Its 3:30am, freezing, and characteristically bleak in Victoria Coach Station as we settle aboard the National Express service to London Stansted Airport – mockingly 35 miles from the Capital, with a journey time longer than most flights to Northern Europe.
Approximately 5am, now at Stansted. For early risers struggling to shake their zombie-like state, World Duty Free’s artificial lights are bright enough to wake the dead. Just time for a coffee before joining the corridor queue synonymous with any Ryanair departure. For the geeks, we had the pleasure of flying a brand-new 737-800, less than a month old and the right side of glamorous. Wispy fog blanketed southern England, the Thames shimmering through the haze.
Dropping down through blue-filled skies, the Spanish island of Mallorca rises from the Mediterranean with alluring warmth. Yachts tickle the coastline. At the tail end of the season, autumn sunshine still welcomed us, nudging high twenties as we wandered the streets and alleyways of Palma, the island’s capital. Emerging from the shade of an underground car park, Palma’s cathedral stands spectacularly above Parc de la Mar, gazing out across the lake, harbour and sea. The city itself is pleasant and architecturally charming: tourism orientated but not disastrously so, al-fresco restaurants line relaxed avenues and guitarists twang to passers-by.
Having had a taste of the city and passed a few necessary hours, we drove north-east towards the central town of Inca. Never have I been so utterly disorientated amongst the town’s warren of back streets, one-ways and gateways. After an hour’s loops and backtracks, we emerged via a lane to the north which ultimately led to our rural finca, nestled in the foothills of the Serra de Tramuntana range.
Airbnb is now my go-to for most short getaways, and a great way to add personality and a dash of unknown to any trip. This was no exception, staying in a beautifully renovated cottage within the grounds of the owner’s farmstead. As dusk settled, dogs’ chorus resonates around the valley; as dawn rises, the resident cockerel crows.
Content in our surroundings, many unreportable hours ensued sunbathing amongst the orange trees and cacti, engrossed in El Paso – a barnstorming cowboy tale, following the ill-fortune of Colonel Shaughnessy, Cowboy Bob and Death Valley Slim. At some point we ventured to Inca’s supermarket, a journey which we again cocked up. Thereafter, we parked on the periphery and walked in. I always enjoy the exoticism of foreign supermarkets, which usually brim with fresh, bright and unpackaged fruit and veg, and enticing bakeries. Inca isn’t Mallorca’s standout town – rather a pleasant practical hub for surrounding communities. It does however boast a handful of authentic 18th century cellar restaurants, where diners sit amongst oak wine barrels, gorging on wholesome platefuls of suckling pig.
Day three and adequately rested, we wound our way up and over the tree-lined Serra de Tramuntana mountains to one of Europe’s great coastal drives. Standing atop the Carretera de Sa Calobra, the road drops away to the Mediterranean like a snarling, recoiling serpent. 13 kilometres bend, twist, rise and fall - heaven or hell, depending on your point of view. Sweeping sea and mountain views form a beautiful backdrop for a morning’s Scalextrics. Upon a friend’s recommendation we turned off a spur to Cala Tuent and its secluded bay, dining on freshly caught tuna and generous slabs of almond cake. Further round is Port de Sa Calobra, well worth a visit for its impressive towering canyons. Wading through crystal waters deep into the gorge, you’re expecting a cowboy to crest the rim and shoot you at any moment.
So far, so good. Our final day and I hadn’t so much as sniffed a full English, nor glimpsed an arrowing banana boat. Large-scale developments line Mallorca’s southern coastline, and as we were heading there anyway it seemed a shame not to experience the mainstay of Mallorca’s tourism trade. We pulled into the conurbation of Can Pastilla at the foot of Palma’s runway. Rental apartments do indeed tower over the sandy beaches, bars promote 2-4-1 cocktails and fish and chips headline menus; yet this nondescript stretch of coastline emanates a peaceful, comfortable vibe. Beaches are spotless, the promenade safe. Cafés encourage you to gaze out to sea. I can totally see why those seeking a short-haul, affordable dose of sunshine and stress-free travel would flop down here and leave two weeks later.
With the pound sterling dropping steeper than Mallorca’s roads to the beach, holidays to Western Europe no longer offer great value compared to other corners of the globe. Alas, in spite of my mild travel-snobbery, our visit to this longstanding British favourite offered a relaxing, easy, and at times unexpected autumn getaway.
Next: Kenya and the continent where this blog began. March 2019.
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