Running parallel to the north-western coast of the island of Mallorca, the soaring peaks of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range pierce the clear blue sky.
On its steep slopes there is an aroma of wild rosemary and citrus, and nestled within its lush valleys are blond-stone villages built by the Moors. In 2011, UNESCO listed the mountain chain as a World Heritage Site, citing the significance of its agricultural tradition and the complex network developed to manage the region’s scarce resources.
But this does something of a disservice to the breadth of the Tramuntana’s natural beauty and its allure for hikers, cyclists, artists, and, of course, drivers. You'll need a hire car to explore: the Serra de Tramuntana drive is one of the most breathtaking in the Balearic islands.
Begin your road trip in Palma de Mallorca, the island’s capital, or a 15-minute drive north, in Esporles. Esporles is one of a handful of ancient villages built by the Moors and later rebuilt and expanded by the Catalans and Castilians. They’re remarkable – unmissable, in fact – for their exquisite beauty. From a distance, against a green and mountainous backdrop, the blond stone of the little houses and churches, restaurants and cafés together create the appearance of a village of gold. There is a special charm to villages like Esporles that mark their superiority to any sparkling trinket.
Similar Tramuntana villages are scattered across the mountain chain as if by a giant hand, and the mountain roads, which are neither narrow nor dangerous, pass by or through them all. Drivers should be aware of the curves and hairpins, however, which – though exhilarating – may take anyone who is new to driving Mallorca’s landscapes by surprise.
From Esporles, drive to the northwest towards Valldemossa, the Tramuntana village most often called the prettiest on the island. In Valldemossa the streets are narrow and the houses lined with plants and flowers. The serpentine hillside trails promise views of the island that you won’t find on any postcard. The olive, oak and almond trees which adorn the hills surrounding Valldemossa create an intimacy in the village that must be felt to be understood. It is a far cry from the beach culture of the southern coast, and more than a good excuse to leave your hire car and stretch your legs.
From there, continue northwards to Deià, a village with something of a reputation for being a haven to artists. That’s not solely because of its tranquillity and scenery but because of the unique insouciance and modesty of its inhabitants. And in Sóller, west of Deià, drivers can experience something that is just a little different. Sóller is surrounded by citrus groves in a bowl-shaped vale sometimes called the Valley of Gold, and its exquisite Modernista houses owe their appearance to the influence of French architectural fashion on emigrant builders. Here, stop for a sustaining sobrassada and walk around the towering church of Saint Bartholomew before heading on to the Fornalutx valley.
The stretch of road that begins in Sóller and winds through the mountains through Fornalutx, Lluc and Pollença is the best part of the drive. Drivers can choose whether to stop at the pretty villages along the way or simply glide along through dramatic mountain landscapes blanketed by forest. In Fornalutx, the locals compete with Valldemossa for the honour of being called the island’s most beautiful; Lluc is Mallorca’s most sacred site, a centre of pilgrimage since the 13th century and a former monastery. In Pollença, visitors will find more of the bustle for which many of the island’s tourist spots are known.
The drive from the Port of Pollença south of the town to Cap de Formentor, and the route’s end, is a special one. There’s a 1,600m climb, and much of the road was designed by the engineer Antonio Parietti. Expect plenty of dramatic hairpin turns as you go, and be aware that parts of this stretch of road are safer than others. That said, the drive is regularly included in lists of the world’s very best, and the first portion at least is not to be missed.
Hire a car in Mallorca to enjoy the highly recommended half-day’s drive along the Serra de Tramuntana mountain chain. Along the way, there are any number of tiny, charming villages in which you can relax over a restorative coffee or a spread of local tapas. It is, in other words, a win-win.