Tourism in Spain: The best historic places to visit in Mallorca
With its Gothic arches and ornate interior, Mallorca’s Almudaina Palace exudes a regal atmosphere. Photo/Getty Images.
If Spain is high on your travel wish list, be sure to add a trip to the neighboring Balearic Islands. Here, Amar Grover shares some of Mallorca’s best royal residences, grand estates and historic hotspots to explore.
Mallorca, the largest and most varied of Spain’s four main Balearic Islands, lies just south of Barcelona. During its pre-pandemic peak in 2019, nearly 15 million visitors graced its shores and most were on vacation. The appeal is wide, too. Hedonistic paradises aside, families are drawn to the beaches, walkers to its rugged hills, and celebrities to a sophisticated array of upscale and boutique properties.
An obvious starting point in Palma, the capital, is its central Palace of La Almudaina. Located opposite the iconic cathedral, the 13th-century Almudaina was originally a Moorish fortress, but was remodeled by King Jaume II and extended by successive monarchs. The honey-coloured masonry walls still bear parapets and battlements, while its Gothic arches, lion stone fountains, royal apartments and huge tapestries give it a regal feel.
Although still an official royal residence, since 1973 visiting members of the Spanish royal family have generally spent their summers at the more private, cliff-top Marivent Palace on a small promontory near from Cala Major to Palma. Only its gardens – opened in 2017 and home to around forty native species – are open to the public. Art lovers may appreciate its twelve bronze sculptures by artist Joan Miró whose studio and nearby house are now a museum.
Just a mile away and looming incongruously against the modern skyline, a hilltop glade bristles with the pale bastions of Bellver Castle. Built by King Jaume II in the 1300s as a royal palace and fortress, it spent much of its life as a prison for royal suitors and political revolutionaries. The unusual circular design (from above it almost looks like a bizarre missile silo) incorporates both ravelin and curtain walls as well as towers and a detached keep. Its striking arcaded courtyard with grated well is one of Palma’s most photographed landmarks. Now home to the rather dry Palma History Museum, most visitors come for the panoramic views of the city and the beautiful bay.
To the north, through the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, a fork in the dramatic coastal road leads to the Monastery of Miramar, originally a 13th-century missionary school founded by Ramon Llull, the closest thing Mallorca has to a patron saint.
A century before modern tourism, Mallorca acquired a kind of individual marketing
machine in the form of Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria, a Habsburg royal. With money to spend and the freedom to move around, from the 1860s he criss-crossed the Mediterranean aboard his beloved yacht and in Mallorca he gave his heart. Seduced by the spectacular views, Miramar became his first Mallorcan estate.
He quickly restored the monastery and these days the relief villa exhibits relics of Salvator, pictures and sea charts as well as facets of life on the former island. It was from here that Ludwig spotted Sa Foradada, a pretty hook-shaped promontory jutting out into the sea of lapis and, above, the small estate of Son Marroig that he went on. and also bought.
Guests at the house included artists, intellectuals and royalty and these days the locality’s leading property moguls, tourists and the quietly wealthy, with a certain M. M. Douglas lending a touch of Hollywood glamour. Still owned by the family of Ludwig’s loyal secretary, Son Marroig is one of Mallorca’s best-known and most accessible venerable houses.
Externally, it looks like an amalgamation of Italian palace and baronial hunting lodge backed by a much older watchtower. The ballroom’s high wood-panelled ceiling and tall sea-facing windows, along with an adjoining dining room and arcaded verandah, evoke a graceful time of another era.
Having acquired several houses and estates, Ludwig built scenic bridle paths in the mountains. The best known, still called the Cami de S’Arxiduc (or Archduke’s Way), largely follows the rugged ridge line above Miramar and remains one of the most beautiful walks on the island.
Closer to Palma lies La Granja, a much older estate whose roots date back to the Moorish conquest of the island in the 10th century. Restored and enlarged over the centuries, La Granja is as much a museum as a grand residence. There are dyers’ vats and olive presses, perfume stills and a rope workshop; even a sinister hair dryer resembling a goofy contraption from a 50s sci-fi movie.
Even stranger are the cells and torture chamber with creepy displays of racks, tools, and a spiked interrogation chair. There is also a sort of grotesque, albeit unintentional, humor. In the time it takes to read about the institutionalized torture administered by lords and nobles across medieval Mallorca, you’ll hear a looping recording of a howling owl and a creaking door followed by the cries of an unfortunate victim – maybe a little too authentic for young people.
Finca Raixa near Bunyola is an altogether more subdued experience. Now state property, what was originally a Moorish farmhouse had already become an important country mansion in the 1200s. The formal terraced gardens feature a monumental staircase dedicated to Apollo and, typical of fashionable romanticism from the 18th and 19th centuries, faux neoclassical ruins dot the surrounding lush hillside. The property now also serves as the Serra Tramuntana Center whose exhibits highlight the range’s importance as a “cultural landscape” and a Unesco World Heritage Site.
For more inspiration, visit spain.info
Travelers must present an international travel vaccination certificate or Covid-19 RT-PCR report for a negative test taken no later than 24 hours before departure. Check with your airline for details.