Mallorca, the largest and arguably most beautiful of the Balearic Islands, has an enduring popularity. Drenched in sun for much of the year, the island is lush and green in the centre and sandy white on the coasts. Its steep hills and rugged terrain are beloved by hikers and cyclists, and its neo-Gothic cathedrals and convivial local restaurants are admired by all.
But even an island like Mallorca, known so well and so widely, has its secrets. A revival of the island’s ancient traditions has been underway in recent years, prompted, in part, by its popular beach culture and nightlife.
The old country manor houses and fincas, long abandoned and allowed to fall into disrepair, are undergoing a transformation into chic rural retreats. Even lesser known are Mallorca’s hidden villages, where life seems to move at a much slower pace than it does elsewhere on the island.
Barely 15 minutes’ drive from Palma de Mallorca, the island’s capital, is the mountain village of Esporles. It’s a village nestled in the Tramuntana mountain range that isn’t well served by public transport, which may be why it is so often overlooked by visitors and why it seems to retain so much of its historic charm.
The traditional blond stone architecture has been remarkably well-preserved, as has its neo-Gothic church, which stands tall in the centre of the town. Due to its mountainous location and tranquillity, the village is often compared with Valldemossa just a short drive away.
Valldemossa is known chiefly for briefly being home to the great Polish pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin and his lover, the writer Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, better known as George Sand. Chopin and Sand spent the winter of 1838 in the village monastery, which had been confiscated by the Spanish government and sold to a private owner.
But Valldemossa has much more to it than its famous former residents. It’s a village with old-world charm: the pretty streets are quiet, the surroundings lush and green. Under the Mallorcan sun, which seems never to stop shining, the stone architecture looks gold against this multicoloured backdrop. Valldemossa may be the most beautiful of the villages on the island.
If you’ve hired a car in Mallorca, the next stop on your route ought to be Deià, the “village of artists”. But that’s not necessarily to say it’s a place that gets the creative juices flowing: many celebrities are reportedly drawn to the Mallorcan village because, in this small and tight-knit community, no one cares who they are.
There is a palpable peace in Deià, pictured beside the intro, with its cobbled lanes, artisan workshops and beautiful views, that is rare to find. And for those coming from the hustle and bustle of the city, such an atmosphere offers welcome respite.
From Deià, drive on to Sóller. Unlike its sister villages nearby, Sóller is surrounded by citrus groves in a bowl-shaped vale sometimes called the Valley of Gold. The restaurants serve sobrassada (sausage), home-reared snails and hierbas, a local herbal liquor, and cafés line the narrow streets like colourful beads on a string. In the centre of the town, the church of Saint Bartholomew rises high into a clear blue sky and scattered across the town are gorgeous Modernista houses erected by local builders returning from France. Unmissable is the Saturday market, where the traders and shoppers generate a vibrant, bustling atmosphere.
You’ll need to hire a car with Avis to take the drive out to Cala Figuera, a coastal town in the southwest of the island that’s markedly absent of tourist beaches. It sits, largely untouched by mass tourism, in the picturesque district of Santanyí, and stretches from clifftop to fishing harbour. It’s here that the traditional waterfront buildings and fisherman’s boathouses come together to form one of Mallorca’s most picture-perfect villages, and that’s to say nothing of the wealth of seafood restaurants and the azure water so well suited to snorkelling and diving.
Mallorca, then, still contains something to discover for intrepid visitors determined enough to look. On its coast, in its valleys and hidden high up in its mountains are towns and villages as tranquil and as picturesque as any found in the world’s remotest corners. They lead you to wonder what other secrets this island may hide.