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It may be in the same archipelago as its showier sisters, Ibiza and Mallorca, but Menorca is cut from a very different cloth. The least developed of the Balearics, it’s an emerald beauty bathing in a blue, blue ocean. The pace of life is so relaxed it’s practically horizontal; expect to bump into English families who have been visiting for generations and bronzed farmers ambling through fields of hay bales rather than gurning partygoers. As for the beaches, think secret coves lapped by pellucid waters, crescent moons of powder at the foot of towering cliffs and forget-me-not blue bays filled with sleek speedboats. Its two primary cities are as good looking as each other and you’ll want to spend at least a day exploring each, camera in hand. There’s Anglo-Spanish Mahon, with its gin distillery and staggering natural harbour lined by 18th-century mansions and Ciutadella, an atmospheric maze where the tempting smell of tapas drifts out of bars that dance with candle light. Luckily, nothing is too far for a day trip and the gentle pace of island life extends to the laid-back drivers, which makes exploring by car a breeze.
A petite townhouse tucked away behind the Hernandez Sanz museum in the heart of Mahon’s old town, this quirky boutique hotel is ideal for a weekend city break. The five airy bedrooms draw inspiration from the life of Telmo, the adventurer who discovered the island, and each has a different theme. The African room includes a bust of a lion and a woven headboard, while the English room boasts vintage prints of Coldstream guards but original features such as exposed beams and traditional tiled floors keep them rooted firmly in Menorca. Enjoy breakfasts under the shade of a parasol in the sunny courtyard garden.
Eight bedrooms are as romantic as they come with canopied beds and a nostalgic palette of blue and white, but it’s the rooftop and basement where you’ll really fall in love with this charming offering. Head to the terrace at sunset to enjoy a glass of mineral-rich local wine alongside views of the town’s gothic cathedral and red roofs before descending to the moodily lit underground pool for an evening swim.
In the rugged countryside halfway between Mahon and Ciutadella, Ferreries is a tangle of whitewashed cottages draped in clouds of bougainvillea. This eclectic hotel may be in an old-fashioned former greengrocer’s, but it’s anything but traditional. French-born owner Stephanie has an eye for off-the-wall art and contrasting fabrics and has created a bohemian haven filled with house plants and photogenic corners. With just six stylish bedrooms and plenty of areas in which to relax, you’ll feel as if you are staying in the home of your coolest friend.
This tapas bar on Mahon’s Plaça Bastió is the sort of gem you search for on holiday but rarely find. Go after 10PM, order a vermouth and bitters on ice and make believe that you are one of the locals. The tapas are top drawer and incredibly reasonably priced; crunch through crispy cod croquettes, savour sobrosado (spreadable local sausage seasoned with paprika) on toast and try mellow local cheese drizzled with honey. The enormous seating area sprawls out into the square, so it’s ideal for people watching too.
Within easy stroll of the beaches of Binimel-La and La Pregonda, this seaside tavern is the perfect place to escape noon’s big burn. Clouds of cigar smoke and bursts of laughter waft out of the shady garden, which hosts a regular crowd of sun-wizened farmers and surfers escaping Mahon for the afternoon. The Spanish omelette is fluffy, while stuffed squid served in velvety tomato sauce is a delicious taste of the Mediterranean. Order a cold beer and settle in – nothing moves fast in this dream-like place, including the waiters.
Menorca’s culinary calling card is caldereta de langosta – lobster simmered until succulent in a rich stock flavoured with parsley and served in chunks with the shell still on. Café Balear specialises in the dish, serving up an excellent version in their elegant yet informal dining room. It’s particularly good between April and August, when lobsters are in season and you can eat on the terrace, just metres from the water which the crustaceans were plucked from just hours before.
When dusk falls, locals and visitors head to the enormous harbour to sip pomadas (gin and lemonade) clinking with ice and nibble on salty olives. Start at Latitud 40, a favourite among yachties as it’s right on the marina, then head to Asorbos which is always buzzing and serves delicious tapas alongside a decent selection of local wines. Next up is Sa Falua, a sophisticated cocktail bar with a leafy courtyard that’s lively until 3AM. A short stroll from the harbour on the Plaça de la Constitució, Sa Bodega is an atmospheric wine and vermouth bar. Bag one of the tables outside and watch people drift in and out of the historic square.
Search #Menorca on Instagram and this somewhat gobsmacking bar in a natural cave halfway up a sheer cliff face will appear time and again. It’s an unbeatable place for sundowners but it’s after 11AM that it really comes into its own, when all the island’s beautiful people gather to dance to beats courtesy of a visiting roster of international DJs until sunrise. If you’re with a group of friends or it’s a special occasion, reserve one of the private terraces which have white cabanas and unbeatable sea views.
Roll off the beach and into this simple seaside bar to enjoy a cooling sangria while the water almost laps your feet. A good mix of holiday makers and locals as well as excellent value drinks combine to make sure there is always a vibe in here – particularly when buskers wade across to perform in the shallows.
The island’s coastline is scalloped with more than 70 beaches, from Cala En Porter, a horseshoe of talcum soft sand adorned with lines of parasols to clandestine coves best reached by boat (you can charter licence-free vessels from all over Menorca using an app called Nautal). In the north of the island, Cala Pregonda is a hidden paradise flanked by shortbread-coloured rocks haunted by a small colony of nudists. On the southeast tip, Alcaufar is a sleepy village with a sheltered beach and beautiful swimming. Hire a kayak from Menorca en Kayak to paddle out past the headland to see the Torre d’Alcaufar, a squat Martello tower that tells the story of the British colonisation of the island from 1708-1802.
Menorca has been a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1993 and it’s covered in a spider’s web of walking trails that lead to some of its most beautiful and least discovered spots. Join the Cami de Cavalls (an ancient footpath) at Es Grau and follow it through the S’Albufera National Park, where butterflies with wings the colour of citrus fruit flit through forests of Aleppo pines and olive trees. There are plenty of secret swimming spots to cool off in along the way. The barrancs (epic ravines that run from the centre to the south coast of the island) are home to an incredible variety of wild flowers and rare birds such as sombre Egyptian vultures.
Sure the coast is beautiful (really, really beautiful) but to get a sense of the island’s real identity it’s worth peeling yourself off your sun lounger, renting a car (Ok Rent a Car allows you to book without a credit card) and setting off to discover the bucolic countryside and traditional villages of its rugged interior. Stop for a jitter-inducing coffee at Bar Peri in Es Migjorn Gran then pull in at Ferreries atmospheric main square and join the locals for a drink at Bar Isis. Don’t be shy to pull over if you see a cheese farm; locals are rightly proud of Menorcan cheese and buying straight from farm shops means you are supporting independent farmers.
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