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Destinations · Europe · spain · Mallorca · Essence ·

Essence

Author: Una Meistere0 COMMENTS

Essence

Mallorca - island of inspiration

Standing on the wooden rooftop deck of Es Baluard, Palma's museum of modern art, the sun is directly over our heads and the wind whirls around us like a hot fan. The geometry of the deck imitates the old city wall, and nearby in the harbour we see such a collection of expensive yachts that would be difficult to find anywhere else in the world. The yachts rock gently on the water in a comfortable state of Mediterranean self-contentment. While continental Spain is still struggling with economic crisis and restaurants in smaller towns outside Barcelona are open only a couple of days a week, Mallorca seems to have moved beyond the recession. In fact, rents in Palma are steadily increasing, and the city is once again considered a stylish place to live by locals who once tried to move away as quickly as possible. Many properties belong to foreigners - Germans, British, Scandinavians, also Russians - and Palma, with its narrow Medieval streets and bustling Plaza Major, feels like a pocket-sized international metropolis. According to the Spanish National Notary Association, real estate sales to foreigners from 2008 to 2012 have doubled. As reported by the Financial Times this spring, prices for renovated apartments with views of Palma's prominent yacht clubs, such as the Royal Yacht Club or Club de Mer, are between EUR 3000 and 6000 per square metre. A high quality of life, a strategic location (there are regular flights from Mallorca to almost every European capital) and a good climate are the main draws mentioned by foreigners living on the island.

Even though the population of Palma is only around 400,000, each year Mallorca hosts an average of nine million tourists. And those tourists are no longer just on cruise ship outings or guests at all-inclusive hotels seeking cheap entertainment, which still very recently made Mallorca a classic mass tourism destination. Undeniably, this stereotype still exists, but Palma has expertly changed its image in the past few years. As some locals assert, this change can largely be attributed to the foreigners who have moved to the island and have wished to create an environment suited to their own ambitions for quality of life, a place where they themselves enjoy being and, hopefully, a place for their children as well. "Mallorca is currently the new Ibiza," said my friend in London whose acquaintances have in recent years been heading to the island every summer. True, these acquaintances usually go to the north or northwest side of the island, where one can still find marvellous places untouched by global tourism. Yes, even some of those so-called "hidden beaches", which are no longer completely hidden but at least comparatively secluded.

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A street called La Fabrica runs through the former fisherman's quarter of Santa Catalina, localed right behind the Es Baluard museum and currently considered the epicentre of the city's alternative scene. A wide variety of restaurants and eating establishments can be found along the whole length of La Fabrica. The street simmers with a hipster-like life force in the evenings, feeling a bit like an anthill. But in the middle of the day, when the city settles down for its traditional siesta, only the Ziva eco-bar remains open, offering an infinite variety of tasty cocktails made of freshly squeezed juices. Hidden at the far end of La Fabrica is Patrón Lunares, one of the most trendy eateries of the moment.

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In recent years, stylish boutique hotels have also sprung up in Palma like mushrooms after a rain. One of the most exciting of the new hotels is Brondo Architect. The hotel cum design showroom spans two adjacent buildings, and the interior combines reminiscences of the 17th century with a sense of industrial chic. Brondo Architect has only 14 rooms, which are decorated in a thematic arch that includes music, travel, architecture and the sea as well as a light shot of bohemia. The hotel, designed by a Spanish architect, also serves as an art gallery and platform for a variety of events.

A city of courtyards

If you turn off of Passeig Born, Palma's main shopping street featuring the whole spectrum of familiar consumer brands from Louis Vuitton to the Spanish brand Loewe, you'll find yourself on the small and relatively quiet street called Sant Feliu. Unlike its neighbour, Sant Feliu has a distinctly artistic aura about it. The best known inhabitant of this street is Rialto Living, the 800-square-metre lifestyle megastore selling all sorts of design, fashion and art items as well as books and other things.

