Can simply swapping the cala-strewn southeast for a Mallorca villa in the mountainous north give kids a broader perspective on the island? Seonaid McGill heads for the hills to find out.
Last time we flew over Mallorca, my youngest daughter looked out of the plane window and said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know it was an island.’
Her sisters didn’t even try to conceal their delight, carefully squirrelling that away for a future, ‘remember the time…’. I felt a bit less thrilled. How had so many holidays here failed to impart even the most basic geography? Too many calas and too little learning, that’s how.
Not this time. This time, turning our backs on the southeast’s notched coast, we were heading for the hills. Almost as far as the most northerly end of the Serra de Tramuntana, where Mallorca’s mountainous spine tumbles into the sea. Almost, but not quite.
In fact, we were tucked off a tiny road close to Pollença with silvery mountains front and back, olive groves populated by spindly sheep all round, and nothing remotely touristy for miles, unless you count the curiously chirpy hikers.
A Mallorca villa that feels more like a gift than a holiday home
This is the Mallorca where starry types have secret houses, and towns like Pollença make you work for their big reveal – or at least walk a bit. Even well-documented Alcudia old town doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve, although the grand medieval walls are hard to miss.
So our villa, Camp d’Avall, was a perfect fit from its prettily whitewashed walls and a painted sun dial on the façade to the neat cobbled courtyard and the way it confidently hid a fairly astonishing pool, just out of sight, behind a sweet little gate.
There was a definite sense of the owners having simply gifted us their much loved family home for a week. Fragile Siurell (traditional Mallorcan ceramic whistles) sat on shelves, entirely unprotected. Bedrooms came with antique tiled floors and hand-painted ceilings. Lazy gecko sunned themselves on the terrace.
Tiny casement windows looked over those olive groves. And, albeit flawlessly restored and traced through with immaculate taste; everything, from the crisp, white bedlinen to the chilled wine in the fridge, said welcome, please make yourself at home. How could we not?
What to do when the Balearic weather doesn’t play nice
Of course autumn in Mallorca can normally be relied on for sun, but apparently I’d arrived in Palma with my familiars: low-hanging cloud and soak-you-to-the-skin drizzle.
At least this was the story my kids’ accusatory eyes were telling over the two wet days that kicked off our week. My narrative is slightly different: would we have wandered so far and wide little girls if the sun had been shining and we’d been unable to ignore the siren call of the villa pool?
Valldemossa is Mallorca’s prettiest town
And it wasn’t all bad. In Valldemossa the sun briefly broke cover. So we may have failed, yet again, to visit the Chopin Museum or the grand 14th century Cartuja. Choosing instead to do aimless wandering round possibly Mallorca’s prettiest town, petting very-much-not-stray cats and dreaming of a time when we’ll live here, with our own Santa Catalina house tile and a considerable private income: nowhere like Valldemossa comes cheap.
But Cala Sant Vicenç delivers the drama
We were less lucky in Cala Sant Vicenç: closer to our Mallorca villa, but decidedly not clement on the weather front.
Although it did gift us a glimpse of Mallorca’s Mediterranean in an unusually foul mood, and on-beach entertainment in the form of normally nonchalant lifeguards madly whistling swimmers out of the sea while being totally blanked by local kids; casually riding waves and serving cheek, like it was just another Monday.
Drive to Cap de Formentor, just don’t trust Google Maps
But it was our last dreary day drive that really stood out. Everywhere you go in the northeast, you’ll see signs to Cap de Formentor: billed as the best view in Mallorca. And, since it’s only a 26 minute drive from Port de Pollença, who were we to argue?
Longest 26 minutes of my entire life. Straight road on the map, is actually a snaking, two-way, sliver, barely wide enough for one car, and nobody’s taking it easy, except us. We’re taking it so easy, goats perched by the roadside are openly mocking us; a line of traffic is building up to our rear, and the driver behind clearly shook his fist at one point.
Yes, I’ll admit, the view from the Cap is even better than promised, and possibly worth the whiteknuckler. But if you go it alone, heed my top tip for the return journey: wait until the biggest car (or preferably a bus) is leaving, tuck in behind it and stay there until you reach Port de Pollença.
A Mallorca villa in the mountains doesn’t deprive you of beaches
Speaking of Port de Pollença, that brings us neatly to how different the beaches are in the north.
It’s not so much the coast for hidden away cala, soaring cliffs and parasol pines. The sands here tend to stretch for longer and what you miss in fruit sellers peddling sliced watermelon, is more than made up for by flashy seaside resorts bewitching you with glittery late-night tat markets and buy-one-get-200-free bargains.
No judgement from me. I’m as much of a magpie as my kids, and can you ever have enough five euro sunglasses? That said, the likes of Port d’Alcudia and Port de Pollença can probably afford to be a bit egalitarian down by the sea, because their old towns really have nothing to prove.
We’re spellbound all over again by achingly pretty Pollença
In the spirit of full disclosure, we already knew Pollença old town, only last time we visited what we didn’t know was not to drive into the centre. The upshot was getting our hired car stuck in a tiny street, good and glared at by the locals, and high tailing it out of town before we breached the interior. The silver lining to that drive-of-shame was discovering nearby Alcudia: very much not a sloppy second.
This time, since our Mallorca villa was practically a neighbour, it felt only right to give Pollença another go, on foot. Turns out that walking is kind of a thing in the quaint old town, where the Carrer del Calvari stairway climbs up 365 steps from the square to a tiny chapel on what was once known as Puig de les Forques or Mount of Gallows.
According to the excellent area guide back at Camp D’Avall, this sinister title was bestowed by the Knights Templar who were fond of hanging folks up here in full view of the town. These days it’s the preserve of smiley guitar players and climb-stunned tourists – they don’t make pilgrims like they used to.
My advice? Take it easy. The Carrer’s broad steps aren’t too tough on little legs, there are plenty of low walls shaded by cypress trees for rests and, if you like a challenge, count the enormous crosses along the way. Spoiler alert: there are 14, but you probably guessed that.
Then, right at the top-top, to the east of the mount, you’ll find out why it was worth getting a bit red and sweaty: a view of northern Mallorca to take your breath away, if you’ve any left to take.
Don’t ignore the south, it’s an easy drive from the mountains
Mountain life was stealing our hearts no doubt, but we also had a car with unlimited mileage, and an undeniable hankering for a north/south jaunt. Turned out the combo of strong sun and our pretty pool was hard to leave, so we didn’t arrive in Cala Petita on the southeast coast until late afternoon; just as most other families were heading off the beach to forage for pizza in Cala d’Or.
Letting you in on the secret of Cala Petita
Left with a practically empty sea and just enough sunlight, there was an easy hour snorkelling to be had, and quite a bit of water-treading thanks to the feet-biting fish.
If you can tear yourself away from the north, Petita is often overlooked and it also has the Cala Petita restaurant where they’ll serve you salty, grilled sardines and tiny cheesecakes by the shore, as the sun goes down and Mallorca’s little lighthouses blink to life along the coast.
So did the north broaden my kids’ horizons? Well, the Cap de Formentor drive left its mark… ‘Remember the goats?’ ‘Yeah, so cute.’ I tried.
How to plan a Mallorca villa holiday
How to get there
Direct UK flights to Mallorca from 2 hours, 15 minutes
Where to stay
Camp d’Avall, Pollença, sleeps 10, from £1,598 per week