There's more to Mallorca than cheap holiday resorts if you head inland, where an enticing array of wine and food destinations await. Sue Style takes us on a tour of the island’s best-kept secrets in her Mallorca travel guide.
Mallorca travel guide
Planted area 1,274ha
Main grapes, White: Prensal Blanc, Moscatel, Chardonnay, Viognier Red: Manto Negro, Callet, Gorgollassa, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot
Apellations Vi de la Terra Mallorca, Vi de la terra Serra de Tramuntana- Costa Nord, DO Binissalem, DO Pla i Llevant
Annual production 48,748 hectolitres in 2013
Main soil types Calcareous limestone, clay and sand
There was a time when Mallorca was described as ‘a hidden gem’ or ‘a well-kept secret’. Today, the prevailing image is of mass tourism, high-rise concrete blocks and hordes of northern Europeans flushed pink in the midday sun, faithful to their full English breakfasts or their bratwurst. The island’s resident population hovers at around 870,000, but each year a tsunami-like wave of six million tourists washes up on its shores.
The philosopher and activist Satish Kumar, who spends much time there, has gently suggested that Mallorca needs fewer tourists and more ‘earth pilgrims’. A tourist, by Kumar’s definition, consumes; a pilgrim discovers, values and respects.
Consumer-type tourism is probably here to stay, but it’s confined mainly to the beaches. Meanwhile, those of the pilgrim persuasion – wine travellers among them – are quietly discovering that this diminutive smudge of land moored out in the Mediterranean somewhere south of Barcelona still has hidden gems and secret corners.
Barely an hour from Palma – the entry point for most visitors, where it’s worth spending at least a couple of nights – lies a hushed world of dusty, golden stone villages, silvery olive groves, almond and apricot orchards bounded by dry stone walls and carpeted with wild flowers, medieval monasteries and churches, converted windmills and superior hideaway hotels. In the distance, rearing up like jagged vertebrae from southwest to northeast are the mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. At their feet and sprawling southwards into the plain are the vineyards.
Seek out the wine
Until a decade ago, few people would have considered seeking out Mallorcan wines while holidaying here, far less visiting wineries to get to know the distinctive fruits of these particular vines and the people working them. But as high-end tourism has developed, high-quality winemaking has followed in its wake. James Hiscock, owner of two super-stylish country retreats deep in the Serra de Tramuntana and long-time resident of the island, talks of ‘a significant evolution of producers, varieties and wines over the past 10 years’ and is delighted that he can now offer his guests a range of excellent local wines.
You can embark on a winery tour almost anywhere – a plus point is that distances are small and most bodegas are within spitting distance of one another. A good start would be Bodegues Ribas in Consell, a grand old estate, the oldest on the island, established in 1711 and still owned and run by the Ribas family. They have made a point of nurturing their indigenous vines, including 60-year-old Prensal and Manto Negro rootstocks, and have rescued the almost extinct (and near-unpronounceable) Gorgollasa. Try the fragrant house white based on Prensal and a little Viognier, or Ribas negre (red) where the lightly pigmented Manto Negro contributes its velvety, red fruit aromas to an elegant blend stiffened by Syrah and Merlot.
Close by in Santa María del Camí is Macià Batle, a large commercial winery on the main street, recognisable by the Wine Express train, which – unless on its rounds of the vineyards – will be parked outside the door. Join a happy throng of tasters in the shop or out in the courtyard quaffing the house blanc (Prensal, Chardonnay and a little Moscatel), or one of the oak-aged reds that combine Manto Negro with Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot.
Also in Santa María is Bodega Ramanyà, a boutique winery about a tenth of Macià Batle’s size with just 10ha and established only in 2003. Here self-effacing, self-taught Toni Ramanyà makes four wines, including – unusually for Mallorca – two cavas, both based on Manto Negro, one pink and the other a blanc de noirs. A visit here takes in Ramanyá’s collection of rural artefacts, including a perfectly restored, bone-shaking 19th-century horse-drawn carriage, of the kind described by George Sand in her dyspeptic memoir Winter in Majorca.
A touch north of Santa María, on the scenic road from Alaró to Lloseta with the twin peaks of Alaró in the background, is Castell Miquel, a bijou castle built in the 1960s for a sister-in-law of Franco. Now German-owned, the estate’s terraces and dry stone walls have been meticulously restored and planted with international varieties. There’s a modest charge for tastings, deducted from your purchases, which would do well to include the supple Shiraz Stairway to Heaven, named after the steep ‘staircase’ of vineyards above and below the castle.
Another day, another landscape. ‘So much variety in such a small space,’ marvels José Antonio de Haro, purveyor of wines to many of the island’s top hostelries and my guide for the day in the flatlands south of the Palma-Algaida axis, where rugged mountains and gnarled olive trees give way to wide, flat expanses of wheat interspersed with vines.
At Bodegas Can Majoral in Algaida, brothers Biel and Andreu completed their conversion to organics in 2007. They believe in the potential of age-old Mallorcan varieties to produce quality wines, either as single varietals (aromatic Giró Blanc, stylish Gorgollasa) or in blends (low- acid Prensal boosted by Chardonnay and Parellada or rustic Callet with Syrah and Cabernet).
For a parting shot, visit Bodegas Mesquida Mora in Porreres, for a taste of maverick Barbara Mesquida’s lively wines. One of a handful of women winemakers on the island, she recently struck out on her own with 20ha of vines, both local and international varieties. The biodynamic approach shines through, from descriptions of her vines and winemaking through to the result in the bottle. Acrollam (Mallorca, spelt backwards), a Prensal-rich blend with Chardonnay, is a deep golden, mouthfilling white, while Trispol, a dense ruby red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Callet with a label showing a mosaic of decorated floor tiles typical of Mallorca, is firmly grounded in the island.
How to get there
By plane to Palma de Mallorca – there are frequent flights from various airlines from destinations in mainland Europe – then a rented car for visiting the vineyards and remoter parts of the island. There are regular buses from Palma to Inca and other destinations inland.