To be honest, I don’t want to write this post.
I don’t want to tell you about this tiny, incredible island hiding out in the middle of the Mediterranean, outshadowed by its big, bossy, older cousins, Ibiza and Mallorca. The island has long been discovered and enjoyed by throngs of British and German tourists, many of whom have created their own permanent havens on the island where rugby matches blare from the TV and nary a word of Spanish is spoken.
But, my fellow Americans, it’s time. It’s time for you to discover Menorca (in English, Minorca), the lesser-known hidden gem of the Spanish Balearic Islands. Take a break from the wild and crazy, 24/7 party of Ibiza and spend some time relaxing on its pristine beaches, enjoy its hospitable inhabitants, dancing horses, gin lemonade drinks, hidden pathways and delicious cheese.
Menorca was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1993, which has helped the island develop without being destroyed by mass tourism. I was lucky enough to live here for four weeks in July 2011, while teaching English to 7-12 year olds at a wonderful summer camp (www.talaiot.es) right outside of Ciutadella, the island’s former capital, until it was moved to Mahon (Maó). Three hours of intensive English classes in the morning, and while the kids were enjoying excursions and sports with the Spanish monitors in the afternoon, I sunned myself on various beaches, learned the intricate bus system and explored as many nooks and crannies of this mini-paradise with my two lovely fellow English teachers as I could.
- How to get there: From the mainland, you can fly into the main airport in Mahon (Maó in the local dialect), or you can take a leisurely boat ride from Barcelona. To get around the island, renting a car is the best way to check out some of the tucked away beaches, but if you stay in one of the larger cities, you can navigate the bus system and get around pretty well.
- Where to stay: In Menorca, I stayed at two great places that I’d recommend – in the capital of Mahon, Catalonia Mirador des Portes, affordable and right near the city center, with some gorgeous views of the harbor. In Ciutadella, on a budget, check out Alberg Juvenil Sa Vinyeta, walking distance to the city center and cheap (open from May to September).
What to do with your time in Menorca?
1. Find your happy place
My favorite thing about this beautiful island are the virgin beaches and calas, or coves, many of which are terribly difficult to find on a map. I stayed at a residence/pension that was within walking distance of a gorgeous cala that was lovingly dubbed “Cala Kaka”, since the first time we went there, the tides were off, the water was murky and the jellyfish were out in full force. Fast forward to a few days later, and I went to sun myself on a rock near here (Sa Farola, which is along the road to the larger, more touristy Cala en Blanes) and lo and behold – crystal clear waters, not a critter in sight, and I only witnessed three other human beings who even came near the whole afternoon to splash around in the water. This continued to be one of many “happy places” during the magical time that I spent on the island. There are so many nooks and crannies of this tiny island that will absolutely enchant you, you’re bound to find the perfect spot to close your eyes and relax away your time here.
2.Watch for the wind
As someone not accustomed to living on a tiny island, I was shocked at how dramatically the clarity of the water and quality of the beaches could be affected by the direction of the wind. Not just that, but catch yourself on the southern shore on a day with strong northern gusts, and you’re likely to miss out on a day of bathing thanks to scores of jellyfish who dreamily float in to ruin your splash session. So when deciding where to head for the day, pay attention to that weather forecast!
3. Beat the summer tourists – go early!
After living in Spain for three years, it’s become crystal clear – the Spaniards LOVE their vacation time. Compared to the average US worker’s 12 paid days off (plus about 10 public holidays), those on the Iberian peninsula enjoy a whopping 22 paid vacation days, not to mention the 14 public holidays that often lead to the infamous puentes, or bridges (see the WSJ’s interesting take on this). What does that mean to you, the Menorca adventurer? Get there early! Avoid visiting in August, when you won’t only have to battle the year-round British and German tourists, but also the Spanish couples and families who spend their holidays in Menorca every year.
4. Take a hike (or a ride… or a row….)
After a few days of lounging on the beach or basking in the glory of the crystal clear Menorcan waters, you may get a little bit hungry for adventure.
Popular activities include canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, cycling, or trekking the Camii de Cavalls, or the “Horse Trail”, that basically circles the island and allows incredible views of the coast and can get you to the most interesting places. For more info on sports and outdoor activities, check out this link: http://www.menorcaexplorer.com/en/sports-menorca.php.
The majority of these are unreachable by public transportation, so you either have to rent a car or get creative (see below).
While I like to lay around on the beach all day just as much as the next guy, sometimes boredom creeps in once the days of Mediterranean paradise start to blend together.
Other “Must Do’s”:
- Buy yourself a pair of these stylish Avarcas (Menorquinas), or Menorcan Sandals, which are sold in tons of fabulous colors and patterns to really blend in with the locals
- Try the amazing food, of course. Queso de Mahon (Mahon Cheese), Pomada (a drink made with Gin Xoriguer from the island and lemon juice… you won’t know what hit you!) and Sobrasada (a soft sausage made of pork, paprika and other spices, cured and best eaten spread on some delicious crusty bread).
- Check out the fiestas de Sant Joan in Ciutadella from the 23rd-24th of June. Horses running wild and “dancing” on their hind legs through the street, pouring pomada into your body at an alarming rate during “El Jaleo” – if you miss these, other cities around the island hold their own events during July and into August. No one knows how to party like the Spaniards.