Meet Menorca, the Balearic island less trodden

Meet Menorca, the Balearic island less trodden

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Justly or not, a pair of Spain’s Balearic Islands have earned, shall we say, a certain reputation. Mallorca is commonly thought of as an outpost for sun-starved Germans on package holidays, whereas Ibiza is known as a clubber’s paradise and hippie haven. The chain’s second-largest major island, Menorca, is much less visited and harder to define. But don’t let a lack of preconceived notions suggest there’s nothing much to see or do there. Here are ten experiences unique to “La Isla verde y azul” or the island of green and blue.

Hike or bike the island’s circumference: The Camí de Cavalls is a 115-mile route wrapping its way around the island’s forests, hills and beaches. Based on an ancient military path, the trail passes through some of the most unspoiled landscapes to be found anywhere along the Mediterranean coast. In fact, the entire island is classified as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. Estimate some five days in the saddle if you’re cycling; double that if you plan to hoof it.

Sample all the seafood: While most of the creatures caught in the pristine waters surrounding the isle plate up nicely, some of the don’t-miss dishes here are considered "caldereta de langosta," a tomato and garlic stew starring the local spiny lobster; "albondigas de cabracho," balls made from the flesh of the red scorpion fish; and "raja," skate fish, typically served with a caper sauce.

Enjoy a G&T made with the island’s native gin: Gin de Menorca is a Spanish variety of gin, the spirit that gets its distinctive flavor from juniper berries. The island’s take on gin traces its roots back to the 18th century, when Menorca was occupied by the British. The Brits living there and passing through clamored for familiar products, and gin gained followers amongst the local population too. The islanders came up with their own recipe, distilling not grains but grapes for the base alcohol. If the label reads “Gin de Mahón,” you’ve found the Menorcan specialty. Try a pomada, a local favorite cocktail made of gin and sparkling lemon soda.

Sample mayonnaise in its place of birth: The island’s capital city, Mahón, gave its name to one of the most beloved of all condiments. According to popular wisdom, at some point while invading Menorca in 1756, the Duke of Richelieu sampled a sauce he enjoyed so much that he took the recipe back to his native France.

Explore megalithic stone monuments: Traces of prehistoric civilizations are scattered about the island, whose settlement has been dated to at least as far back as 2300 B.C. These massive stone constructions are divided into two distinct types: polylithic and monolithic. Navetes, an example of the former, include dwellings and burial structures. The monolithic taulas are tall vertical stones topped by flat, horizontal stones and surrounded by U-formed walls. Thirteen taulas are found on Menorca, the tallest of which reaches some 12 feet high.

Party down at a traditional fiesta: The Fiestas of Sant Joan de Ciutadella is a celebration of the summer solstice at which horses and their riders feature front and center. On the main days of festivities, June 23 and 24, the elegant city of palaces sees extravagantly dressed riders on horseback pass by the crowds, their steeds rising up on their hind legs in a display of might and nobility.

Say cheese!: Mahón cheese is a white cheese made of cows’ milk characterized by a sharp, aromatic and slightly salty taste, and its rind gets its orange hue from being rubbed with paprika. The cheese proudly bears the Denominación de Origen, a label identifying a foodstuff of great quality from a specific geographical region. Several of the island’s dairies offer free tastings.

Enjoy a cocktail in a cave bar: The Cova d'en Xoroi is a bar built directly into a cave overlooking the sparkling sea. By day it’s a laid-back place to chill; the crowds begin to gather in time for the sunset, and by night, the space is transformed into a club. An entrance fee is charged, but the price includes a beer or a soft drink.

Wallow in the mud baths: A handful of Menorca’s beaches offer the chance to plaster one’s body in mineral-rich mud, a procedure which is said to promote healthy skin and encourage relaxation. The Cala d’Algaiarens, also known as La Vall, is one of the island’s best-known places to lather up.

Treat your feet to avarcas: The traditional Menorcan footwear known as Menorquinas or avarcas are low-heeled sandals with a sling back and open or closed toes. Opt for a classic look in a solid color or go wild with a trendy animal print. A quality leather pair should last you just as long as your fond memories of this relaxed and beautiful island in the sun!

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