If Spain is high on your travel wish list, be sure to add in a trip to the nearby Balearic Islands. Here, Amar Grover shares some of Mallorca's best royal residences, grand estates and historical hotspots to explore.
Mallorca, the largest and most varied of Spain's four main Balearic Islands, lies due south of Barcelona. At its 2019 pre-pandemic peak, nearly 15 million visitors graced its shores and most were on holiday. The appeal is broad, too. Hedonistic havens aside, families are drawn to the beaches, walkers to its rugged hills and the glitterati to a sophisticated clutch of high-end and boutique properties.
An obvious starting point in Palma, the capital, is its central Palace of La Almudaina. Standing opposite the landmark cathedral, the 13th-century Almudaina was originally a Moorish fortress but remodelled by King Jaume II and expanded by successive monarchs. Honey-coloured masonry walls still bear parapets and crenellations, while its Gothic arches, stone-lion fountains, royal apartments and huge tapestries lend a suitably regal atmosphere.
Though still an official royal residence, since 1973 Spain's visiting royals have generally summered at the more private clifftop Marivent Palace on a small headland near Palma's Cala Major. Only its gardens – opened in 2017 and featuring around forty indigenous species – are open to the public. Art buffs might appreciate its twelve bronze sculptures by the artist Joan Miró whose nearby studio and home is now a museum.
Barely a kilometre away and looming incongruously over the modern skyline, a hilltop glade bristles with Bellver Castle's pale bastions. Built by King Jaume II in the 1300s as a royal palace and fortress, it's spent much of its life as a prison for royal pretenders and political revolutionaries. The unusual circular design (from above it almost resembles a bizarre missile silo) incorporates both ravelin and curtain walls along with towers and a detached keep. Its striking arcaded courtyard with grated well is one of Palma's most photographed monuments. Now housing the rather dry Palma History Museum, most visitors come for panoramic views across town and the magnificent bay.
North across the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, a turn-off on the spectacular coastal road leads to Miramar Monastery, originally a 13th-century missionary school established by Ramon Llull, the nearest thing Mallorca has to a patron saint.
A century before modern tourism, Mallorca acquired a kind of one-man marketing
machine in the shape of Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria, a Habsburg royal. With money to burn and freedom to roam, from the 1860s he cruised up and down the Mediterranean aboard his beloved yacht and to Mallorca he gave his heart. Seduced by the spectacular views, Miramar became his first Mallorcan estate.
He promptly restored the monastery and these days the lozenge-embossed villa exhibits Salvator relics, pictures and sea charts along with facets of old island life. It was from here that Ludwig spotted Sa Foradada, a pretty hook-like promontory jutting into the lapis sea and, above it, the small Son Marroig estate which he went ahead and bought too.
House guests included artists, intellectuals and royalty and these days the locality's prime real estate coaxes tycoons, tourists and the discreetly wealthy, with one Mr M Douglas lending a dash of Hollywood glamour. Still owned by the family of Ludwig's loyal secretary, Son Marroig is among the best known and accessible of Mallorca's venerable homes.
Externally it resembles a fusion of Italian palazzo and baronial hunting lodge tacked on to a far older watchtower. The ballroom's lofty wood-panelled ceiling and tall seaward windows, along with an adjoining dining hall and arcaded veranda, evoke another gracious age.
Having acquired several houses and estates, Ludwig built scenic bridle paths up and down the mountains. The best known, still called the Cami de S'Arxiduc (or Archduke's Path), broadly tracks the rugged ridge-line high above Miramar and remains one of the island's finest walks.
Nearer Palma spreads La Granja, a far older estate with roots dating back to the island's 10th-century Moorish conquest. Restored and expanded over centuries, La Granja is as much a museum as a grand home. There are dyers' vats and olive presses, perfume stills and a rope-making workshop; even a sinister hair-dryer resembling a zany contraption from a 50s sci-fi movie.
Stranger still are the cells and torture chamber with chilling displays of racks, implements, and a spiked interrogation chair. There's a kind of grotesque, if unintentional, humour here, too. In the time it takes to read about institutionalised torture administered by lords and nobles across medieval Mallorca, you'll hear a looped recording of a hooting owl and creaking door followed by the shrieks of some hapless victim – perhaps a bit too authentic for youngsters.
Finca Raixa near Bunyola is an altogether more sober experience. Now state-owned, what was originally a Moorish farmstead had already become a substantial country manor by the 1200s. Formal terraced gardens feature a monumental staircase dedicated to Apollo and, typical of voguish 18th- and 19th-century romanticism, faux neoclassical ruins dot the surrounding lush hillside. The property now also serves as the Serra Tramuntana Centre whose displays underline the range's significance as a "cultural landscape" and Unesco World Heritage Site.
For more inspiration, see spain.info
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