and the crowds on a sunny saturday afternoon, it’s definitely the place to be! A caña (a glass of beer) and a few tapas are for me the best way to celebrate the Mediterranean lifestyle.
Further down on the southern side of the harbour entrance lies Fort Marlborough, named after Sir John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, the most famous general of his time. Among other smaller towers around the port entrance, it served to protect the city. Viewing the city from there it looks almost impregnable high up on the rock.
According to old tales of romance, Sant Antoni, also known as Nelsons House, was the place where Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton met in 1800 during their love affair. Nelson’s last unfinished love letter to his mistress is still kept there. He died in the Battle of Trafalgar and could never finish it. The building, with its red façade, was built-in a typical colonial style on a hill, and had an observation tower from which you could spot enemies on their ships from distance.
The city architecture of Ciutadellas is completely different from that of Mahón’s. This town, situated at the westernmost point of Menorca, was dominated mainly by the Moors during their occupancy around 1588. For a very long time it was the capital of Menorca and founded originally by the Carthaginians. It has now been declared a historical monument.
In my opinion, it’s the more interesting city of the two rival cities. The architecture, the atmosphere and the streets are similar to the southern Spanish flair of Andalusia. Impressive aristocratic palaces in the baroque style and classicism can be admired still today.
When the Christian King Alfonso II, took over the city, in 1300 he demolished the city’s mosque and replaced it with the cathedral Santa Maria de Ciutadella in the gothic-style. It was built over a long time, and even after completion, it fell victim to numerous battles. Today it unites many different architectural styles and is somehow too “big” next to the surrounding houses on the Plaza de la Cathedral.
The town hall on Plaza del Born also has a long history and was always the headquarter of the respective ruler of the time. As Alcázar, it used to be an Arab palace, later it became a royal palace for King Alfonso II, and afterwards the seat of the governors. Some magnificent city palaces are located around the Plaza del Born and the Bishop’s Palace is also close by.
Our small and lovely decorated hotel, run by a young Frenchman and his Menorcan wife, was located on the Placa Vella. There I discovered an iron mutton with a flag on a pillar that drew my attention immediately. Since the meaning of my name is related to sheep I wanted to learn more. It turned out it is the symbol of ‘Mutton Sunday’, the day on which the festival of San Joan begins, which is celebrated annually from 23 to 25 June.
It is the largest and most famous festival, which has become famous far over the borders. Elegantly dressed riders with their legendary horses mingle with the crowd and let them trot on the hind legs. Courageous viewers try to touch the horse’s belly, which is supposed to bring luck.
The 22 m tall obelisk in the middle of the park square in front of the town hall, seemed a little out-of-place and I was curious to know why.
It is a monument commemorating the pirate attack in 1558 and the heroes who bravely fought until their demise. The destruction of the city could not be prevented at the time.
Due to its favourable location and the constantly prevailing winds, Menorca offers plenty of water sports activities. Windsurfing in the north and sailing in the south. The kayak allows you to explore many hidden coves only accessible visible from the water. If you prefer to explore the underwater world you will find plenty of opportunities for snorkelling or diving.
The “Cami de cavalls” is an old British military trail that runs around the entire island. It was once used by the soldiers as a horseman’s route to guard the island. Today the trail has been restored and you can discover many interesting corners on the various tracks.
Near to Mahón is an airport where regular flights connect the island with Spanish cities within 1 hour and most European cities in about 2 hours.
So all in all, if you have some time to relax and explore what I can only describe as an immensely beautiful and culturally exiting island you might only be a few hours away from Menorca.
Until then, I wish you lots of sun and a smile on your face.