Thursday, October 13, 2016

Majorcan Adventures: Exploring a Mediterranean Paradise


After a very long and busy year of travel that has seen me snowshoeing in Canada, mountain biking in California and Colorado, hiking in Utah, traveling by horseback through Mongolia, and whitewater rafting in Quebec, I've been looking forward to a bit of downtime. Fortunately, that's what I've been getting on the Spanish island of Majorca, where I've been relaxing with friends while soaking up some of the history and culture – not to mention wine and food – that the island has to offer. Of course, even a weary traveler needs a little excitement in his life from time to time, we've been mixing in some mildly active escapes to go along with our other experiences as we continue to discover everything that the island has to offer.

For those who didn't read my first report from Majorca, my friends and I are staying in the small, but incredibly accommodating, town of Pollença. Our base camp for the week is a lovely villa provided to us by my friends at Travelopo, a company that specializes in helping travelers find villas from all across Europe. In our case, they picked the perfect place for us to enjoy the island, as it is nicely located to a number of other great towns, and while it has plenty to see and do itself, it isn't an overly touristy destination. In fact, we love that it has so much to offer, including very friendly locals, but is also off the beaten path to a degree. It has made our stay a quieter one, which we all appreciate. 

After spending the first couple of days in Majorca getting over a bit of jet lag, and getting acquainted with Pollença itself, we were finally ready to venture out to see more of the region. That included visiting a couple of local wineries, which produce some surprisingly great wines. While I am hardly a connoisseur, several of my companions take their wine very seriously, and all of us have come away quite impressed. The local options have all been flavorful, well-made, and extremely affordable. This being a more relaxed trip, we have certainly imbibed our fair share. 

But touring a winery isn't just about drinking bottles upon bottles of the inventory. In our case, we visited one of the oldest family wineries on the entire island in the Ribas Bodega, which was founded in 1711 and has remained in business ever since. Taking a tour of the grounds was immensely eye-opening, as we not only learned a lot about how the wine is made, we actually passed through the old family home, which has been remodeled and updated some over the years, but remains quite rustic and charming. It was the perfect setting for gathering more insight into Majorcan culture with a healthy dose of history splashed in. 

In addition to visiting some of the local wineries, we've also dropped by a traditional Spanish finca as well. These tracts of land typically have a farmhouse or estate house on the property and are used in some type of agricultural capacity. In the case of the finca that we visited, that included raising sheep and bottling their own wine as well. The tour once again took us through a historical home, and gave us some background on what life is like in the more rural areas of the island.

While at the finca, we also had the chance to taste a wide variety of local foods as well, including empanadas, figs, cheese, and other delicacies. Eating outside, on the farm's grounds, while enjoying an impressive view of Majorca's capital city of Palma far below, was one of the highlights of the trip thus far. 

As you can tell, this trip has been at a far more leisurely pace than my usual outings, and even though that was the intent from the start, I still needed a certain level of activity to keep me going. In this case, that has meant a visit to Serra de Tramuntana, a spectacularly beautiful mountain range that runs along the northwest coast of the island. What these rugged peaks lack in terms of massive height, they more than make up for with spectacular views. In this case, their are some ridges that provide epic overlooks of the towering bluffs and the waters of the Mediterranean far blow. 

Serra de Tramuntana is located in the heart of what was once Majorcan farmland, and it is a good example of how the region was maintained and used in that capacity over the centuries. Because of this, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO back in 2007. The place is not just incredibly beautiful to behold, it is also a slice of human history, as it was used for agricultural purposes by some of the earliest settlers dating back to the Bronze Age. 

Getting to the site can be a bit harrowing in and of itself. Visitors must negotiate a very narrow stretch of road coming out to the town of Port de Alcudia and winding its way up into the mountains. This route is safe enough for two cars to pass one another without too much difficulty, although the larger tour buses that you encounter along the way can make things more difficult.

Once you reach Serra de Tramuntana you'll find a couple observation platforms linked together by a basic sidewalk trail. These platforms are perfect for taking in the views, which are practically guaranteed to take your breath away. There is something magical about seeing the sea far below while you stand on top of jagged, rocky peaks. 

For a truly spectacular view however, don't stop at just the typical tourist destination, which comes complete with snack bar, drinks, and souvenirs. Instead, turn onto the unmarked country road that you'll find nearby. It takes you to the very top of another nearby summit, which looks to have once been an observation station for the Spanish military. Now, there is an off-limits section that includes a full array of radar dishes and other sensory equipment, as well as the remains of a few old buildings. At the very top, which requires a short hike to reach, you'll find an old stone watch tower that the more daring travelers can climb into. 

At the top of this particular road, which is even narrower and more dangerous than the first, you'll discover that you can see for miles in all directions. Not only are the mountains of Serra de Tramuntana visible, but so is the Mediterranean sea beyond. You'll also look down upon the port city of Alcudia, where numerous ships come and go throughout the day. Beyond that, stretching far into the distance, are the profiles of other mountains, which look both striking and inviting as they stretch to the horizon.

My adventure on the summit of Serra de Tramuntana was made all the better by the dramatic clouds that circled and danced all around us throughout the day. It brought high winds along with it, which made our trip up to higher elevations very windy and a bit cooler than expected. This is island life however, which means the weather can change quickly, and you have to be ready for just about everything at any given time.

Following an event-filled day, it was time to return home to our villa again before closing the night with some fine dining back in Pollença. It had been a day filled with exploration and enchantment, that includes some of the best natural views that I've ever been fortunate enough to encounter on my travels. Majorca may lure you in with its promises of beaches and fine wines, but it hooks you with its surprisingly great mountain landscapes, friendly people, and accepting culture. In terms of a relaxing escape, you can't possibly ask for much more than that. 

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