The small but perfectly formed Balearic Island of Menorca offers families a chance to slow down and get back to nature. Holly Tuppen seeks out its family hotspots
Since being declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve back in 1993, Menorca has been putting nature and local heritage first. Rightfully so; Spain’s easternmost island is not only the home of mayonnaise, Xoriguer gin and Mahon cheese, it contains five national reserves, hosts one of Spain’s liveliest fiestas, Festes de Sant Joan, and has the highest concentration of megalithic monuments in the Mediterranean.
While it doesn’t have Ibiza’s boho-chic glitz, or Majorca’s photogenic mountain passes, its untouched landscapes and home-grown flavours are guaranteed to leave you hooked.
From the barren cliffs of Cap de Cavelleria to the calm, azure waters of Cala Mitjana, with such varied vistas on offer, it’s hard to believe that Menorca is no bigger than the Isle of Wight.
Sandwiched between the quaint port towns of Mahon (East) and Cuitedella (West), the hinterland’s rolling hills, ancient settlements and rambling farmhouses are divided by old stone walls and wild-olive wood fences. Manageable distances and traffic-free roads make exploring easy for restless legs, while the island’s inherently slow pace welcomes those that want to stop too.
Horse-riding or walking Camí de Cavalls. The recently restored around-the-island coastal path, Camí de Cavalls has been transporting goods and people around Menorca since Medieval times. Today, it’s a popular way to appreciate the vivid colours and fauna that the island is so famous for. With plenty of options to hop on and off, you can tailor your jaunt according to leg-size – the stretch between Cala Binimel-la and Cala Pregonda is a beautiful 30-minute hike, and Cala d’Algaiarens to Cala Morell is one of the easiest sections. For more adventurous families, horse-riding is a big deal in Menorca, and everything from one-hour to week-long tours are on offer. The route is free to access. Organised horse-riding tours with Planoram start from £17.65 for one hour.
Lunch and shopping in Cuitedella. If you can tear yourself away from the beach, Cuitedella (known locally as ‘Vella i Bella’, ‘Old and Beautiful’) is well worth a visit. It’s not hard to get lost amid the quiet cobbled streets, lined with townhouses in sandy hues, contrasting brilliantly with the bright blue skies above. Boutique shops are packed with hand-made Menorcan goods, including shoes, linen and silverware, and there are ample drinking dens and food markets to recharge in. Work up an appetite browsing Mercat de Peix and then head next door to C’an RAFA for a tapas lunch (famous for its berenjenas con miel (aubergine with honey)) or to Ulisses where they’ll cook fish of your choice from the market. Skip dessert and instead wander along the harbour for an ice cream on the water’s edge, admiring sailing boats from all over the world. There are several car parks around Cuitedella, and it’s very walkable. If you’d rather cycle, check out Velos Joan for both standard and electric bike hire.
Exploring caves by foot or kayak. Menorca’s mostly untouched coastline is a natural adventure playground, and there’s something for kids of all sizes. For confident swimmers, Menorca en Kayak offers half-day trips out of Es Grau and Cala en Porter to snorkel in hidden coves, kayak into caves and view the coast from water-level. If four hours is too long a stint, kayaks can be hired for just one hour from Es Grau, where the gently shelving beach and calm waters make it a safe activity for even the youngest seafarers. For real cave enthusiasts, you mustn’t miss Cala Coves, a secluded rocky cove home to over 90 prehistoric caves. Scramble up over the cliffs to find sunbathing ledges, tortoises, lizards and secret swimming spots. The car park at Cala Coves is a 20-minute walk from the bay. Menorca en Kayak’s Cave Tour is £39.72 for adults and £22.07 for kids.
Beaches, beaches and more beaches: Menorca has more beaches than you could possibly visit in just one week, so it’s lucky that there are so few duds. Whatever way you like your sand, from talcum-powder white to reddish shingle, you’ll find the perfect spot. Families with younger kids should make a beeline for Es Grau’s shallow lagoon, which has just the right mix of facilities, restaurants and wilderness. Older kids will enjoy the wilder water of Cala Tirant — head to the Ses Salinas end of the beach where terrapins can be spotted from a walkway over the dunes, and the vast sands are often quite empty. Son Saura is one of the most famous of Menorca’s white sand beaches near Cuitedella, and in the north, Cala Pregonda’s protected waters offer superb snorkelling opportunities.
