Sun, sand and sangria … or the most important British naval base of the Napoleonic wars? (And the source of the naval ‘pink gin’ to boot). Visit Spain’s fascinating Balearic islands and take your choice. Majorca is perhaps the best known, the largest and in the centre of the group; sometimes a Mediterranean Blackpool, sometimes a Bond Street or Fifth Avenue shopping experience. Palma, the capital, offers sophisticated nightclubs and La Liga Spanish football - equally classy. Menorca, with its centuries-old harbour at Mahon, is where memories of Nelson and Lady Hamilton are conjured up. And where you can taste the herb-imbued original Minorcan gin. Ibiza, nearest to the mainland, was where Mediterranean sun first blended with 60’s flower-power cool. Still home to the off-beat, it has artists aplenty – painters, musicians, writers. And a few kilometres to the south lies the often overlooked smallest of the Balearics, Formentera. Stunning pine-fringed beaches are reached by bicycle and are a haven for nude sunbathing. The quietest or the liveliest islands in the Med. – even the Majorca ‘large’ and Menorca ‘small’ in the islands’ names conveys the range of choice.
Hotter and flatter than its Balearic neighbours, Ibiza owes more to the Moors than the Romans when it comes to spotting heritage and influence. Delving into the back streets of Ibiza town (a.k.a. Eivissa), the old city of Dalt Villa that dominates the view is a lovely haven of peace, all cobbled streets, massive walls, wrought iron balconies and the like. In contrast, La Marina down below is all about now: ever since hippies in the Sixties put Ibiza on the map, this has been the place to set trends and defy convention. To see and be seen. And while spotting famous faces and flexing credits cards is still a favourite pastime here, younger crowds will head instead for the new palaces of San Antonio where DJs are today’s royalty and mixing decks ring out anthems for a new generation.
The largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands conceals many personalities. Historic Palma is dominated by the buttresses of its cathedral and the walls of the Almudaina citadel. Whether you party in the up-all-night bars and clubs of its best-known resorts, or prefer to rise early and escape to a landscape filled with olive groves, poppy fields and almond trees, Mallorca is sure to make you smile. You’ll discover underground lakes and caves, colourful markets at Pollença, sleepy villages like Valldemossa woken by the toll of monastic bells, adrenaline biking trails that tear down from the heights of the Tramuntana mountains in the north, and miles of beaches in the south that soak up three hundred days of sunshine each year.
There are two sides to most things in Menorca (Minorca if you’re Catalan). In the west lies Ciudadela (or Ciutadella), the capital until the Middle Ages, filled with noble palaces and homes. In the east is Mahón (or Maó), today’s first city filled with Georgian echoes of its heyday as a naval base in Nelson’s day. In between, the island is dotted with characteristic Bronze Age Taulas, T-shaped stone altars, and cone-shaped hives called Talayots. Linking all of these is the island’s main road which puts most attractions within a hour’s drive. Shop for hand-made shoes, sup on fragrant lobster stews, sample the local gin (another British legacy), and choose any one of a hundred sheltered beaches.