A Week in Menorca

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July 22nd 2014
Published: July 22nd 2014
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Menorca is a lovely island, and as I look back on my week there, I am very glad that I chose it as a destination after my stay in Barcelona. The flight to Mahon, the capital city, was only about half an hour. As I landed, I noticed how flat the island is. In fact, I later read that the highest point, Mount Toro, is only 358 meters high. It's also only 56 kms wide. After arrival, I took local bus number 10 into town. Here’s a tip: the French (!) woman at the tourist office at the airport is VERY knowledgeable. She gave me a great brochure about walking on the Cami de Cavalls, the hiking trail that goes round the island. And, had I known, I would have asked her for information about hotels and restaurants before going to the various places I went to. Why? Because when I was leaving today, I overheard her talking to a French tourist and going over the whole map of the island with her; she pointed out hotels, restaurants, nice beaches, etc., etc. Not that I didn’t see and do a lot. It’s just that she seems to know the island so well.

We both agreed that the first hotel I stayed at between Mahon and Es Castell, the El Almirante, was nice but a bit old-fashioned. Nevertheless, it worked out for me for my first 3 nights. It’s family owned, very British and quite quaint, with a lovely view of the Mahon harbor, which I read is one of Europe’s largest natural harbors. The place is like a museum, which the owner has tried to restore to its original state when it belonged to British Admiral Collingwood. While I was there, the owner gave a tour of the hotel, pointing out paintings and furniture and telling stories about the Admiral, a compatriot of Lord Nelson. From the hotel, I could take a bus into Mahon, which has its charm, especially the main square and in the cobblestoned-street section, with its shops and gorgeous views of the harbor. I could also walk from the hotel to Cales Fonts, a very picturesque former fishing villa just outside of Es Castell. In fact, I liked the port of this village so much I had dinner twice there at different restaurants along the quays. On my second day, I took a bus to the quaint whitewashed village of Es Grau, which lies between the sea and a lovely lagoon. It is also at the entry to the Albufera Es Grau Nature Reserve. I walked into the park, following the Cami de Cavals, the “bridle path” that legend has it was used as a military path to get around the island. I only went halfway into the park, preferring to stop along the way and swim at one of the beautiful, unspoilt beaches I could see from the hiking trail.

During my week on the island, I found the Menorcan people—the bus drivers, shop-keepers, hotel staff, etc.-- very friendly and kind. Just to give an example: When I got off at the wrong bus stop the first morning going to the El Almirante, an elderly couple who was backing their car out of their driveway and from whom I’d asked directions, very kindly gave me a lift to the hotel.

As I planned my trip and did research (about 10 hours on the Web), one of the reasons I chose Menorca was because it appeared to have a good public bus system. And it did! I took buses everywhere and found them cheap, efficient, and well-coordinated. I like taking public transportation and find it very relaxing to just sit there and admire the countryside without having to worry about buying gas, parking, etc. with a car. There seem to be two or three different bus companies, depending where you are on the island, but I didn’t have any issues organizing transfers. There was a time in the afternoon when they weren’t running (la siesta, I suppose!), but I didn’t mind waiting as long as there was shade. Usually very preoccupied with time management, I just relaxed and thought: “ Heck, I’m on vacation!¨Seeing the motorbikes on the road reminded me of my honeymoon in Ibiza, when my ex-husband and I rented a Vespa and toured the island. By the way, from what I’ve heard Ibiza has certainly changed from how it was. Menorca, in many ways, has still been “preserved.”

As for food, since I’ve been on a rather strict diet for the last month, I didn’t partake of the local Menorcan cheese or sausages, nor did I taste the big, round “ensaimada” sweet buns or the five-petaled "pastissets" cookies that most tourists were buying to take home as presents. (I read in Wikipedia that the “ensaimada” originated in Mallorca; it's obviously also a Menorcan specialty). I wish I’d tried their famous lobster stew but I never saw it offered in any of the places I ate, but I did try one of their local gin and lemonade drinks.Besides ensaimadas, pastissets and gin, Menorca is also famous for its Avarcas,or leather sandals, of which they produce more than a million a year.

After my 3 nights on the east coast, I took local buses from Mahon to an “urbanization” called Cala Blanes north of Ciutadella, the first capital of the island. As for the other two places I stayed in Menorca, I’d reserved a studio apartment in a complex called “Vista Blanes Apartments”. My apartment gave onto the large swimming pool, which was very crowded during the day, but empty at 8 in the morning when I would go to do my laps. I had a balcony but only used it for drying clothes. The place was packed, mostly with British and Spanish families and couples. The bar/restaurant was uninviting to my mind—too much greasy food and no vegetables. I much preferred having a drink or dinner at Senor Bep’s down the road where locals hung out (and where I could also use WIFI). There were two supermarkets nearby, so having a studio was a good solution for me. It had two beds and cost 70 euros a night, just as my room twin-bedded room at El Almirante had. The studio and pool (when empty) were nice, but I didn’t like having to listen to the loud speakers at night at the bar (bingo, singing, music, announcements, etc.) which you couldn’t avoid hearing because you had to leave the windows open to get air since there was no air conditioning in the rooms. Luckily, everything came to a stop at 10:15 pm., and it was fairly quiet during the day, unlike at some of the “clubs” in the “urbanizations”.

