Last month we gave you an overview of the Balearic Islands, touching briefly on the attractions of Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera. Now it’s the turn of the biggest island, Majorca, whose size, coastline and position, at the centre of the archipelago, make it a safe bet whichever way you look at it, whether as the single destination of a week’s sailing trip or part of a more comprehensive sailing programme combining it with visits to the neighbouring islands.
Palma, the capital, is pretty much the port of reference and an obligatory stopover – all journeys seem to converge here. Its bay is home to some of the most well-known marinas and yacht clubs in the Mediterranean, such as the Club de Mar, Puerto Portals and the prestigious RCN de Palma, which every year organizes some of the most classic events on the international calendar, such as the King’s Cup, the Palma Sailing Cup and more recently the Super Yacht Cup. But we’re not here today to look back on the history of nautical sports; our aim is to up-anchor and sail around the island, but as we mentioned earlier, if we had to choose a starting point then Palma really fits the bill. It’s got everything in its favour: close to the airport, the biggest charter companies are based here, and the city is well worth a visit. This is a city that has recovered its maritime vocation and for some decades now has been living, once again, with its face to the sea.
The unmistakable silhouette of the Cathedral is one of the images that stay with you as you leave the port behind. The embat, that warm breeze that dominates the Bay of Palma, forces you to tack to turn the prow towards the south-east, heading for the sub-archipelago of Cabrera, our first destination. This Natural Park is one of the last unspoilt areas of the Western Mediterranean, a true paradise and barely thirty miles from Palma. The port of Cabrera is a natural shelter that has been used as an anchorage since the Bronze Age, and here you can moor up, after getting permission from the port authorities, on one of the 50 mooring blocks set up by the Park’s management to protect the sea bed, especially the posidonia (sea grass) meadows, and at the same time guarantee a peaceful night, because this is where people come to enjoy the nature and tranquillity.
The next morning we set sail towards the turquoise waters of Cabo Salinas off the southernmost tip of Majorca, a spectacular area that runs from the Club Náutico La Rapita along a magnificent protected zone comprising the beach of Trenc, Colonia de Sant Jordi, and the green depths, pine trees and sand of Es Carbó and Es Caracol; altogether one of the most outstanding enclaves on the island. But our objective, the destination of today’s sail, is Porto Colom and on the way, negotiating the East coast of Majorca which again we might need to hug, we’ll pass by coves such as Marmols, S’Almonia, Mondrago, Llombards, Santany and picturesque little ports such as Cala Figuera, Porto Petro and the elegant Marina Cala d’Or. But if you’ve only got a week for your sail around Majorca, you’ll need to keep up a certain pace.
Porto Colom, just 25 miles from Cabrera, lies hidden behind a narrow estuary, like a cleft in the sheer rocky face of the coast. An elegant lighthouse provides a landmark and guides you into the harbour, almost a lake, edged by a promenade of pines, traditional Majorcan houses with moorings along the shore and façades in shades of ochre and pastel colours; the pure Mediterranean. You might choose to anchor here or head for the facilities of the Yacht Club or port authority on one of the angles of this protected mirror of water alongside the town centre.
Our next stage will take us to Cala Rajada, once again just over 20 miles away, passing a whole series of temptations along the way; this the coast of coves – Barca, Falco, Estrany d’en Mas, Anguila, Mandía, Virgili, Barquetas and Magraner… there are coves to suit every possible taste – large, majestic, tiny, developed, wild, completely unspoilt, but all with a common denominator: crystalline waters. Porto Cristo and Cala Bona are two possible options for stopovers before getting to our destination. Cala Rajada, despite having been done up for tourism, still retains a certain ‘typical’ fishing port atmosphere, with its whitewashed houses and dry dock. The laboured, backfiring chug-chug-chug of the powerful fishing boat engines, the barcas de bou still punctuate the silence of the nights. The impressive breakwater shielding the harbour bears witness to the power of the Levante and Gregal winds in this area.
