Mallorca (also known as Majorca) is the largest of the Balearic Islands off the east coast of Spain in the Mediterranean. It’s better known for its beaches and nightlife with party destination Magaluf and the home of the TV show, Love Island.
But beneath the tourist surface lies another Mallorca. Gothic cathedrals, medieval architecture, quiet coves, fascinating museums and a history that impacts the founding of modern USA.
If you’d like to explore this Mallorca, add these unusual things to your bucket list.
1. Cathedral of Santa Maria de Palma
The stunning Cathedral of Santa Maria de Palma stands on the site of an Arab mosque. Building work began in the 13th century, although it has undergone several reconstructions.
The vaulted interior draws the eye upwards.
Legendary artist Antoni Gaudí designed parts of the restored cathedral including the baldachin, the ceremonial canopy over the altar.
The cathedral’s Gothic exterior makes it a work of art on its own. Visitors flock to see its rose window. But the cathedral also houses a work of contemporary art, designed by Miquel Barcelo.
The installation breathes new life into the parable of Jesus feeding the 5000. Find it in the apse of St Peter’s Chapel.
A ceramic covering turns the walls into a makeshift cave. Sculpted skulls, bread, and fish erupt from the surface. The darkened stained-glass windows amplify its eerie atmosphere. In the back of the cathedral, if you look closely, you can find a winged skeleton climbing the walls …
When you’re finished, head out into Palma’s Old Town for more medieval architecture.
2. Necropolis of Son Real
What’s better than a graveyard? A prehistoric burial site! Experts believe locals used the Son Real Necropolis from the Iron Age until the Roman period.
It occupies over 8,600 square feet and overlooks the Bay of Alcudia. The oldest tombs date to the 7th century BC. Archaeologists have unearthed over 130 tombs so far, containing over 300 bodies. They think the builders made small holes in some tombs to let out the souls of the dead.
The tombs contain the usual grave goods like weapons and pottery. Others contain less typical items like jewelry, shells, and parts of musical instruments. It seems several cultures used the site, each following their own funeral traditions.
After being abandoned, the necropolis began falling apart because of coastal storms. Luckily, it was rediscovered in 1957. The Balearic Islands Government bought it in 2002 and started a preservation program.
A short walk along the coastline will take you to the necropolis. There’s an archaeological museum where you can learn more about the finds. The site itself is free to visit, but the museum costs €3.
3. La Granja de Esporles
La Granja is a former country house near the Serra de Tramuntana mountains. It’s been ‘frozen’ in time to present the lifestyle of a 17th-century noble family.
Move between the palatial drawing rooms of the house to the workers’ quarters. Pop into the torture chamber for something different. Staff wear traditional Mallorcan dress to add to the historic atmosphere.
The gardens provide welcome relief after the displays of torture instruments. There’s a 30ft natural waterfall, botanical gardens, and a 1000-year-old yew tree. A huge variety of wildlife lives in the gardens so keep your eyes peeled for kites, kestrels and quails.
Or head to the artisan workshops to learn about traditional skills. They run demonstrations of pottery, weaving, or blacksmithing.
4. Statue of Junipero Serra and the San Francisco Basilica
Few realize that one of the founders of the modern USA, Junipero Serra, was born on Mallorca in 1713 and spent his formative years studying at the Franciscan convent and church in the center of Palma. He headed to Mexico as a missionary in 1749 and on to what became California to found the missions up the west coast.
The statue outside shows Junipero next to a native Mexican boy and it’s well worth a visit inside to see the basilica for just a few euros.
Finding this statue was a revelation for me when we visited Palma, as I had been to Mission Dolores in San Francisco not long before. It helped the story of Valley of Dry Bones click into place as the ARKANE agents follow the Spanish empire across the world …
5. Chopin Museum
Head to the beautiful village of Valldemossa for a slice of the ‘real’ Mallorca. Here, you’ll also find the Chopin Museum inside an old monastery. The Polish composer stayed on Mallorca to improve his tuberculosis in late 1838. He hired a cell with his partner, writer George Sand. She wrote the autobiographical memoir A Winter in Mallorca about their time there.
