Thursday, 29 March 2012

Holidays on my mind

I really need a holiday - all this sunshine has made me realise that it has been way too long since I left these shores and experienced a change of scene. I love the Balearic Islands and was lucky enough a couple of years ago to visit Menorca, Majorca's baby sister but no less beautiful. Menorca holidays can be a week long or a simple weekend - this is what I saw in just a weekend...

Our weekend trip to this small and often overlooked jewel of the Balearic islands started at the ancient port of Mahon where a catamaran trip around the coast gave us instant understanding of the history of the island. This former British colony still owes much of its way of life to that period, and the little towns and ports that cluster along the island fringes have a colonial feel that is as much British as it is Spanish.
Back at the port our first stop was a visit to the Gin Xoriguer distillery, one of two remaining on the island. Similar to the gin back home, Menorcan gin has an underlying smokiness from the pine used in heating and distillation. Today Menorcans drink it mixed with bitter lemon, and it has been the national drink of the island for several centuries.
Our first afternoon was spent walking in the beautiful Albufera des Grau nature reserve found northwards along the coast from Cap de Favartix. Home to much wildlife, this is off the beaten track enough to allow real appreciation of the wilder side of the island. The waters of the bay run very shallow, making it the perfect bathing spot for families with young children.
What strikes you most is how green Menorca is in comparison to its island neighbours. Underdeveloped in comparison to Mallorca or Ibiza, here the tallest things are the electricity pylons, and the architecture is a mix of old Britain and ancient Spain. The roads are well kept, the air is fresh and clean and there is a British order to the colonial style buildings along the quaysides. Hacienda style houses sit proud high on the hillsides with their characteristic Menorcan wooden gates.

Menorca is an ancient island and has almost more prehistoric sites than anywhere else in the world. Dotted on the landscape are ancient burial grounds and the remnants of small clusters of dwellings. One of the most intricate that we visited is found at Torre d'en Gaumes on the southern coast of the island. As we sat among the olive trees all we could hear was the wind, making it a perfect place to unwind with a picnic of local produce and Menorcan cheeses.

Beaches and bays
Menorca is known for the wealth of beaches and bays to visit, in fact there are more beaches here than on Mallorca and Ibiza put together.  Climbing up winding roads we passed narrow streets of whitewashed houses clinging to the hillside, with their brightly-coloured washing dancing in the breeze. Old men taking in the last light of the day meet on street corners to hold the same discussions they have, no doubt, been having for centuries. Down in the bay the most dominant thing is a large outcrop of rock - a small island linked to the mainland by a footbridge with a small selection of bars, restaurants and a supermarket or two.

Other highlights
The highest point on the island is Monte Toro in Es Mercadal. which offers stunning views across the island. This is the spiritual centre of Menorca, with a church that houses a 17th century wooden carving of the Virgin Mary that has become a pilgrimage focus for those in search of help and solace. Back down at sea level we found ourselves in the ancient capital, Ciutadella, with its elegant facades, cobbled streets, town square and small port. Bars and boutiques find a home under the arched alleyways - perfect for a refreshing glass of cava as the day drew to a close. Here too is home to one of the best fish restaurants on the island, CafĂ© Balear. Seafood is their speciality and whether it was squid, mussels or fresh hake served in garlic butter, each morsel melted in the mouth.
Don't miss
Cova d'en Xoroi - a nightclub high up on a cliff within a labyrinth of caves.
A visit to the Xoriguer gin factory - produced in the same way for 300 years and tasting of the pine smoke used to distil it.
Shopping in the open air markets - these are found in most of the towns around the island.
Albufera des Grau, a large natural paradise that is protected by UNESCO.
Why not book a Menorca holiday today?
This is a sponsored post.

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