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Everything here has been carefully chosen with a skilful curator's hand by the store's owners, a Scandinavian couple who have chosen Mallorca as their home. The store's name has been taken from the building's past, when it was known as the Rialto Theatre. The theatre was built in 1928 and redesigned as Palma's first cinema in the 1950s. Rialto Living is the first lifestyle concept store in Palma and, as the owners have stated in interviews, it came into being from a desire to have a space with all of the things that they themselves had not been able to find in Palma before. Today, Rialto Living is a real find for design-loving tourists and also foreigners who are furnishing their new properties in Palma.

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Nearby is the art gallery of German-born art dealer Gerhardt Braun, who has brought the works of several internationally known artists to Palma. The gallery is located in one of Palma's historical houses of the nobility, a truly majestic building with iron-clad steps and original wooden interior doors that form a charming interplay with the most extreme expressions of contemporary art. A little further is Braun's fashion concept store, the design of which also deserves mention among gourmands of that niche.

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Another few steps further is a completely different Palma, with unbelievably quiet, empty, narrow, cobbled streets full of prominent buildings that were or still are home to the descendants of old aristocratic families. At the heart of these buildings is a courtyard that was once the setting for all the inhabitants' daily rituals. At one time Palma had about 500 such courtyards, and it was known as a city of courtyards. Now only about 150 of them are left. The history of these courtyards stretches back to Roman times, when the Romans built their villas around courtyards that provided shade and a space to be outdoors yet shielded from the gaze of others. When Mallorca was invaded by the Arabs in 902, the new conquerors also left their mark on the city's architecture, as did the Christians in the 13th century, who brought Gothic elements to the city. Courtyard design and building façades were influenced by the Renaissance and Baroque styles in the 15th and 16th centuries, when wealthy neighbours competed with one another in the decorative aspects of their homes. Buildings became symbols of social prosperity, and courtyards also became larger and more ornate. Today, the courtyards still retain a reflection of that era. Some of the old palaces have now been turned into museums, such as Palau March, which was once the residence of a banker named March and now prides itself in its impressive collection of 20th century art. However, not all of Palma's courtyards are open to the public; some can only be glimpsed through iron gates. In one of the courtyards we see two women descending a staircase past majestic columns, just like in a Fellini film. One is an older, elegantly dressed woman; the other is her younger companion, possibly her daughter. There is something so surreal in this scene, as if two parallel lives have momentarily met - one on either side of the gate - but shall never come into contact with each other.

In a way, Mallorca resembles this scene, too - a relatively small island that allows one to experience practically the whole spectrum of impressions possible. From fabulous cliffs along the coast and 20-minute hikes to small bays with beaches to olive and lemon tree plantations, fragrant pine forests and small villages consisting of only a few houses. But Mallorca also has crowded beaches, water parks and all the other standard entertainment attractions. Yet, despite existing so near to each other, these two worlds do not meet, if you so wish. In recent years Mallorca is also being particularly popularised as a gastronomy destination with several Michelin-starred restaurants. One of those stars has been earned by a female, Macarena de Castro, whose family owns the Jardín restaurant located in the island's northern tourist hub of Puerto de Alcúdia and is famous throughout the region. But, no matter how expert the cuisine, everyone agrees that what vacationers on an island most crave is to feast on fish.

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And for this, it would be hard to find a better place (at least in the Palma area) than Casa Fernando, a small seafood bistro located in the fisherman's neighbourhood of Ciudad Jardin. There is little menu to speak of; instead, guests choose their meal from the four-metre-long glass counter where all manner of seafood is displayed on ice. The seafood is prepared in only one way - grilled - and the whole process, which has been perfected to the highest degree, takes place right there behind the counter. Unbelievably tasty meals are prepared in mere minutes, and the only thing to keep in mind is a sense of moderation, otherwise you may end up like the men in the film La grande bouffe.

