With its mountain villages and vineyards, bohemian enclaves and a slew of stylish new hotels (hello, Richard Branson), the interior of this Mediterranean island is a European insider’s hideaway. Mark Ellwood uncovers its considerable charms.
Blame the Brits and Germans for Mallorca’s image problem: they’ve long filled the beaches of Magaluf and Ballermann respectively and helped make the island a byword for the Mediterranean mass market—a place for cheap, boozy holidays amid good weather. Yet insiders have always known that beyond those beaches is a place of rolling hills, country estates and wineries, more Tuscany than Torremolinos. “Life here isn’t just about having a glass of wine with your feet in the sand,” says Paul Skevington, an expat Briton who runs Parietti, a Mallorquin cycle-clothing brand, “It’s about the outdoors and hiking, the stunning mountain ranges of the Tramuntana.”
Now, those hidden-away interiors are gaining a wider reputation among the well-traveled, in part thanks to a newfound convenience in reaching them. After a successful trial last year, United’s new seasonal non-stop flight from Newark to Mallorca’s capital will run from late May until the end of September this year; there are now three flights per week, up from twice weekly in 2022. GM of five-star finca Castell Son Claret, Bjorn Spaude, tells Indagare that almost one-quarter of his guests are now American, versus just five percent before that flight started. His property is one of a handful that have long discreetly operated in the interior; the Belmond-run La Residencia is another. But in 2023, two noteworthy properties will open, both inland, as well as a smaller boutique property, Hotel Corazon, owned and run by British fashion photographer Kate Bell. More will follow next year, including a Four Seasons revamp of the island’s first luxury property, Hotel Formentor, which dates back to 1929. It sits on its own 3,000-acre peninsula at the far northern tip, as distant from the crowds in Magaluf as is possible on the 43-mile-long island.
Related: A Local’s Mallorca: Jacinto Solivellas de Oleza’s Guide
The appeal of Mallorca’s interior comes from its geography and history. The island’s largely flat, other than the Serra de Tramuntana, the mountain range which forms a backbone through its northern center; the hills earned UNESCO World Heritage status 12 years ago. They’re quilted with winding roads that lead to mountain villages, set among hillsides stepped as olive groves, forested with old-growth trees or planted with vines—Bodegas Rivas in Consell is the oldest vineyard in Spain. That rippling terrain is one reason that cycling is a major pastime here, and high-end homegrown brands like Paul Skevington’s Parietti have emerged in response to the rash of Lycra-loving visitors. Tour de France pros practice off-season here, and e-bikes are available at most hotels to offset the steepest climbs.
Mallorca’s interiors were once prized holdings, per local historian and guide Pedro Oliver. When the Mediterranean was marauded by corsairs snatching up riches en route to northern Europe from the Silk Road, wealthy families moved from the coast for safety; indeed, land owned by the water was often deeded to daughters as a disdained dowry. No wonder, then, that it was easy and affordable for postwar developers to snag parcels and create package-holiday venues in Magaluf and around. Simultaneously, locals cherished interior plots, loath to leave them to development, allowing landlocked Mallorca to retain its authenticity. There was one unexpected side effect. “Now all the women are richer than the men,” Pedro Oliver laughs.
Among the many appealing hillside towns and villages in that interior, don’t miss the artsy enclave of Deià, where poet Robert Graves lived and worked; photographer Bell is opening her hotel there. Chicago-born Joanna Kuhne is a ceramicist who’s lived in Deià for more than 40 years—pick up a brightly colored bowl or two at her studio—and hike to the nearby town of Sóller, on an easy, three-hour-long trail with spectacular views over the water and the mountains.
Mallorca’s food is unfussy and rustic: even at the highest- end restaurants, there’s a casual ease. Chef Jordi Cantó at Sa Clastra, for example, will happily ditch his scheduled dishes to cook up traditional fritters made from the tiny fish known as caboti, if guests find them at the fish market. The wines may not be known beyond Mallorca’s reaches, but they’re impressively drinkable: try the bright, pineapply white, Torres de Canonge, from the Toni Gelabert vineyard just outside the second-largest settlement, Manacor, to the east. Try a snifter, too, of Flor d’Ametlla, the mild digestif made from almonds, another of Mallorca’s major crops.
Even if you make the interior your base, don’t let the crowds keep you from Palma: even there, the rowdy beaches can feel far away. It has the best shopping, of course. Look for Stick No Bills gallery, which has the license to reprint classic Braniff Airways posters—the ultimate nod to the jet set’s heyday—and drop into the Hammam am Andalus, too, a luxurious nod to the Arabic history of the Iberian Peninsula. Just don’t flinch if you hear the occasional British accent.
Richard Branson’s latest project is an 810- acre estate on the west coast, right in the heart of the Tramuntana range. The rooms here sit in two main buildings, the original finca and the Tafona, once home to the farm’s olive press. Book one of the triplex Tower suites there for the best perch. The reinvention of the property extends to the grounds, where ancient olive trees have been revived and forest areas replanted.
The 31-room hilltop hotel overlooking the village of Puigpunyent has been gut-renovated by its new operators, the same team behind Finca Cortesin. Standout is room 21, with an enormous private terrace and a showstopping floor, tiled in handmade azure blue and white. Book dinner at the hotel’s easy-to- overlook answer to an al fresco private dining room, a terrace concealed behind a plant-wreathed archway, in front of the restaurant, and don’t miss its new three-story subterranean spa.
PLUS, A LONGTIME FAVORITE:
Indagare books many travelers at the uber sleek Cap Rocat, perched on the Bay of Palma de Mallorca, which seamlessly integrates its 19th-century history as a former fortress and chapel with a stunning 21st-century design aesthetic. Bustling Palma is just 15 minutes away, but the property remains utterly serene and feels removed from city life.
Contact your Trip Designer or Indagare, if you are not yet a member, to start planning a trip to Mallorca. Our team can match you with the itineraries, accommodations, reservations and guides that are right for you.
This article originally appeared in Indagare Magazine’s Summer 2023 edition, available exclusively to Indagare members.
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