MALLORCA - Really....?

Posted March 21, 2012, 3:02 p.m.
MALLORCA - Really…? By Anthony Just Whilst enjoying the hedonistic pleasures sailing around Ibiza Island and Formentera in the mid-Eighties, as Captain aboard a private yacht based in Ibiza, many was the time when curiosity lured me to investigate ferry-times to the Grand Isle across the water. Disdainful and pitying looks from friends, colleagues, and barmen - the "cognoscenti" - resulted in my never boarding that ferry and discovering that distasteful, package-tour, lager-lout infested nest of all things "not cool"….Mallorca. And oh-how-wrong they all were. It was only in the late Nineties when fate, and the guidance of some real cognoscenti, cast me upon the shores of Port Andraitx, Puerto Portals, Palma Bay, and innumerable other coastal delights, introducing me to the pleasures of Old Town Palma, the mysterious and wild Tramuntana Mountains, country-style dining in old palatial estate homes, and - even at that time - quite drinkable oenological refreshment. The Big Island, Mallorca, did in fact hold an endless source of exploration and adventure. A number of friends and fellow sea-dogs had already by this time discovered the island's charms, and had settled quietly there without too much fuss. Like many others since, I too had to actually ask directions to "Magaluf" and "Arenal" to locate and view the package-tour, lager-lout spectacle so synonymously, yet unjustly, linked with Mallorca. I was of course not the first, nor will I be the last. The Romans had settled in their time, building amphitheatres, roads and towns. The Moors had arrived from North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula in 902, farmed great estates, built great palaces, and were then in turn moved on by King Jaime 1st of Aragon, who claimed Mallorca for his crown after landing with his fleet near Santa Ponca and the quaint sea-side village of Sant Elmo at the South-western tip of the island, in 1229. King Jaime then proceeded to initiate the building of the medieval city of Palma, Belver Castle and Keep, and the port area surrounds, in form similar to that which we know today. The Palma Bay waterfront and "Borne" area in front of the old Almudaina Palace - before the Paseo Maritimo hard-ground was reclaimed - has provided safe haven for passing ships, and shore-side delights for hungry and thirsty sailors since time immemorial. Fleets of ships and yachts have descended upon Palma during both wartime and periods of peace - ships passing by en route to wars in far-off lands, or shiny Superyachts congregating in port to indulge in challenging and spectacular regattas. The island's fortunes thrive or wane, and those who dwell awhile are blessed with the pleasure to dig more deeply to discover the magnitude of secrets resting in Mallorca's heart and along her shores. Some visitors-by-sea to Mallorca are known to have been reluctant tourists, and their sojourn on the island - and nearby Cabrera Island - gives rise to a sad tale. During the Napoleonic Wars and Iberian Peninsula campaign between 1809 and 1814, French prisoners of war were brought to the islands from the "Prison-ships" in south-western Spain, following an agreement between Spanish and English authorities. These were tourists that the local Mallorquins did not welcome. Officers were billeted "downtown" in the relative comfort of "La Lonja" - the magnificent edifice nowadays facing Plaza La Lonja - while the ratings and others were incarcerated on desolate Cabrera Island, some thirty miles offshore from Palma. Although adequate provisioning was supposed to be supplied by the authorities concerned from local Mallorquin sources, as so often happens in war-time, logistics and supply were not ideal, and many thousands of these French prisoners perished. Cabrera is now a charming marine reserve and protected zone, and provides a real reward when visited by passing yachts, but a thought should be spared for these tragic events of 200 years ago. Other visitors to these shores did so under more gregarious circumstances. With his acting career apparently on the wane, Errol Flynn sailed into Palma Bay in the early 1950's aboard the magnificent ZACA - his 1930 launched, 36 metre schooner - and berthed at the Club Nautico. He was to use Mallorca as his base, and ZACA as his home-from-home, for the next few years until his death in 1959. Fact and fiction abound concerning the swashbuckling Errol Flynn and his adventures in Old Town Palma, his visits to the stately Maricel Hotel in Cas Catala, and his wild forays into the then very trendy-and-hip Plaza Gomila and El Terreno suburb, with its bars and restaurants, in the company of movie associates and other visiting celebrities. Following Flynn's death, ZACA remained neglected in Palma and in the South of France for a number of years until her eventual resurrection and refit to former splendor in the early Nineties. Puerto Portals has long supplanted Flynn's Plaza Gomila, and Luna's Club in Portals may well today overshadow long-gone Joey's Bar and the Eclipse. Like many a matelot before, I shouldered my sea-bag and dropped into the skiff which was to take me out to the schooner