Mallorca has fought hard against its sun, sea and sand stereotype and now tries promote itself more as a year-long travel destination, offering summer and winter sporting options, a burgeoning gastronomy scene and a long-established arts tradition.
I spent three years co-writing and and taking photographs for Faces of Mallorca a new book featuring 59 island characters. I would like to introduce you to five, to experience the essence of Mallorca through their eyes.
Tomeu Arbona, bakery owner
Tomeu worked with “kids on the street” as a social worker, later retraining as a psychotherapist, but lost his job after just four years as a result of the economic crisis. Needing an income to pay for his children’s university fees, he and his wife decided to open a small bakery, Fornet de la Soca, focusing on traditional recipes.
“We were lucky, as people immediately liked our idea of reviving old Mallorquín recipes – I became a real food archaeologist. One important insight I gained was the history of the ensaïmada. Very few people know that ensaïmades [sweet spiral pastries] and panades [little meat pies] come from Jewish culture.”
In addition to owning one of Palma’s most exquisite bakeries, Tomeu also sings traditional Mallorcan songs at special events. Every afternoon he cycles through the downtown area. He’s “in love” with the areas of Pla de Mallorca, Sineu, Pina and Lloret, places that retain a great essence and a certain primitivism, and he likes to to go to the alternative Cineciutat cinema. He recommends that all visitors see the Tramuntana mountains: “It is my little paradise that transcends beauty.”
With his eye for stunning vistas, Tomeu says the Ermita de la Trinitat in Valldemossa is well worth the trip: “I love the peacefulness and the beautiful view of the coastline.”
To eat on a special occasion, he recommends Montimar, “a small restaurant of high-quality traditional cuisine, with a stunning landscape”. Other favourite restaurants include Ca Na Toneta, Botànic and Dins de Santi Taura – “they each represent different, authentic aspects of Mallorcan cuisine”.
Francesca Martí, international artist
Francesca expresses herself through sculpture and multimedia to convey her unique societal reflections. She is perhaps best known for Dreamers, a set of sculptures dotted around Mallorca “shining in solitary contemplation”.
“I live in Sóller and love to visit the Ecocirer hotel, where you can enjoy a delicious and healthy breakfast. In Port de Sóller, there are several restaurants facing the sea. Pick any of these to eat fresh fish – you will not be disappointed! To relax, I like to be out on the water having a picnic or fishing around the coast. Two restaurants I absolutely love, which combine great food with beautiful sea views, are Sa Foradada and C’as Patro March in Deià; they are just super authentic!”
Palma is a cultural city. A visit to a good gallery “brings energy to our soul”; try Gallery Kewenig, Gerhard Braun Gallery or Es Baluard museum. Museu Can Marquès offers a fusion of past and present.
Maria Gibert, cook and YouTube sensation
Maria, 84, is a custodian of traditional Mallorcan cooking and a media sensation with a YouTube audience of more than 43,000 and numerous TV appearances. Her first cooking experience as a child was when she stole some dry pasta from her mother’s pantry and attempted to cook it. It didn’t turn out well but her mother made her eat the whole plate of pasta as punishment: “That might have been the moment I decided to become a better cook!”
Seven years ago, her grandson, who lives in Japan, had the idea of making videos in her kitchen and publishing them on YouTube. “Little did we know that this was going to get so much attention. Now I am a bit of a local celebrity!
“I love preparing authentic Mallorcan dishes like sopes mallorquines [bread and vegetable soup], which is one of my favourites, or escaldums [turkey stew with tomatoes and herbs] and I am happy I get to share these original recipes, so they are not forgotten. Few people have the patience for slow cooking – everything has to be fast – but I have a feeling that the meditative experience of taking time to cook dishes in the traditional way is starting to appeal again.”
Maria likes to wander down to the “incredible” restaurant, Bodega La Rambla – “I have to say, Mallorcan variats [Mallorcan twists on tapas] are the best.” She is often to be found walking around the city. “I’m a walker and my passion is to relax by strolling along the promenade of Palma. The old town hides many stories and I find it very beautiful. The Paseo del Molinar and Portixol areas take me back to my childhood.”
Maria also recommends a visit to Palma’s Teatre Principal, and a trip to the village of Deià: “These are beautiful corners of magic and history in our little paradise”.
Nuria and Mikel, sailors
Nuria and her partner Mikel are owners of the beautiful Rafael Verdera, used for sailing trips around the island. Built in 1841, it is the oldest operating boat of the Spanish naval fleet. The couple have lived on board for the past 40 years and Nuria gave birth to their children, Sara and Iñaki, on the boat. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch Sara and Iñaki practising acrobatics on deck.
“I first met Mikel on this very boat, many years ago, and we have been living together on it ever since. I guess there are people who think we are crazy, but we wanted to live our lives on our own terms; we wanted to always feel free.”
Nuria suggests taking advantage of the dolphin and whale watching around Mallorca: “Not so many people know about this.” For keen swimmers, she recommends heading to the beach at El Toro. “The waters are always so calm, and I always have the best swims there.”
She strongly recommends a trip to Cabrera, a tiny island 10 miles off the southernmost tip of Mallorca. It is “an unspoilt oasis with the most aquamarine blue seas – and you have the best view of the stars at night”. Joan Aguiló, street artist
Joan’s huge murals can be found all over the island. They are easily recognisable as his style is unique, typically featuring Mallorcan childhood experiences.
“I discovered street art in Berlin and was immediately fascinated. When I came back here, I thought it would be easy to find other street artists in Mallorca, but this scene barely existed. I am proud that I helped to bring this culture to the island. The annual street art festival I have created in Can Picafort has become quite popular, and it excites me that many of the best street artists from various countries come together for this event.”
Joan’s go-to place in Palma for a good exhibition or interesting cultural event is the CaixaForum Gran Hotel. “It feels like it’s from another era; you can’t tell what century you’re in, and that’s spectacular.”
Out of town, he suggests going to Ermita de la Victoria, with a view of the bay of Alcudia, and hike for about half an hour to the Atalaya, the highest point, to see the bay of Pollença and visit Caló D’Es Cans beach near Colonia de Sant Pere: “It’s a delight!”