There's nothing like a good boat trip. Especially to escape the western Menorcan coastline. The one from Cala en Bosch is ideal - it travels along Menorca's southern coast, which is far far prettier. My god, there's actual beaches!
Best of all, it stops on one of the nicest ones. Swimming shorts at the ready.
This is a pretty good day out - I can't remember how much it was, but it wasn't that pricey. A few companies do similar trips so you can shop around a bit - just head for Cala en Bosch's harbour.
Without doubt, Cala Blanca is the pick of western Menorca's resorts. It's not over-developed, and has a reasonably sized beach - which isn't usually the case for this side of the island.
There's plenty to keep you entertained for the day - safe swimming, pedalo hire and a selection of nice restaurants. Definitely worth a visit if you're in the area.
Ciutadella is western Menorca's saving grace - a nice bit of history and culture to counter the mass development and fake Manchester United shirts of the nearby resorts.
Menorca's second city is easy to get to - it's linked to the rest of the island by an excellent bus service, which is both frequent and reliable.
The town sits high above its harbour, which is based on a narrow channel leading out into the sea. Ciutadella's architecture is beautiful - lots of little cobbled streets with Baroque and Gothic buildings.
There's not many specific sites to explore in Ciutadella - it's simply a nice place to wander around for the afternoon. That said, the Gothic cathedral is stunning, and well worth a quick look.
Most of Ciutadella's nicest restaurants are on the harbourfront. Expect some fine seafood and paellas. Yum Yum.
Son Parc lies a little right-of-centre on Menorca's north coast. It's not a place that might appeal to those who want only "unspoiled wildernesses", being home to a medium-sized resort as well as a golf course, but you shouldn't let that put you off. The beach and sea are absulutely sublime. Pure white sand and crystal clear turquoise waters, and the beach is big enough that you don't need to feel crammed in, except during the busiest of times.
The sea is the most wonderful place to paddle and swim. It shelves gently out and then rises up again till you're almost back at ankle depth! That makes it quite safe for kids and unconfident swimmers, and the resident lifeguards make it even safer. The warm waters were quite full of fish too, shoals of small ones and one or two individual larger ones. I had a fun filled few minutes trying to catch one that seemed to be just teasing me.
There's a beach bar there too, to one side of the beach, serving stuff from sandwiches to pizzas and a good range of ice creams.
We had a nice day at Son Parc, and we didn't even venture up into the resort to see what delights it has to offer (more bars and cafes, I read).
I think I'm correct in saying that La Mola was once the largest fortress in Europe - certainly it's far and away the largest thing I've ever looked around. We were there for two hours and we'd be lucky if we saw more than a third of it. It is simply vast and there's even a bus to take you to different parts of it should the walking prove too much.
It's a fascinating place. It was built at just the wrong time in history - just as advances in artillery made this sort of fort obsolete and as such it never saw action. It guards the mouth of Mahon harbour and stands on the most easterly point in all of Spain.
We enjoyed a look around its ramparts and gun emplacements, and loved the views that you can get from its highest points. But most of all we loved wandering around in the spooky dark tunnels underground! (next tip).
Entry to La Mola is 7 euro and a personal audio guide an extra 1.50.
Talayots & Taulas are two of Menorca's unique and fascinating archaeological remains. The former are cone shaped defensive towers while the latter are T shaped monoliths always found on the same site as the talayots. Not an awful lot seems to be known about these artefacts and even expert opinion seems to vary. The most common theory is, as usual with monoliths the world over, that they performed some religious purpose.
The site at Trepuco, close to Mahon & Es Castel, is not the largest site on Menorca but it’s Taula is the tallest, at some 4.5m. Being close to where we were staying this was the site that we visited. It provided a fascinating insight into the archaeology of Menorca and whetted our appetite to see some other sites on future visits.
Amazingly entry is free.
This is the oldest roofed building in all of Spain and must surely be one of the oldest in Europe, dating as it does from pre-historic times. It is a burial chamber and is in the shape of an upturned boat hull. It's a quite impressive piece of workmanship considering how old it is (although it has been restored more than once). There are quite a few naveta's on Menorca (and ONLY on Menorca!) but this is the best preserved of them all, and the most visited.
Entry is 2 euro per person.
On the walk up to Torre de Fornells, which stands on the headland facing the sea at the edge of town, you pass a small grotto known as the hermitage. The Torre itself is a solid and colourful affair and from the hill on which it stands you get great views out across the landscape.
Walking back along the seafront you will past seafood restaurant after seafood restaurant. Seafood is what Fornells does, and apparently it does it very well. Many of the places here are regarded as being amongst the best on the island and indeed the King of Spain is a regular visitor, his favourite restaurant being Es Pla, right on the seafront.
Needless to say we didn’t partake of the famous lobster broth, contenting ourselves with the views and the pleasant ambience of the town.