From here, after navigating round the Cap de Pera and its lighthouse which marks the short, but fearful, Channel of Minorca, it is just 25 miles from Dartuix, yet everything depends on the weather. We’re now heading into the Great North of Majorca, and if the weather turns on us and the Mistral or Tramontana winds start blowing, the only solution is to tack round and head back to sample some of the many and varied attractions we passed on the way here. If you are able to continue on the planned route, you will come to Pollensa, another 24 miles along the coast, after having sailed alongside the sheer rocky mass of Farrutx, a 500 metros bulwark between the sky and the sea. You then cross the lovely wide Bay of Alcudia, another stopover worth considering if wind or time are against you. At Pollensa you can choose between the
upgraded Yacht Club or an anchorage in front of the Port with its lively terraces, mansion houses, arcades and old hotels that hint discreetly at the heritage of the first tourists, the British visitors of the early 20th century. The legendary beach of Formentor, an inlet sheltered by Pine Island, would be the choice of those who prefer peace and tranquillity, and spending the night counting the stars.
The following day, after putting about the stunning cape that bears the name of the peninsula, Formentor, we embark on our own particular downhill journey, scudding alongside the bulwark of the Serra de Tramuntana, mountains reaching up more than a thousand metres that plunge vertiginously into the cobalt depths. There is no possible harbour along the whole stretch of 35 miles to Soller. When the Mistral, the westerly wind, or the Llebeig, the south-westerly, are blowing, when the sea swells up and changes colour to a greenish-grey and the waves break furiously against the cliffs in clouds of white foam, and the air is full of saltpetre; these are the days to stay snug in port. With good weather, and especially in summer, the wind tends to die down and you can start up the engine, and in these circumstances you can better appreciate the breathtaking scenery, a parade of incredible views including Cala Figuera, Tuent, and La Calobra with the Torrente de Pareis.
The arrival in the port of Soller, an almost perfect circle, or rather an amphitheatre surrounded by mountains nestled at the foot of Puig Major, the highest point of the island, is a truly spectacular experience of indescribable beauty and majesty. This is a port with character and personality, and also with a tram. This is the ideal means of getting up to the town of Soller, in its wagons of burnished wood rattling along between the orange groves with flashes of green and gold. The poet Robert Graves imagined the mythical Garden of the Hesperides here, in this valley, where the golden fruits grow.
From Soller we head for Port Andraitx, our next stopover, another 25 miles of spectacular coastline, though after passing Deia and the jutting spine de La Foradada, the mountains seem to retreat slightly from the sea. The cliffs are less overwhelming, the slopes ease off – becoming almost humanized – and we start to see terraces of thousand-year-old olive trees and a few villages clinging timidly to their slopes: Banyalbufar, Estellencs, stone terracing, coastal lookouts. We sail ever more southerly, until finally the unmistakeable silhouette of La Dragonera appears, the outline of a sleeping dragon, dozing on the sea. And then we come to San Telmo, where in 1229 the Catalan fleet that would put an end to more than four centuries of Arab domination disembarked, exchanging the crescent moon of Medina Mayurqa for the Christian cross of the Kingdom of Majorca.
The port of Andraitx, with the solid silhouette of La Mola dominating the entrance, will have a special nostalgic feel of farewell for us as the last stopover before completing our voyage. This is a charming port, a combination of nostalgic summer holidays and jet-set marina, yet also a port with a notable seafaring tradition. Many years ago the pailebotes and bergantines, the last sailboats dedicated to trade with the colonies, used to set sail for Cuba from this port… and those who didn’t make their living on Atlantic were involved in coastal trades and fishing, all of them seafaring folk. This is the ideal spot from which to embark for neighbouring Ibiza, just forty-odd miles over the sound to the little island of Tagomago.
But we’ve come to the end of our sailing schedule. Palma is waiting for us just around the corner, only 18 miles away, half of which are already in the Bay of Palma as soon as you’ve rounded the lighthouse on the point of Cala Figuera, almost certainly with the wind blowing aft.
If you’ve stayed with us this far and you’ve enjoyed this virtual sailing trip, then now is the time to put it into action. Come and visit the island and let yourself be amazed… the largest Balearic Island will not disappoint you!
Here’s to a good wind and a safe journey!