A sunny Sunday morning. I’m lying by a pool, eyes closed, limbs loosened by bright, hot sunshine. I can smell pine trees, jasmine, freshly hosed gravel. Down in the valley, a forlorn church bell, a cockerel crowing, the fluk-fluk of someone walking past in flip-flops. And then this: “So she had tummy, breast and thigh reduction – there were all these tubes coming out of every bit of her …”
When I was at school, Mallorca was where people with more money than us went to get a tan at half-term. I had no idea where it was – only that it was always hot and that the sun-kissed girl who sat next to me in Maths had an extremely covetable Biro which you could tip back and forwards to see the word “Majorca” slide around in a liquid world of its own.
When, years later, I could afford to holiday abroad, I chose Italy, Greece, Spain – but never that part of Spain. And I never really thought I’d go to Mallorca. Then one day I discovered a large sepia photo in a junk shop – a hypnotic, Gaudi-esque villa, straight out of a Buñuel movie. “It’s somewhere in Palma,” said the man who sold it to me.
Somewhere in Palma. As the years passed and this villa – hanging there on my study wall – grew both less and more strange to me, I thought: what if I could really go and find it? Push open that tall, wrought iron gate and go up those cool white steps and knock on that mysterious shuttered door. Because somewhere in my head I still nourished a vague sense that the whole of Mallorca could be fitted on a Biro. How hard, then, could it be to locate my villa?
Arriving at Palma’s Son Sant Joan Airport, I realise I’ve never seen so many girls in pink furry stetsons who, when I nip to the loo, enter the cubicles in pairs, just like when I was 17 and trying to be out on the town. So far so depressingly package tourism. But other things are exactly as I’d imagined. It’s hot. And the sky is achingly blue. And there are shutters and palm trees. And the Gran Hotel Son Net – lodged halfway up the Tramuntana mountains in Puigpunyent, a comfortable 20-minute drive from Palma – is pretty close to paradise.
Our rooms (yes, plural) are vast, including a sitting room with wall to ceiling views over the panoramic hillside. We kick off our shoes and run around on the thick pile carpet, feeling like kids who’ve got away with something – then settle down to eat fried squid and salad outside, surrounded by dark yew arches, against which white roses and chalky blue plumbago flowers glow like a painting.
Is there anything as blissful as leaving London at crack of a chill grey dawn and eating lunch outside in the brilliant sunshine of a different climate? “The only trouble with hotels like these,” Jonathan sighs as he pours me more cava, “is it’s so bloody hard to tear yourself away to go exploring.”
But we only have a three-day weekend and Mallorca, of course, is far bigger than I ever dreamed – 347 miles of winding, breathtaking coastline. We can’t do it all. Choices have to be made. When we told friends where we were going, we were overwhelmed with tips. Go to Deia, said one. Don’t miss the caves, said another. You absolutely have to go to the Saturday market at Alaro, said another.
We decide to ignore all of this (because if Deia – long-time haven of artists and writers and burial place of Robert Graves – is so famously wonderful, then won’t most people already know about it?) and head instead in the opposite direction down the west coast, to the little fishing port of Andratx.
What are we looking for? I suppose we want the illusion of making our own discoveries – the possibility that we might just find something beautiful and unexpected that no one’s already told us about. Something, in fact, a lot like the tiny Café sa Placa in Galilea, perched halfway up the mountain, where we stop for coffee and absorb the stomach-lurching view. No one there but us and an astonished little grey tabby who pauses, mid-paw lick, clearly unused to customers.
After lunch in friendly, sunny Andratx – black paella at one of many tiny fish restaurants on the rocks, where this time a golden retriever entertains us by joyously diving down to retrieve bricks from the seabed – we head back, this time along the motorway, into Palma. Our guidebook promises that “patrician mansions line many of these streets” and OK, I do still cherish a faint, ludicrous hope of stumbling on my villa.
But we never seem to see a single one of these patrician mansions, instead weaving our way in and out of the crowds of tourists on Passeig des Born (home to every shop from Zara to Carolina Herrera) and Placa del Rei Joan Carles, where we stop off for tea at Bar Bosch, only to find it heart-sinkingly full of thirsty British tourists just like us.
