chrisparkercommunications: Travel PR October 2015 - Page 6

2 Travel THE SuNDAy TIMES oF MALTA I May 31, 2015 THE SuNDAy TIMES oF MALTA Travel I May 31, 2015 3 Spain The royal palace of the Almudaina. Photos: Chris Parker Experience unexpected luxury in Mallorca Illetas beach. Balearic Island offers more than budget breaks, finds Chris Parker. Abaco bar is in a converted palace – be prepared to pay high prices! As I walk along the promenade, it’s not just the backdrop of palaces and cathedrals that grabs my attention but a vast array of gleaming glamourous yachts lined up in the harbour. It’s the annual boat show in Palma this week, where beautiful models are strolling the boardwalks and wealthy potential customers from all over the world sipping champagne, enjoy the VIP treatment and consider which super-toy to buy next. I’m a little surprised. This is not the Mallorca I remember. Nearby are the resorts of S’Arenal, Magaluf, and Palma Nova, which offer tourists on a budget cheap accommodation guaranteed sun and a place for the kids to splash around. The capital, just a few miles away, may as well be in a different world. I’ve come for a few days to experience this grand, medieval city. Combined with its heavy Moorish influences, it has the charm to rival any Italian Renaissance town. Historically, Palma was the seat of the island’s monarchy, aristocracy and ecclesiastical hierarchy – which explains its plethora of churches, convents and palacios with secret courtyards. For the past 30 years, the city has been enjoying a renaissance. The old town has been returned to its former glory, and with it, new wealth has arrived, bigger and better events are held each summer, and this vibrant city has become a travel destination in its own right. The waterfront is a great place from which to start exploring Palma’s rich history. Across from the calm waters are some of the city’s most significant buildings. The impressive sandstone cathedral and royal palace dominate the skyline. The Cathedral of Santa Maria, more commonly known as La Seu – built on the site of what once was an Arab mosque – costs just €4 for a look inside. Its stunning interior features, designed by Antoni Gaudí and renowned contemporary artist Miquel Barceló, make this unlike any cathedral elsewhere in the world. Although work began in 1300, it wasn’t completed until 1601. Looking up into this vast space, it’s hard not to be enthralled by the elaborate stained glass windows, intricate stonework and decadent splashes of gold. It may have less splendour, but the Royal Palace of La Almudaina is every bit as fascinating, and, if you take a copy of your passport along, it’s free to enter at selected times. Built by Muslim rulers, it was remodelled in the 13th century after Palma fell to the armies of the kingdom of Aragon in 1229 under the command of Jaume I, who returned the island to Christianity. It continued as the seat of the independent kingdom of Mallorca during the reigns of Sancho I and Jaime II. I enter into the King’s Courtyard, which has a view of the private apartment reserved for the Spanish royal family. The chapel is well worth a look before heading inside to admire the vast rooms, beautifully restored ceilings, and huge tapestries. A short walk away are the Banys Arabs (Arab baths). Dating back to the 10th century, they are virtually all that remain of what once was the Arab city of Medina Mayurqa, one of the most important cities in Muslim Spain. From here, it’s easy to spend a whole afternoon exploring the narrow alleys and lanes full of tiny tapas bars and shops selling anything from trendy clothes and shoes to traditional souvenirs of olive wood, pottery and wine. The Mallorcan capital also has a number of fantastic galleries. La Caixa Foundation and the Museum of Spanish Contemporary Art are both free to enter while Es Baluard – the stunning museum of modern art – has a ‘pay what you want’ offer every Friday, where visitors can decide their entrance fee with a minimum of 10 cents. Stopping only for some quick refreshments at one of the city’s best ice cream parlours, Giovanni L, I’m soon back into the modern, Soller, in the northwest, is a favourite of cyclists due to the scenery and mountain roads affluent Palma, strolling along the wide Paseo de Born, a tree-shaded avenue and the city’s social hub, and on to Carrer de Jaume III, which is home to designer names like Loewe, Boss and Vuitton. My home for the next couple of nights is a little further out from the city. A 20-minute bus ride away is the upmarket suburb of Illetas. The imaginatively titled Palma’s Giovanni L ice cream parlour. Hotel Illetas, part of the Roc group, has an enviable position perched right next to the gentle turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. Breakfast is excellent, and ensaimades, Mallorca’s famous pastry, soon become a favourite. Just a five-minute walk away, along a rocky path, is an exclusive golden sandy beach, one of the best in the Bay of Palma. The stylish, relaxed Balneario Illetas beach bar and restaurant is a great spot to sip a cold beer in the shade. With so much more to see on the island, it’s not long before I’m heading back to Palma, and the excellent, cheap transport is a great way to get around. A trip into the city costs me €1. From here, trains and buses connect to the main attractions. one of those is Soller, in the northwest corner of the island, a favourite of cyclists from all over Europe, largely due to the stunning scenery and mountain roads. Chris on the train to Soller. I’ve boarded the vintage train that makes several journeys a day. Fitted out with wood panels and brass lights, it certainly looks the part, as it trundles along through the streets of the city, before passing out into the largely unspoilt hinterland, filled with orange and lemon trees, as well as the odd of flock of sheep passing over the tracks. Soller, known as the Golden Valley, is reached in an hour. I browse the shops and stop for a coffee in the square, before catching a tram that links the town with the pretty harbour, which is surrounded by the imposing Tramuntana mountains and dense woodland. I decide to head back to Palma on the bus via Valldemossa, and I’m glad I did, as we follow tight, twisty mountain roads hugging the coastline. There are plenty of dramatic views, as we swing up and over the mountains, looking down upon mansions with pools and tennis courts, among them, Michael Douglas’s £40 million estate. After a close shave or two with high-speed cyclists, we arrive in Valldemossa. Widely regarded as the prettiest village in Mallorca, I follow the winding, cobbled streets past stout stone houses and impressive villas, down to the monastery. The Real Cartuja is where, in 1838, the 28-yearold Polish composer Fryderyk Chopin lived, and went on to write some of his most acclaimed work. When I arrive back in Palma, it’s time for dinner. No trip to Spain would be complete without trying the tapas, and the capital has a great selection of restaurants. one of the favourites with the locals is La Boveda. Split between a simple, no-nonsense tapas bar at the front and a more formal dining area at the back, it dishes up locally caught fish, grazing plates, and slabs of veal and pork. Sit- uated in the Sa Llotja area, it’s also on the doorstep of bars and clubs. Palma is a big music city, and Jazz Voyeur Club is one of its best venues. As soon as I arrive, a waitress ushers me close to the stage, where I squeeze into a little seat to watch a Spanish Mick Jagger look-alike scream, shout and strut his way through a medley of rock and blues. I round my trip off by heading to the upmarket Abaco. Be warned, the price list is not for the fainthearted. Beers and a glass of wine start at around €10, with a cocktail at €16. But, it’s also quite possibly one of the most extraordinary bars in the world. A 16th-century converted palace, decked with flowers, fruits, and even caged songbirds, it has to be seen to be believed. An unforgettable experience, to finish an unforgettable trip. Follow Chris on Twitter at @_parkermedia