Melia Cala Galdana: What this eight-storey hotel on the picturesque and lively bay of Cala Galdana lacks in authentic charm, it more than makes up for in family-friendly service. The drop-in kid’s club, with activities including everything from bouncy-castles to movie-nights, gives parents plenty of opportunities to kick-back by the adult-only pool, have dinner in one of three restaurants or take part in yoga, spin or exercise classes. The beach club Cape Nao’s laid back vibe makes long-lunches a joy, even with the kids in tow. Price: Melia Cala Galdana family rooms start from £233.90 including breakfast.
Son Triay: Some of Menorca’s most renowned farmhouses have been turned into agriturismos (anything from a luxury hotel to simple Bed and Breakfast in a farm setting) allowing visitors to enjoy the rolling hills in an authentic setting. Son Triay is an imposing 19th Century farmhouse surrounded by a working cattle farm, just ten minutes from Cala Galdana. Families can get the best of both worlds by staying in one of the self-catering bungalows or converted stables that have a daily housekeeping service and access to the communal gardens, pool, tennis court and breakfast. Price: Apartments start from £140 per night including breakfast.
Binibeca Villa, Airbnb: Menorca isn’t short of beautiful villas, but the popular ones get booked up quickly. Airbnb ‘Superhost’ Shilpa’s immaculate three-bedroom house in a quiet, residential corner of Binibeca is one such place. What it lacks in the remote charm of the islands many fincas or the sweeping views of beachside apartments, it makes up for by ticking all the boxes when it comes to kids – beach equipment, toys, a short stroll from restaurants and beaches, a terrace with a view, pool and air-conditioning. Price: From £203 per night sleeping up to six.
Matxani Gran: This rambling agriturismo revolves around one of the island’s oldest barns, brought to life by antique props dotted throughout the carefully-tended grounds. Family rooms at Matxani Gran have shared kitchens, terraces and patios and the daily breakfast is a local fare, with home-grown fruit, pastries from a local baker and Mahon cheese. Kids will love finding tortoises hiding between prickly pears, horse carts and wild olive trees while adults kick-back around the honesty bar. The pool is a welcome respite from the midday heat, and there’s a play area with toys for little ones. Be warned the airport is very close by so there are occasional noise and aircraft sightings (much to the excitement of some). Price: Family rooms start from £163.64 including breakfast.
Cugo Gran Menorca: Menorca’s only five-star agroturismo feels a very long way from a humble farmhouse. Cugo Gran’s beautifully restored 18th Century manor house is perched on a hill close to Saint Climent with sweeping views down to the sea, over wild olive groves and the lavender, agapanthus and bougainvillaea-filled gardens. While you won’t find a kid’s club or any organised fun, there is a playground for little ones, a pool, football pitch and nannies and babysitters at extra cost. Food cooked from local produce and the kitchen garden is exceptional. For those that can, the 12-bedroom house can be rented for exclusive use, with butlers and chefs on-tap, obviously. Price: Superior double rooms start from £398.86 including breakfast.
Airlines including EasyJet, Ryanair, Jet2.com and British Airways fly from regional airports throughout the year.
Although there are buses, having the freedom of your own vehicle is easiest with kids in tow. Balmes Menorca is a local company that removes the stress and hassle from car hire by offering free excess, meet-and-greet pick up and child seats at no extra cost.
If you’re not tied to school holidays, the shoulder season is quieter and more relaxed. The rolling hills are green and peppered with wildflowers in Spring while the sea is at its warmest in September. For those wanting to do some serious hiking, travelling into November and as early as April can be very pleasant.
Make the most of balmy evenings by eating out as a family and getting into a Spanish routine with siestas during the hottest part of the day and staying up later into the evening. Swot up on Menorca’s chequered history before you go; with tales of pirates, quarantine islands, ghosts, lighthouses and ancient settlements, it’s a never-ending source of entertainment for lively imaginations. Take your swimmers everywhere — even when you’re least expecting it, the most perfect spot for a dip crops up.