We could explore the cathedral whose ethereal, lit-up Gaudi-designed face dominates the city, or else visit Es Baluard, the Museum of Modern Art, nestled in the newly revamped old city walls. But instead we decide to get ourselves off the obvious tourist streets, in the hope of discovering somewhere more typically Mallorcan for dinner.
We ask an elderly man in tweeds and pork pie hat for directions and he straightaway bears out the theory we’re already developing, that Mallorcans are easily the friendliest people we’ve ever come across on holiday – helpful, solicitous, fantastically good at English and genuinely welcoming. Tourists are made to feel like a blessing here, not a curse. This gentleman not only suggests a restaurant we might like but insists on escorting us halfway there.
And Restaurante C’an Carlos is actually everything we hoped for – a small, stone and polished wood restaurant on three floors tucked away up a cobbled alley. The food is earthy and delicious and the local wine is a bit like retsina only easier to drink. At our table by the door, we’re diverted by the endless parties of men who come sauntering in, as well as by the sad-looking maîtresse d’, who flicks gloomily through her under-counter copy of Hola! as if it might offer a single answer to all life’s dilemmas.
Meanwhile her oil portrait, clearly painted in fresher, younger days, smiles shyly from behind the bar and we spend the rest of dinner making wistful guesses as to what might be getting her down. “Ditched by her married lover?” I suggest. “Or maybe she’s sick of all these men,” says Jonathan. “Have you realised you’re the only other woman in this place?”
We finish the evening in a place that couldn’t be more different: Bar Thirteen, with its wine-lined walls and jewel-coloured banquettes, is young, groovy and boasts an exceptionally effervescent waiter, but is (thank God) also full of Mallorcans.
We thought three days on this island would be enough, but it turns out we’ve barely begun.
“Are we absolutely sure we don’t want to go to Deia?” I ask Jonathan, because I have a strong sense that that’s where the interesting shops might be. “Portixol’s much closer,” he replies, adding that he’s a bit sick of seeing me clutch the dashboard as he drives. I long to take the little toytown railway that runs through the mountains from Palma up to Port de Soller on the coast. But, “I’m not spending a day on a train,” he says.
And so instead we visit Portixol – a gloriously shabby little port just on the edge of Palma, with quaint roads and bars, green, blue and rose-coloured shuttered houses and kids rollerblading past the sea.
That night, for a change, we eat back in Puigpunyent, and it’s fine, but with its single restaurant and two simple bars, we decide the only thing the hotel really lacks is a proper village. Still, the walk back up the slope, complete with crickets, goat bells and moonlight, is pretty unforgettable and, back in paradise, cava is served outside on the terrace overlooking the pool.
The air is heavy with jasmine and the slight wetness that signals the end of summer. I know that a few days from now it will seem as if we were never here.
And back at home, that’s exactly what happens. Except I take another look at the picture on my study wall and a thought occurs to me, the obvious thought. I bet it’s in Deia. We went to so many places except the one obvious place – the cool place, the beautiful place – and I bet that’s where it is. But then again, it’s only two hours away. We can always go back.
Julie Myerson’s book ‘The Lost Child’ is published by Bloomsbury
Julie Myerson was a guest of Kirker Holidays (www.kirkerholidays.com, +44 (0)20 7593 1899). She stayed at the Grand Hotel Son Net, a short drive from Palma up to the village of Puigpunyent. www.sonnet.es
She drove down to Andratx for lunch and chose Restaurante Rocamar because it was almost on the edge of town and her husband could watch a swimming dog. (www.rocamardorada.com). On the way she stopped for coffee at Café Sa Placa in Galilea and watched the priest run late to church.
For a wood-panelled evening meal, try Ca’n Carlos on Carrer de S’Aigo, off Traversa Jaume III in Palma (tel: +34 971 713 869).
To kill time on the way to the airport, sit in any of the bars at Portixol and watch the world go by. www.portixol.com
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