You can see his original piano at the museum in the cell where Chopin played it. Among other pieces, Chopin composed Preludes Op. 28 here. The museum displays a plaster death mask and, more unusually, a plaster cast of his hand.
If you believe in palmistry, one look at his long fingers explains his musical talent. Sadly, the time in Valldemossa didn’t improve his illness. The couple moved back to Barcelona in early 1839.
6. Robert Graves Museum
Robert Graves, the English writer and poet, moved to the mountain village of Deià in 1929. After a period back in England during the Spanish Civil War, Graves returned. He died here in 1985, and he’s buried in the village churchyard.
His former home now houses a museum about his life and work. Walk around his garden, enjoy the views, and bask in the literary atmosphere. All the furniture and fittings in the house are original. They date to 1946 when he returned from England. It feels like he’s stepped out and might return at any moment.
When you’re finished, Deià is a great place to spend a day. Soak up the Mallorcan culture in the small cafes or enjoy one of the local hiking trails. You can even find natural mud baths at Lluc Alcari, one of the two beaches.
7. Cova de Coloms
If you’re looking for something more unusual to do on Mallorca, try a trip to Cova de Coloms. It’s one of the island’s best sea caves. Swimming is the only way to access the cave, though it’s a suitable trip for sea caving beginners.
You won’t need scuba diving equipment and your tour organizer will provide safety gear. The only requirement is that you’re in good health and can swim at least 200m.
Inside the caves, you’ll move through an underground maze of lakes and chambers. The breathtaking sea stalagmites take on unusual formations thanks to the movement of the sea. It’s a magical place to visit on the island.
8. Caves of Drach
The Caves of Drach offer a magical and somewhat mysterious tour underground. You’ll find them in Porto Cristo, on the eastern coast of Mallorca.
The caves appear in documents in the Middle Ages, but they were first fully explored in 1880 and 1896. Locals added paths, stairs, and electric lighting between 1922 and 1925 to aid tours.
The stalactites and stalagmites create astounding formations. And make sure you have your camera handy for the jaw-dropping turquoise water in the Baths of Diana.
The tour includes a boat trip across Lake Martel. During the ride, enjoy a 10-minute underground classical music concert.
You can also go diving in nearby Porto Cristo. Or take a glass-bottomed boat tour in the local coves.
The Caves of Drach are a good example of what Mallorca offers. Tourist-friendly but bursting with natural beauty. It’s the perfect spot whether you want a cultural break or something more daring!
So if you’re visiting Mallorca for the sun and the sea, take some time to visit some of the more unusual places.
Recommended books for your Mallorca trip
A House in the High Hills – Selina Scott. In this funny, elegantly written account of her Spanish years Selina tells us about the house that captured her heart, the neighbours that became friends, and those that didn’t, the hills and wildlife that enchanted her, the building work that nearly broke her and, crucially, the dog that found her, and changed every single one of her best laid plans!
Rafael’s Wings – Sian Mackay. Her life as she knows it in Scotland is over. Ornithologist Luisa Ross embarks on an odyssey to Spain where, during the course of a lonely fieldwork assignment in the mountains of Mallorca, she discovers an extraordinary and mysterious world.
Valley of Dry Bones – J.F.Penn. An ancient prophecy and an occult secret lead ARKANE agents, Morgan and Jake, on a hunt for religious relics across the world in the wake of the Spanish Empire. Features scenes in Palma cathedral and the Convent of St Francis, as well as Mission Dolores in San Francisco.
A Chorus of Cockerels: Walking on the Wild Side in Mallorca – Anna Nicholas. While marathon training in the famed Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, Anna hears tales of the pirates and terrifying brigands that ruled the area in the 17th century, is spooked by the ghostly Moorish legends that still seem to haunt the surrounding hills, and stumbles upon the hideout of the fearsome Turkish pirate, Barbarossa.
Island in the Sea: A Mallorca Love Story – Juliet Lyman is a senior executive at Yesterday Records. Music is her passion and she’s very good at her job. That’s why her famously philanthropic boss Gideon sends her to Majorca, Spain to work with a very tortured, but talented client … A captivating novel, filled with exotic descriptions of food, fashion, and romance.
Want to read a thriller featuring Mallorca? Check out Valley of Dry Bones.
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