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Miró, Nadal and others captivated by Mallorca

Who's to say whether it's the sun, sea, mountains, people or blue sky, but there's something about Mallorca that pulls a person in and doesn't let go. After all, even tennis star Rafael Nadal, who has travelled half the world and could afford to live anywhere he wanted to, returns again and again to the island where he was born. He doesn't hide the fact that Mallorca is where he feels most comfortable. In addition, Mallorcans are said to be very family-oriented.

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The island also fascinated the Catalan artist and icon of modernism and surrealism Joan Miró (1893-1983) to the point where he spent the rest of his life there. His foundation, which is located on the outskirts of Palma about a 15-minute drive from the city centre, is not only one of the most inspiring places on the island, but also one of the most beautiful small museums in Europe. It consists of three separate buildings: the main building, designed by Spanish architect Rafaela Moneo and which houses the Miró collection; and two artist's studios, one of which was designed by the well known Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert. Even though Miró was born in Barcelona, his whole life was intertwined with Mallorca. His mother and grandparents were born there, and later he married a woman from the island as well. Miró spent a large part of his life in Paris, where he befriended Picasso, André Breton and Hemingway and became an integral part of that era's art world. He called Paris a "spiritual effervescence", but Mallorca was the place where he could enjoy peace and quiet and passionately devote himself to his work. The island also became a refuge for him during the Second World War. In 1954, already an internationally recognised Spanish artist but disliked by the Franco regime, he decided to move to Mallorca permanently, thereby also fulfilling his dream of having his own studio. The white concrete building designed by Sert literally sparkles in the Mediterranean sun. It has a seemingly undulating, curved roof and geometric bright yellow, blue and red accents and is a true masterpiece of modernism. It is a sort of supplement to Miró's work, celebrating life as heatedly and colourfully as the artist himself did in his paintings, which he painted with a passion until the age of 90. Miró's studio still looks the same as the artist left it when he died. There are unfinished canvases on the easels; a rag full of paint lies on the corner of the table; newspaper clippings, paint tubes, brushes and various objects found during his wanderings through the mountains and beaches of Mallorca, such as rocks, seashells, dried palm leaves and clay figurines, litter the studio....

In 1981, seeing the chaotic construction all around them (nearby Cala Major is the home of multi-storey all-inclusive hotels and concrete apartment buildings) resulting from the mass tourism boom, Miró and his wife farsightedly bequeathed both studios, a part of his artwork, his library and his personal documents to the city. Miró's wish was that, by preserving the environment and studio he had created, he could stimulate a continuation of the artistic process. But, because there was no appropriate building in which to display the artist's impressive collection, it was decided that the foundation needed a new building. This project was brought to fruition after Miró's death, thanks to his widow, who not only donated the land for the construction but also collected the necessary funds by selling several of her husband's paintings at a Sotheby's auction in 1986. In a way, the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró building designed by architect Rafael Moneo heightens the already existing feeling of the property as an oasis amid the urban jungle, with its curved concrete façade serving as a kind of wall between beauty and ugliness. Or, between the Miró foundation and the surrounding architecture stimulated by cheap consumer culture. The building is slightly star-shaped (the star was also a favourite motif in Miró's works), and the roof is covered with water, thereby symbolising the presence of the sea nearby. The foundation's collection currently has about 2000 works by Miró that together reflect the great variety found in the artist's creative process.

Another person captivated by Mallorca was the English poet and writer Robert Graves. He first arrived on the island in 1929 together with his lover at the time, and the two found their way to the small village of Deià at the foot of the Serra Tramuntana mountains on Mallorca's western coast. And that's where he stayed. Graves did later return to England for a short time, only to return to Mallorca, now with his second wife and a crowd of friends and fans in tow. "I found everything I wanted as a writer: sun, sea, mountains, spring-water, shady trees, no politics and a few civilised luxuries such as electric light," he wrote. Graves lived in Deià until his death in 1985, and his house, where the likes of Gabriel García Marquez, Peter Ustinov and Ava Gardner (to whom he even dedicated the poem "Not to Sleep") used to pay him visits, is now a museum. Anaïs Nin, the virtuoso of erotic stories, also spent a summer in Deià; she lived not in Graves' house, but down in the village itself, and every morning she is said to have ridden on the back of a mule to the secluded beach. Later, she devoted a story to her time in Deià, a story about the young fisherman's daughter Maria who enjoyed her first sexual encounter with a foreign couple on that very same beach.

