Islas Baleares - Lush and Peaceful

Don Harris | January 2010

There are a few more pleasant ways to 'get away from it all' than to go to the Balearic Islands, off-season. I have heard of hordes of tourists coming in the middle of the summer, but the times that I have visited there in the off-season, it has been a delight.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful times of the year in Mallorca and the other islands is late January through early March when the islands are blanketed with almond trees in full bloom. The effect is breathtaking.

We recently had a delightful weekend in Palma de Mallorca and met some of the local people. One of them was a wood carver and his son who lived in a small village, another was the family of a retired Spanish naval officer who had family in the area.

Other than Castillian Spanish, the normal language spoken throughout the nation of Spain, one will run into the Mallorcan language, which is heavily influenced by Catalan, the language based around Barcelona. It is viewed as a dialect of Spanish by those who do not live in the area, but the locals claim it as a language unto itself. Without getting into all the endless and prideful discussions, the regular tourist who speaks Spanish will find Mallorcan close to unintelligible, and Catalan slightly easier to comprehend. 

Palma itself has a spectacular cathedral in a dramatic setting on a hill overlooking a beautiful harbor. It is not a particularly pure architecture, but rather an example of exuberant late Gothic with lots of slender flying buttresses. Inside, the apse and side chapels have some interesting enhancements by Antoní Gaudi and other 20th-century artists.

The many tree filled plazas in the semi-tropical city are very appealing. There is even a small tram, which leads out into the mountains. The railroad cars are wooden and beautifully crafted. The experience brings back memories of 100 years ago.

The town the tram leads to in the mountains is Sóller, one of those delightful mountain towns built on a steep slope. The day we visited there, there was an infectious feeling of delight as I saw fruits and vegetables in the municipal market virtually spilling out into the streets!

This particular town was built high above the ocean to protect it from Moorish pirates who regularly attacked the small port below. In fact, one of the town’s most interesting events is the annual Moros and Cristianos reenactment. Some of the townspeople dress as Moorish sailors or pirates and land in the port below. The struggle between the Christians and Moors continues for several hours until, according to tradition, the tables were turned due to the attack of strong and resolute women who repulsed the invading Moors as they approached the hilltop town. In one of the squares there is even a statue celebrating the women's bravery.

There is a plethora of remarkably fresh fish, juicy citrus, crunchy almonds, cracked olives and olive oil. The olives and olive oil are unique to the island and have an almost acrid note to them, but once you start eating them, it is hard to stop. The olive trees are now protected by the government so that they will not be indiscriminately destroyed.

The Balearics are particularly famous for sobrasada, a spreadable sausage which shows up all over town in different manifestations, as well as many variations of paella and Arroz a Banda -- a variation of paella which concentrates on the preparation of the very rich seafood broth, which takes hours to prepare. One of the islands, Minorca, produces Mahón, a mellow buttery cheese from the milk of the herds of cows which roam the island.

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