CARIBA, riding gently at anchor in the Portals road-stead. Commissioned in 1930 - the same year as Flynn's ZACA - this 24 metre Schooner was built for the Hennessy family at Chantiers De La Liane, Boulogne sur Mer, in France, as ALOHA. Varnish gleaming, and with sails being readied by the crew, she was to take me on a voyage around Mallorca's north coast, in search of yet another intrepid and unique individual and yachtsman, the Duke of Bohemia. With "top-sail" and "fisherman" completing the full suit of canvas, a stately progress under a light afternoon breeze brought us west-about the south-coast, past Santa Ponca, Andraitx, and Sant Elmo, and through the Dragonera Channel - with a nod to King Jaime 1st and his invading fleet, who had landed in this area in 1229 - and onward to the dramatic, rugged, and mountainous cliff-landscape of the north-coast. With the breeze falling off and on a calm and oily sea, we stowed canvas and motored along this imposing shoreline, gazing up at the perched mountainside villages of Estellencs and Banyalbufar, the medieval watch-towers on each promontory, and the high cliff-road that joins the north-coast to Valldemossa, Andraitx, and ultimately Palma, way over the Tramuntana Mountains on the flat plain to the south. As the Archduke Luis Salvador of Habsburg would have done so many times after arriving in Mallorca in 1867 with his steam-yacht NIXE II, we found good holding for CARIBA in the lee of the Foradada Cape, with its rocky headland-buttress and natural round window-hole open to the sky. A pair of black vultures tended their nest high on the cliff-face above, and the cicadas cricked noisily in the brush and tree-covered slopes. The rocky path led up from the rough landing pier to the Archduke's grand Son Marroig residence high up the steep incline. It was, of course, time for a sumptuous late afternoon Mediterranean lunch accompanied by some fine Mallorquin wines. Unlike the French visitors in Napoleonic times, Archduke Luis Salvador was by no means a reluctant tourist on Mallorca. Although he had been created Duke of Bohemia, once he began traveling with the NIXE II, and having set eyes upon Mallorca's north-coast, he was smitten, and proceeded to acquire a number of great estates on the island, the Son Marroig, the Miramar Monastery, the home S'Estaca, and others - all near to one another on this dramatic coast. Not content to idle away the hours pondering the view, this most energetic of men proceeded to write some of the greatest documentations of Mallorquin and Balearic life, culture, habits, geography, fauna and flora - some of which writing exists today in three large, impressive, and informative tomes under the name Die Balearen. While Archduke Salvador's familial responsibility should ultimately have been the governing of Bohemia on behalf of the Habsburg Emperor, he preferred yachting and exploring with his NIXE II. A yachting tourist of the highest pedigree it seems, and leaving - when he died in 1915 - not only footprints on the Mallorquin mountain-scape, and three grand homes on the north-coast, but a wealth of information, sketches, and scientific findings, all gleaned while exploring Mallorca and the other Balearic Islands by sea and on land. Taking our leave the following morning of the Archduke, his imposing Son Marroig, Miramar, and S'Estaca country houses above us, and the rocky Foradada Cape with its black vultures, we motored onward to the pretty cove of Cala Deia a few miles to the east. At the bottom of the donkey-track leading down from the beautiful hillside village of Deia, this small cove with its crystal-clear water, cliff-side taverna and attractive setting, continues to enchant all visitors. Once a secluded bathing refuge for the likes of Robert Graves - the great English poet - and his visiting friends and fellow artists, who lived in the mountain-village above, Deia Beach - or Cala Deia - remains popular with all wanderers of the north-coast. Rocking gently at anchor while lunch roasted on the barbeque, and looking up in relaxed awe at the imposing buttresses of the Tramuntana Mountains above, Palma and the bustle of city-life - just thirty minutes drive by car - could in fact have been a million miles away. A short motor eastward took CARIBA to her anchorage at the Port of Soller. A protected harbour below the large town of Soller in the foothills of the Tramuntana, the Port of Soller has long welcomed ships and yachts of all sizes, some loading the abundant orange and citrus crops from the fertile Soller valley, others bringing mail and cargo from the mainland ports of Barcelona and Valencia, and others passing through on their continuing exploration of the hidden secrets of the north-coast of Mallorca. Satiated and weary from my time before the mast aboard the fine schooner CARIBA, fed royally on local cuisine and the oenological delights of Mallorca, and left pondering the remaining mysteries in the grand crags and cliffs of the Tramuntana, I dropped into the skiff once more and headed for shore, another tired and transient adventurer and explorer… another summer delving curiously into the hidden secrets of Mallorca. Contact: [email protected]