The name Deià dates back to the 10th-13th century, when the Moors conquered Mallorca. The Moors also invented the unique terrace-type irrigation systems that allowed the steep mountainsides to be cultivated, which are now full of olive groves stretching almost the whole length of the coast. Since the 19th century Deià has attracted artists and all types of bohemians, including Archduke Luis Salvador of Austria who, captivated by the beauty of the area's natural environment, bought two properties near Deià: Miramar and Son Marroig. It is believed that his first guests to these properties also became some of the first tourists to the island. However, it was Graves and his entourage that began the avalanche of Deià's popularity, thereby permanently inscribing the name of this small mountain village on the global map of tourism.

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The main road along Mallorca's western coast runs through Deià. On one side of the road is La Residencia, one of the most legendary and beautiful luxury hotels on the island. At one time the hotel belonged to Richard Branson, but now it is a part of the Orient Express chain of hotels. On the other side of the road is Carrer es Puig, the only other street in the village, where you can find a couple of ceramics shops and art galleries. The curvy street leads uphill to a small mountaintop church and cemetery containing Grave's grave. It would be difficult to wish for a more splendid final resting place - blooming mountainsides on one side, and the sea on the other side. And there is little more to the village of Deià. Later, when we step into a ceramics shop, I ask the resident artist, whose plates can be found at La Residencia's restaurant, El Olivo, whether that's really all there is to Deià. She laughs and answers in very good English, "Deià is down there." Down the steep mountainside, in the jumble of small streets and paths that run up onto blooming trees, olive groves and the mountain panorama.

The hot midday air is literally a riot of aromas and colours. The gates leading to the small, light-coloured houses are drowned with vines, and the lemon trees in their gardens are full of bright yellow fruit. There are hardly any people about; having spilled out of their tour busses, the tourists mostly head to the Graves museum and don't go any further than the cafés along the main road. As a result of its global fame, it was predicted that much of Deià's charm would be destroyed, both in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was pillaged by hippies, and also later, when Michael Douglas, Andrew Lloyd Webber and a string of the likewise rich and famous established summer homes here for their families. But nothing of the sort has happened. Maybe only the fact that a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice at a lonely little roadside shop costs an alarming EUR 2.50. But otherwise it seems that nothing can undermine Deià's charm. One of the area's most beautiful beaches, Cala Deià, is also located nearby. The beach is a one-and-a-half-hour walk down the mountain (up which one must later climb) from the centre of the village. If going by car, turn off right after Graves' house. The terraces along the small bay are still a favourite destination for artists. There are no comforts here - no lounge chairs, no showers, etc. - just an unbelievably beautiful view and the clear blue-green waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

The meeting point of the winds

One of the most beautiful coastal roads on Mallorca leads from Deià in the direction of Andratx, a mountain serpentine on whose one side is the majestic Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, while on the other side is the Mediterranean Sea. The road is definitely worth the drive, but it is slow.

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There are breathtaking viewpoints every few kilometres, and it's a sin not to stop for a look. One such scenic point, Sa Foradada, is very near Deià and also hosts a restaurant with a wonderful terrace for sunset hedonists. The place is made even more special by the cliff under it, which resembles the frightful head of a beast with a hole for an eye. The "eye" is 18 metres wide and, as the sun sets, a bright path of light can be seen stretching across the water. Further ahead is Valldemossa, a small town with approximately 2000 inhabitants, narrow streets and light-coloured stone houses made famous by the Polish-born composer Frédéric Chopin, who spent one winter (1838-1839) here together with his lover George Sand and her two children. Their accommodations - two cells at Valldemossa's 13th-century monastery - are the main tourist attraction in the town. The site is now a museum but, unfortunately, the aura of the times and their relationship has almost completely vanished; the museum consists of only a few artefacts associated with the couple, CDs of Chopin's music and Sand's book Winter in Mallorca.