Fornells is described by phrases such as “an unspoiled fishing village” and “everyone’s idea of a Mediterranean fishing village”. I think that’s over-glamorising the place a little, I’ve been to much prettier harbours, but it is undoubtedly a pleasant and pretty place. The bay that it stands on is not unlike a Scottish loch, even as far as the heather-strewn moorland you cross to get to Fornells and the small forts that dot the area. All that’s missing is clouds and rain.
Fornells was a very quiet place when we visited, with almost empty streets and the only signs of life being at the various cafes and restaurants there. That seemed like a good idea and we joined the throng at one of the places in the main square.
After a cooling drink and a bit of a rest we set off for a walk through the town and to find the Torre de Fornells and enjoy the views from up there (next tip). The streets were filled with very nice (and expensive) looking houses, often with nicely decorated exteriors and often with balconies. It had the air of a very well to do place
Fornells: definitely a place I’d go back to.
Mahon is the world's second largest natural harbour, stretching 5km in from the sea. It's outer reaches are occupied by the town of Es Castel, on the Mahon side, and Cala Longa and Sant Antoni on the other. The mouth of it is guarded by the huge fortresses of La Mola and Fort Marlborough, both well worth a visit.
Nearer Mahon itself the harbour is a giant Yacht marina with craft of all shapes and sizes moored up. The pavements here are lined with cafes, bars, restaurants and shops, as well as the Yacht Club which has showers and leisure facilities for visiting yacht crews.
It's lively area and looks like it has some decent places to eat (A Tex/Mex particularly took our eye) and while away some time. We stopped off for a drink along here a couple of times and found it to be very pleasant.
The festa continues by night. We heard that there was a funfair and "gastronomic market" so we thought that would be well worth a look. We got off the bus near to where the festivities appeared to be taking place. There was a fun fair, with rides for both young and old, and a variety of the usual sorts of food stalls - donuts, crepes, drinks, hotdogs, burgers and so on. We thought that this was what they meant by "the gastronomic market" and thought it was OK, but nothing too special.
Then we headed into the city centre for a night on the tiles. On the way we spotted crowds mingling so went to investigate. What we found was the REAL gastronomic market! What a sight it was. Stall after stall after stall of food of all descriptions. Cheeses, cured meats, herbs, chocolates, olives, freshly cooked nuts, dried fruits, the list goes on.
The market ran the length of one very long street and off into several side streets. In the city centre public performances of theatre, singing and dance were taking place in every square. The bars and cafes were alive with people having a great time.
At midnight there was a huge fireworks display and after that, "dancing in the streets". Unfortunately we missed that, it was time for our bed.
If you're going to go to Menorca anytime around September, try to go during festa time. It really is the most wonderful event.
Go to the races if you can, there are 2 "race courses", one at Mahon and the other at Cuitadella. We went on the Sunday evening to the Cuitadella one and it was a pleasant evening. Forget Royal Ascot or Arlington, this is trotting where the jocket ride a trap behind the ponies. Betting is limited to 2 Euros and the payouts aren't large but it is just nice to sit by the track supping a beer and cheering on your choice.
Finally it's time for the main event - the jaleos. This is where the horses come into it! After a ride past in which all of the riders line the square and a carriage of (I presume) dignatories is driven past, the riders go off and find their mounts. They then ride through the square, making the horses rear up on their hind legs from time to time. The idea is that the spectators are supposed to touch the horse on its chest, near its heart, to gain (again, I presume) good luck.
It's quite a spectacle, and one that we were happy to watch from the conveniently located first floor balcony of the Nou Bar, which overlooks the square (get there early!). I'm quite sure (and did hear) that many people suffer injuries from being kicked and barged by the horses. Thankfully most are not serious, and everyone seems to have a great time.
Once the jaleos were over, it was time for us to say goodbye to the festa for a few hours. Events continue through the day though, including horse races down one of the main streets! The festa at Mahon was something that we were really glad to have seen, and being there at the right time was pure coicidence!
For a bit more information, see the web link that I give below.
The festa seems to begin with some kind of procession involving the big "puppets" that had been residing in the alcoves of the town hall. The square in front of the hall (Placa Constitucio) forms the focal point for most of the events and it becomes totally packed out with people. The puppets (I believe they are called "los gigantes" - the giants) assemble there and then make their way out again. What it represents is lost on me, there's little information about what is going on for the benefit of we foreigners. I was happy enough just to look on and observe the spectacle.
As preparations for the Festa at Mahon get underway, the streets are literally filled with horses. They're on every corner; in front of bars, on the church steps, in the shade of trees. Everywhere. People come and admire them, stroke them and talk to their owners (or grooms). The horses are all beautifully presented with colourful livery and tail plaits.
You wonder just what all of these horses are going to be doing...