Majorca: Coast and culture

If you’re keen to follow in the footsteps of greats like Churchill and Chopin on your holiday, you can’t go far wrong with Majorca. Away from the hulking crowds of Magaluf, there is a wealth of history and culture, both local and international, waiting to be discovered on the largest of the Balearic Islands.

The island is notable not only for its Spanish heritage but also that of its former Roman and Muslim masters which, naturally enough, centre on the port capital of Palma. More than half Majorca’s population live in the city though little of the old town has changed since the Renaissance. The majority of the buildings, many still owned by old aristocratic families, are constructed of sandstone and, contrasted with the clear teal of the Mediterranean, has something of a North African feel, reminiscent of the island’s Moorish past.

One such building is the Hotel Dalt Murada, which is built in a renovated 16th century mansion and run by two generations of the Moragues family. Apart from the old world beauty of the ornate and intimate rooms, there is a warm family atmosphere to the establishment and the home cooking is a great treat for the weary traveller. Particularly delicious is pa amb oli (bread and oil) – a characteristically simple but delicious Majorcan dish of bread with garlic, smeared with tomato, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt – eaten with two or three green olives. It is a dish that almost dances on the tongue and is nicely accompanied with homemade ensaimadas – a fluffy, spiral pastry stuffed with anything from pumpkin jam to chocolate and powdered with icing sugar.

By far the grandest of Palma’s sandstone buildings, however, is the imposing gothic cathedral, La Seu. Its construction began on the site of an old mosque in 1229 with the expulsion of the Muslim Moors and ended in 1601 but, thanks to a recent refurbishment, the stone looks almost new and its collection of gargoyles and grotesques are an interesting spectacle.

Majorca is a substantial island, however, and there is much to see outside the capital. Raixa Palace, an old monastery at Valldemossa, for example, towers above its surroundings in the north-west of the island and is famed for, among other things, providing a retreat for Frédéric Chopin in 1838. Chopin’s cell has barely changed since his stay and still contains the Pleyel piano he used to compose Preludes Op. 28, Ballad Op. 38, Polonaise Op. 40 and Scherzo Op.39. There is also a music room where public performances of his music are regularly played.

If you truly want to get away from it all, though, Formentor on the northern tip of the island is your ideal location. The peninsula is extremely mountainous and, nestled at the base of one of its coastal peaks, is the Barceló Hotel Formentor. The five-star hotel was opened in 1929 and retains much of its original interwar design. Perhaps its most famous guest was Winston Churchill, who visited with his wife Clementine in 1935, but it has also played host to the King and Queen of Spain, Mikhail Gorbachev, Audrey Hepburn and Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.

It is not difficult to imagine why. The spacious rooms and suites provide a stunning view over the Cap de Formentor – the perfect setting for you to expand your cultural horizons with a spot of brandy and a Churchill Romeo y Julieta from the bar

This feature was originally published by Mosaic magazine.