||100 + Beaches
Within 30 minutes of Mahón are dozens of beautiful rock coves, such as Cala Mitjana, where part of Lina Wertmullers Swept Away was filmed. For long stretches of sand theres Santo Tomas or Cala Santo Galdana, which, however, can be crowded, or Son Bou, that has, year after year, the whitest sand.
I favor the secluded coves or calas with their small beaches. They are less crowded, and the coves form natural and deep swimming pools. While the larger beaches have bars, it is not difficult to pack a picnic lunch and when youre tired of swimming just step back into the shadow of pine trees that on the island hover at the waters edge. People linger till dusk at these beaches, as the Mediterranean summer evenings are long.
Menorcas history, like that of all the Balearics, reaches back into prehistory, as is evidenced by the extraordinary number of well-preserved religious megaliths on the island. Bronze Age Celts erected megalithic monuments as complex as Stonehedge. More than 100 stone burial sites, altars and astronomical observatories are scattered across the southern coast. The best example is on a back road just beyond Binicalaf. Youll see signs for it. Because of these wonderful ancient sites, Ive often had the feeling of being in an open-air archaeological museum while driving along the southern coast of the island.
Across the length of the island forty-five minutes from Mahón is Ciudadela, the second largest city and the ecclesiastical capital of Menorca. Ciudadela, which means fortress in Menorquin, was a Phoenician city. It has, however, some typical Catalan architecture from the 15th and 16th centuries, as well as Italian and English buildings of more recent vintage. The city was constructed out of stone notably limestone and it has a reserve about it that is reminiscent of an elderly, aristocratic Spanish woman.
|| Go to Ciudadela for no other reason than to have a harbor-side lunch at Casa Manolo. Go early and made a reservation this outdoor restaurant is very popular. Manolo is perfect for boiled crayfish, lobster, fried quid, mussels marinated in sherry, baked oysters or claims and all sorts of grilled white fish. For dessert (here and everywhere else on the island) theres Spanish fruits oranges, lemons, or pineapple all stuffed with orange, lemon or pineapple ice cream. (Lemon is my favorite
North on the island, and at the other side of a high woodland road, is the quiet village of Fornells and other waterside restaurant, Es Pla (Telf: 971. 37. 66.550). But Es Pla is no ordinary restaurant. It is a favorite of King Carlos of Spain who regularly visits this village and wonderful harbor restaurant. The specialty here is calderate de langosta, a mountain of crustaceans toppling from a bowl of lobster broth. After lunch take in the nearby spectacular caves of Cavallería.
Calan Porter, which is a British holiday location, doesnt have much to offer except for the discotheque, Cova den Xoroi which is carved out of megalithic caves and clings to the side of a cliff. Legend has it that the caves, perched high up on a steep cliff, were once the secret hideout of a Berber pirate who was washed ashore on Menorca. Using the caves as a refuge, he stole food, goods, and then a young girl who bore him children from the town of Alayor. He was finally caught when the island experienced a rare snowfall and armed farmers tracked him to the unknown caves which are now home to the discoteque. Here, overlooking the sea, you can dance under the light of the full moon.
Near by is the town of Mercadal, which is at the foot of the highest spot on the island, Monte Torro (357m). This former home of a monastery gives a breathtaking view of the entire island. The church itself is built in the Ionic-Byzanthinian style.
South of Mahón, and beyond Villacarlos, is Sant Luis, a small village founded by the French, who were on Menorca for a short period during the 18th century. There are several white sand beaches here: Cala Alcaufar, Cala des Rafalet, and Punta Prima, all now surrounded by urbanization.
What to buy
Shoes with a history
The best buy in Menorca is quality shoes. The islands reputation for fine footwear began when a Menorcan cobbler set up shop on an island in the West Indies in 1838. He went on to fame when a pair of his boots won the grand prize at the 1852 Exposition of Arts and Industries in Havana. The cobbler had a factory in Cuba for several years, but after his wife died he returned to his native Ciudadela and opened a second manufacturing plant there.
By the beginning of this century, most of Menorcas population lived off the cobblers business, and today footwear shares the commercial limelight with costume jewelry, a relatively new cottage industry on the island.
One of the first things knowledge travelers do upon arriving in Menorca is to drive out to the factories in Alayor and buy shoes and boots at prices that are about half what they are elsewhere.
Sauce, cheese, and gin
Island food is light, uncomplicated, and immensely satisfying. Fish is one of the staples, and meat is also readily available; its brought in from the mainland as is, oddly enough, seafood since fishing in not a principal industry on Menorca.
Although local spices (and olive oil) are used on almost everything, a lot of Menorcan food doesnt differ greatly from that of the mainland (especially Barcelona and all of Catalonia, whose influence is evident everywhere on Menorca).
The island, however, is responsible for creating one of the most basic culinary ingredients. In 1756 the Duke de Richelieu, a nephew of Cardinal Richelieu, was on Menorca and engaged in battle with a British fleet. One day he wandered into an inn for a meal. The owner had only a slice of meat and a local sauce made of a little oil, egg whites, and garlic. The duke liked the sauce, noted the ingredients, and took the recipe back to France, where he introduced it to his countrymen as salsa de mahonesa mayonnaise.
Menocra has also been producing quality cheese since the days of the Roman occupation. As far back as the fifth century A.D. Bishop Severo, a missionary who had been sent to the island by the Vatican, wrote that Menorcans lived on milk and cows cheese. It wasnt until the 19th century, however, that the islanders began to export their cheese to the mainland and beyond. Its still made in the traditional manner on farms throughout the island, and one of the best exported cheeses, Coinga, is produced in Alayor. Within the last year, I have found Menorcan cheeses on the shelves of the better stores in New York City.
For the better part of three decades, Ive been bring home the gin of Menorca. The best buy is Gin Xoriguer, a legacy of 18th-century English sailors. The gin-making came about during the British second occupation of the island, when the sailors, mostly Scots, couldnt make it without their scotch. They brewed the juice of juniper berries, with local herbs and created Menorcan gin which is dry, aromatic and best served at room temperature in shot glasses or on the rocks with a twist. The vermouth is built-in, as veteran martini drinkers say. The Menorcans mix their gin with bitter lemon to create Pomada, their favorite drink. The gin factory, by the way, is down on the port of Mahón and offers unlimited free tasting all day long.
Where to eat
When I first started visiting Menorca the Rocamar, overlooking the port, was the only good restaurant on the island. It is still one of the best. The house specialty is cap roig, or redhead fish. The décor of Rocamar is stark and somber, with its white linen tablecloths and black and white accents, but you can eat downstairs, again on the water, in a much more relaxed fashion.
In Villacarlos, there is only Bar España (Telf: 971. 36.32.99), but thats enough. Bar España is located at 50 Calle de Victory and is absolutely wonderful. Theres a bar in front, but it is really a family restaurant. Book early.
Near the town of San Luis is Sa Parereta, a converted farmhouse. Order the rabbit with garlic as a main course and the absolutely delicious chocolate dessert called French Silk. In the hamlet of Torret, have lunch or dinner at Illa des Porros, whose specialties include leeks and Catalan spinach. Try the main course of fricandó which is veal in brown sauce.