Unlike for Robert Graves, Mallorca never became the land of Chopin's and Sands' dreams, even though both of them hoped it would be an oasis where they could devote themselves completely to their love affair, away from prying eyes in Paris. In reality, things turned out differently than planned. Mallorca's winter was no gift for Chopin's health (he suffered from tuberculosis); the weather was cold and windy. In addition, having found out about his illness, the locals avoided him as if he had leprosy, and, to top it all off, his piano did not arrive from the continent as planned. "As the winter advanced, the gloom froze all my attempts at gaiety and calm ... We felt like prisoners, far from any enlightened help or productive sympathy," later wrote Sand in her book, which is hard to describe as a panegyric to Mallorca. The only thing she could not dispute was the unbelievably beautiful views from the windows of their cells. "It is one of those views that completely overwhelm one, for it leaves nothing to be desired and nothing to the imagination. All that a poet or a painter might dream of, Nature has created here." In large part, Mallorca spelled the end of their relationship. According to legend, Sand's daughter, Solange, who was not in the least pleased by the affair between her mother and Chopin, once put on nun's clothing and appeared to Chopin as a ghost in the night. The composer was later so distressed that he went to confession and asked for forgiveness. He was granted forgiveness on the condition that he never again make love to Sand. It is said the couple never spent another night together.

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On one side of the abbey is a small, shady garden surrounded by hundred-year-old trees that is definitely worth a visit...even if you're unlikely to meet Chopin's shadow there. Valldemossa is less mountainous than Deià and has the feel of a small, charming town full of cafés, galleries and souvenir stores. Ca'n Molinas restaurant is one of the places to enjoy Mallorca's legendary "coca de patata", or, potato cake.

Local mythology tells that even Agatha Christie was in Mallorca for a brief time in 1932, following a long journey through the Near East. Having arrived in Palma, she was shocked at the many British and American tourists who flocked to the island already back then. All three of the best hotels were full, and Christie decided to stay at Hotel Formentor, another of the island's legendary hotels, opened in 1929 by Adan Diehl, an Argentinian billionaire who was fascinated by Mallorca. But Christie never made it to the hotel, because along the way she became excited by the views at Port de Pollença and decided to stay at Hotel Illa d'Or, which was later immortalised in her story Problem at Pollensa Bay. Hotel Formentor was later frequented by Peter Ustinov, and Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and many other famous people have stayed there as well.

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Actually, it is only natural that this region pulled such people in like a magnet. Twenty kilometres from Port de Pollença is Cap de Formentor, Mallorca's northern-most point. The serpentine uphill road leading to it winds through forests one moment and right along the edge of the cliff the next moment, while the breathtaking views move in front of one's eyes like scenes in a movie. The cape's highest point is Fumat Hill (384 m), and the road was built by the Italian engineer Antonio Paretti, who also planned another nerve-wracking route on the island that leads to Sa Calobra Bay on the western coast. At the very end of Cap de Formentor, at the top of the cliff, is a lighthouse built in 1892. The viewpoint half-way to the top was long ago used to monitor the approach of pirate ships. The locals call this "the meeting point of the winds". And it's true, the wind here is of the sort that tears at the seams and blows all thoughts from the mind - all one can do is stand there and surrender to it, all the while eagerly drinking in the views that intoxicate a person in the same way as the serpentine curves down below. According to legend, a local priest and a bus driver once arrived at the gates of Heaven. But only the bus driver was allowed into Heaven, because he had made many more people pray to God than the priest had. And this feeling of still being able to experience two extremes - the glowing remains of ancient legends as well as contemporary life in all its exciting manifestations - is also one of the main reasons it's worth visiting this island.

 

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