BY: TERRY WARD
Often likened to a miniature Barcelona, Mallorca’s lively capital city of Palma de Mallorca (locals just call it Palma) could keep you busy enjoying yourself and basking in the Balearic good life for days on end. But to delve deeper on this magical Spanish island that inspired artists and writers like Joan Miró and Robert Graves—and continues to be a vacation hot spot for Europeans escaping cold, northerly climes—hit the road and the rails to visit three quintessential Mallorcan towns.
ROLL LONG THE VINTAGE RAILS TO SÓLLER
You could drive from Palma to the picturesque little town of Sóller, less than 20 miles away, in just under an hour. But it’s far more fun to roll north by rail aboard an old fashioned wooden train, the Ferrocarril de Sóller, along narrow gauge tracks that depart from near the Plaza de España in Palma. The route follows a beautiful mountain route through olive and citrus groves, through various tunnels and across multiple bridges. Once you’re out of Palma, the landscapes become wild as you tunnel through the Sierra de Alfàbia range and traverse a series of switchbacks through the mountainous terrain. A highlight comes when you cross the “Cinc Ponts” viaduct. From the open deck on the back of the train, you can get a beautiful photograph as it makes a slight turn to cross the bridge and you catch a glimpse of the five arched openings below. The route terminates in the town of Sóller, surrounded by orange and lemon groves, where you can explore the narrow streets and stop to sip a fresh orange juice while people watching at one of the cafes lining the Plaça Constitució, the town’s scenic main square. If you still have some energy to explore, hop the historic electric tram (Mallorca’s first, inaugurated in 1913) for the 20-minute ride to the pretty Port de Sóller, where more restaurants and shops hug a calm bay.
SPEND THE DAY IN DEIA
A tumble of ochre-colored houses, the hilltop enclave of Deià overlooks Mallorca’s northwest coast about 45 minutes north of Palma. And, if you feel instantly smitten by the cascade of rooftops down the mountainside and the striking contrast of earthy greens and browns with the Mediterranean’s blinding blues, you’re not the first. Everyone from Andrew Lloyd Webber and the poet Robert Graves to Bowie and the Beatles have delighted in Deià, a town of just 700 souls that draws a disproportionate amount of artists to bask in million-dollar views of the Serra de Tramuntana mountains and coast. You could kill the whole afternoon just browsing ceramic and painting ateliers and chatting with the international community of artists who find their inspiration here. Make time to sit at an outdoor table surrounded by mandarin trees while devouring a plate of paella at Restaurante Sa Vinya, followed, perhaps, by a dip in the sea at Cala Deià. You can park your car right near the small cove with a pebbly beach and get ready to wade out into what might possibly be the most sparkling aquamarine sea you’ve ever seen.
A VERY VALLDEMOSSA VISIT
It’ll take you just 15 minutes to drive south of Deià to the village of Valldemossa, a spectacular little spot sandwiched into a valley that oozes old world charm and was the wintering grounds of Polish composer Frédéric Chopin in the 19th century. The town’s name actually comes from the Moors (it means Musa Valley, named after the village’s original Moorish landowner), whose efforts at using terraces to cultivate the steep terrain during the 10th century and onward can still be seen on the mountainsides. These days, artists, writers and their ilk are still drawn to Valldemossa. As in Deià, there are many artist studios to explore, and you could while away the afternoon just strolling the cobblestone streets and seeing what the day brings. When you’re feeling peckish, pop into one of the town’s many bakeries to try Cocas de Potatas, a spongy and delicious local pastry made using mashed potatoes. Just outside of town, stop off for views of the sprawling countryside estate at Son Moragues . The property dates to the 14th century and was once home to an Austrian archduke. Today, it produces exquisite organic olive oil that you can sample during tastings that include a stroll through the olive groves (be sure to book in advance). Don’t leave without purchasing a bottle to bring back with you for when you want to enjoy a taste of Mallorca on your home plate.