Postcard from Palma de Mallorca I

You may recall that while my birthday was celebrated with a half-day in Toulouse during a business trip, my beloved’s merited a long weekend in Palma. I confess this was largely because Easyjet had just started to fly from Nice to Palma and he’d booked two return flights for Euros 84,00. Consequently I’d splashed out on a suite in a 5 star hotel in Palma Old Town along with a birthday dinner in its Michelin starred restaurant. What can I say? He’s thoroughly spoilt.

Unbelievably this was my maiden trip to Mallorca. My parents and sisters had visited the island in 1971 while I’d been improving my French, in France, with my penfriend. Thereafter, tales of Brits behaving badly in Magaluf had, in my mind, unfairly turned the entire island into one big Club 18-30. My beloved had visited briefly about 10 years ago, while sailing in the area with his then boss, but hadn’t really done the place justice with the description of his trip. I was prepared to be surprised.

On the day we travelled there was a slight hiccup, easily remedied, when I discovered my beloved had failed to book a hire car. We had an evening flight which put us at the hotel around 21:00 where, upon arrival, we gratefully sank into the plush low seating in the bar and allowed ourselves to be revived with an Aperol Spritz and a few tapas – heaven!

We were staying in a sensitively converted mission where a few of its former inhabitants were still in situ, though they were neither seen nor heard during our stay. Use of a restricted palette of colours and materials in the conversion had preserved the building’s sense of peace and tranquility and left the rooms feeling light and airy.

After a good night’s sleep in our spacious suite, followed by a copious breakfast, we were ready to walk all around Palma. And walk we did, covering some 15km while the sun shone and the mercury headed well above 20C.

We loved the maze of Moorish narrow streets in the historic district between Plaça de Cort and the seafront. We headed in the direction of La Seu, Palma’s famous and spectacular sandstone cathedral, and there was something surprising around every corner. A lot of the old mansion properties have been renovated and are now hotels, cafes and restaurants, although there’s still more to be revived. Within a 10 minute walk you’ll see all sorts of architectural styles which gives a sense of the history of Palma going back well over 1,000 years. Finally, you emerge from this labyrinth of lanes and suddenly the bay opens up before you. It’s quite magical.

It’s worth noting that the hugely impressive cathedral took an astounding 600 years to build, and due to its size and placement on the old city walls, is almost impossible to miss. It boasts one the world’s largest stained glass rose windows, and some of its 20th-century renovations were undertaken by famous Modernist architect, Antoni Gaudi. The cathedral stands on the site of a Moorish-era mosque, meaning that anyone kneeling at its altar is facing Mecca rather than Jerusalem.

Palma was particularly busy around its main tourist spots largely as a consequence of the numbers disgorged from those supersized cruise ships,. You know they’re the ones which look as if they’re about to topple over at any moment. There were three parked up in Palma’s port, plus there was a boat show in town and a cycle sportif, Mallorca312.

Palma’s labyrinthine streets provided some shade though we still needed regularly refreshing, taking refuge in some of the other main hotels’ shady gardens. Knowing we were having a multi-course tasting menu for dinner, we grazed on a few tapas over lunchtime to keep our strengths up.

Footsore and weary, back at base, while I dallied in the library, my beloved enjoyed a private pampering session in the hotel’s spa. Much refreshed we enjoyed our multi-course tasting menu. Mine was vegan while my beloved tucked into lobster, sea bass, fois gras and baby lamb. We both enjoyed our respective menus but did feel that on some of the dishes the chef had tried “too hard” and there were elements superfluous to our overall enjoyment of the dish.

We opted for the suggested wine pairing which gave us an opportunity to taste a generous serving with each course, all of which were Spanish, many local and mostly new wines for us. Luckily dinner took three hours otherwise I might have been rather unsteady on my feet on leaving the table. But after another good night’s sleep, we were ready for more sightseeing!

The Food in Spain

As I live in the south of France you might assume I’m surrounded by lots of wonderful restaurants. In that respect, we’re very fortunate but we’ve sadly also had plenty of indifferent or badly cooked meals where, for example, I’ve offered to go into the kitchen to show their so-called chef how to cook an omelette!

My favourite type of restaurant is what I’d call a neighbourhood restaurant. One where you can be assured of a reasonably priced, well cooked meal, using fresh, seasonal local produce. I’m not expecting michelin stars just great crowd pleasers – the perfect omelette, steak and chips, grilled fish, mussels you get the gist.

We’re lucky to have a number of these types of establishment where we live equally are a number of places that give French cuisine a bad name – overpriced, poorly cooked from frozen ingredients. Fortunately, even though these establishments tend to prey on tourists rather than locals, there’s not enough tourist traffic and they eventually (thankfully) go out of business. As a consequence, I cannot confirm you’ll never have a bad meal in France.

However, I have never had a bad meal in Spain where I’ve eaten in everything from local, workmen’s cafes – the Spanish equivalent of a greasy spoon – to michelin starred temples of gastronomy. Lunchtime menus starting at 9 Euros a head for three courses, water, wine, coffee and bread are not uncommon outside of major towns where they typically rise to 13-15 Euros per head. Where we live in France – admittedly not the cheapest place – we can’t get a main course for much less than 11 Euros, let alone three courses with all the frills. Even in deepest France, I’ve never seen anything to match it in terms of prices.

Sea bass on a bed of spiced noodles with parsnip puree and crisps
Chocolate fondant with orange egg

Here’s the main course and dessert from a three-course meal including coffee and bread, though not drinks, from a very unassuming restaurant in a small rural town 30 minutes out of Valencia. We’d woofed down the delicious starters before I even thought to whip out my iPhone. The set menu was Euros 12.50 a head! It not only looked wonderful but tasted it too. I’d have happily paid more for food of that quality. And, to be honest, it’s not untypical of the fare (see below) we’ve enjoyed all over Spain at very modest prices. And don’t get me started on breakfast, you’ve got to love a place that serves crème caramel and cheesecake for breakfast, haven’t you?

Where and how do I find these restaurants? Generally, we either drive past and I demand my beloved halt the car so I can check out the menu and the restaurant, or I wander past. Often it’s just my finely honed sixth sense. My beloved claims I’m like a truffle hound. I like to think it’s years of developing my craft at my father’s knee.