“Cala” means “cove”, and there was a sandy-bottomed one in Cala Blanes with a small beach and warm water. But the swimming area is very small, considering the number of bungalows and apartments in the “urbanized” zone behind it. As it turned out, I spent most of my time away from Cala Blanes, hiking, sightseeing and swimming. I enjoyed visiting the old part of Ciutadella and the market on the main square. And from Ciutadella, I took local buses and traveled to the south coast, observing other cala urbanizations (Cala Blanca, etc.) that are very built-up with discos and tiny bungalows on tiny plots one next to the other. Getting off at Son Suara, I again hiked along the Cami de Cavals trail to some wonderful “unspoilt” (or “virgin” as they say here) beaches. People can drive reasonably near to some of them and walk down, but, despite the heat, I wanted to do some hiking, so I did the “high road” up on the cliffs, then went down for a quick dip at each beach (Turkila, Turqueta, Macarelleta.) The scenery along the trail was gorgeous and the water of the beaches divine, even though there were jelly fish at Turqueta. Seeing one of those horrible creatures reminded me that I’d been stung by one last year when, after a long hike, I swam in the sea close to one of the Cinqua Terra villages in Italy. Not wishing to repeat that painful experience, I regrettably left the sparkling blue water of Turqueta.Luckily, I never saw another jelly fish in any other part of Menorca.

I’d read in a brochure that Macarelleta was Menorca’s top nudist beach, but I only saw about 7 people in the nude—1 woman and about 6 men, including a man on crutches with only 1 ½ legs. Although in France I’ve heard toplessness is now somewhat out of style, during my stay I saw quite a few (mostly Spanish) women bearing their breasts on the beaches. This reminded me of the difference with the first time I ever went to Spain. It must have been in 1962 or so, and Franco was still in power. I remember all the Spanish women on the beach wearing ugly, full-piece, black bathing suits!

On my last day in Cala Blanes, I took a bus north from Ciutadella and hiked on another part of the Cami de Cavals. After hiking the day before in the mid-day heat, I decided to get an earlier start. So I took an early bus into Ciutadella and then another one to Alagaiarens beach, where I arrived about 10 a.m. and had a delicious swim. From there I took the northwestern portion of the Cami de Cavalls path and walked 5 kms to Cala Morell. Along the way, I encountered some mountain bikers, one of whom fell just before I took their photo. I forgot to say that you share the “Cami”with bikers and horse-riders, but there aren’t many of either. Although I saw hoof marks and a bit of “poop”, there were no horses in sight along the trail. There were beautiful sites of the water from the trail, which also wound its way through some pine forests. Cala Morell is probably one of the prettiest residential areas I saw in Menorca. In a way, it reminded me of Greece. The houses are on much larger lots than in the “urbanizations” of the south, and the cove is really lovely.

The next day, I left Cala Blanes and traveled east and then north by bus to the resort town of Arsenal d’en Castell, where I spent my last 2 nights at the Club Hotel Aquamarina. It’s huge: some 583 rooms, 4 swimming pools, huge water slides for kids, trampolines, etc., etc. Not really my type of place (I found it on Booking.com), but my room was on the quiet side of the hotel, had air-conditioning and was very comfortable. For 90 euros a night, I had a twin-bedded room and half-board. The food was so-so but very copious with free wine and beer. I couldn’t believe the size of the dining room and buffet tables! The saving grace of this hotel is that it’s on the lovely Arenal beach and bay, which is in the shape of a horsehoe.

From Arenal, I was able a bus to take a bus to the lovely town of Fornells, which is a lovely whitewashed town on a bay where you see lots of sailboats and windsurfers. In the 17th C. Fornells had a garrison, whose ruins lie along the port. After visiting the town and its tower, I got a bit lost finding the Cami de Cavals going east at the foot of the bay, and had to walk about 6 kms along a road. But when I finally found the Cami, all went well. The trail ran through pine trees, and I kept thinking I’d get down to the sea, but each time there was a sign saying it was private property. In fact everywhere in Menorca, I noticed huge fields enclosed by dry, stone walls with signs saying “privado..caza” but I rarely saw any houses in sight! Such a difference with the densely populated urbanizations!

After hiking for a total of about 12 kms from Fornell, I finally arrived at the Arenal Son Saura, which is the resort before Arenal d’es Castell, where I was staying, Exhausted and hot, I treated myself to a swim in the clear turquoise water of Arenal Son Saura before continuing my journey to Arenal d’Es Castell, where I had two more swims in the sea before dinner (plus another one the next morning).

I left Menorca very pleased with my trip. It’s the third Balearic Island I’ve visited (I’ve been 5 times to Majorca and once to Ibiza), and I think it’s my favorite. Even though there are some “urbanizations”, Menorca doesn’t have the high rises that Palma, Marbella and other Spanish resorts have. There are beautiful beaches, interesting towns, unspoilt land and nice people—not to mention the hiking, biking, water sports and archaeological treasures (which I didn’t have time to visit). I’m pretty sure I’ll return!

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23rd July 2014

Great Travel Blog
Thank you, Hilary, for posting such a comprehensive report on this trip. I just signed up to subscribe. Your photography is also excellent. Bon Voyage!
21st January 2015

We're off to Menorca in the spring for 5 nights followed by 3 in Madrid and 5 in Ibiza. U should try Turkey, AMAZING.
15th February 2016

Great post!
Thanks for this post - I love Menorca! The St. Joan Festival is a fun time to go too - for more information you can check out my blog post on what it's like: http://www.thetoastyavocados.com/cool-shit/2015/7/1/island-hopping-part-ii-the-unknown-gem-of-menorca?rq=menorca

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