Friday, May 11, 2012

May 3rd – Mightily Impressed by Palma De Majorca

Majorca is a place with a split personality – most people know about the island because of its (mainly low-brow) sun, sea and sand reputation; however, any time spent in its historic and stylish capital Palma, soon shows you that this is only one side of Majorca.

In fact, as you're exploring Palma's narrow medieval streets and Gothic buildings, you'd hardly even know that this is one of the most popular package holiday destinations in Europe. Palma has a genuine atmosphere that feels hardly touched by the tourist hordes (at least at this time of the year).

Aside from their common Catalan heritage, the city shares many characteristics with Barcelona – both have a stunning waterside location, and both boast atmospheric Gothic Quarters that quickly transport you to another age. Palma can't compete with Barcelona on modern architecture, but its stunning Gothic cathedral dominates the town to an even greater extent than Barcelona's Sagrada Familia.

From the port, we caught the Shuttle Bus into town (about 3 miles away), and immediately headed for the cathedral, standing opposite the stately Palau Almudaina. We amazed ourselves by being up so early that the Cathedral wasn't even open yet, so we visited the atmospheric Banys Arabs – Arab baths that were built in the 10th century, when the island was an Arab possession.

Palma's a great place to just wander at random and see what you come across next, so we put away the map and did some general exploring. For lunch, where better than a busy bar in the city's market building, serving some of the freshest fried fish you can get? You couldn't get any further away from the atmosphere of the British pubs and karaoke bars further along the coast.

After lunch, of course we were drawn to the enormous cathedral, with its lines of flying buttresses and gothic gargoyles. Inside, it actually feels bigger than it seems on the outside, as an overwhelming sense of space and light hits you. The incredibly slender columns support massive windows that illuminate the cavernous interior – our guide book told us that apparently, of all European medieval architecture, this building encloses the most amount of space in the least amount of stone – it sounds a dull statistic, but if you go there, you'll know what I mean.

We then decided that we'd do a walk away from the port along the seafront promenade – an area full of walkers, joggers, rollerbladers and cyclists. You get the feeling that if you lived here, you've got no excuse to be lazy, the fabulous setting just forces you to get out there.

As we explored, we came to the conclusion that Palma features quite highly on Tracy's "I could live there" rating – good weather, vibrant bars and restaurants, good food, excellent shopping, plus plenty of nice beaches within an easy walk of the city centre.

On a sunny spring day, there's not many cities that can look as good as Palma.