The first in a new series of first person perspective holiday stories. Whether at your desk, on the bus or simply wishing you were out exploring the world, these tales are reminders of the simple pleasures that travel can afford you.
✈ Fly to: Mahon ✈ Fly from: Stansted, Gatwick, Birmingham or Manchester ✈ Flight time: 2.5 hours ☼ Average temp: 24°C Driving side: Right Other desk drives: Bulgaria
✈ Fly to: Mahon
✈ Fly from: Stansted, Gatwick, Birmingham or Manchester
✈ Flight time: 2.5 hours
☼ Average temp: 24°C
Driving side: Right
Other desk drives: Bulgaria
I think I’m one of few people on the planet that enjoys an early morning flight.
Landing at your destination at the break of dawn gives you a real sense of arrival. The world is waking up and you’re already conscious in a completely different country, ahead of everyone else.
You step out of the airport. The roads are near-empty; an endless stretch of stone white wall, occasionally interrupted by a small, lone villa. One of these happens to be my Mum and Dad’s Menorca hideaway in a tiny, hidden rural neighbourhood called Noria Riera. I spent at least a week here most summers as a kid, usually complaining about the lack of ‘English things’ to do. Turns out, now I’ve grown up a bit and have brought my girlfriend along, all I want to do is get away for a few days and truly experience the island and it’s thanks to them we’ve got the chance.
Despite all of Menorca’s recent renovation, it’s still pretty easy to see what it looked like 200 years ago. The island slipped through the grip of the majority of 18th Century European powers, first taken by the English Royal Navy in 1708, then passed between the French, English and Spanish over the course of 250 years. The history really shows. Es Castell, originally called Georgetown in honour of King George III, is our first stop.
We head to Café Camacho or, as it’s more commonly known, ‘Antonio’s’. Antonio and his family run this lively little bar, which can be easily missed unless the football is on. Menorcan tapas has many similarities with that of the Catalan region; it is not fancy food, but it is the ultimate comfort food.
We order Bacalao (thin slices of salted cod in a tomato sauce), by far my favourite dish; the salty fish works perfectly alongside the sharp, fruity tomato. Antonio brings it out alongside the customary Patatas Bravas (diced potatoes, fried and served with a signature pimenton based sauce) and Albondigas (pork and veal meatballs in a rich tomato sauce). It’s the perfect lunch, mainly because you’re welcome to eat as much or as little as you like. In this heat, that’s a godsend.
Once you’ve settled the bill, walk down Carrer Victori until you reach Carrer Bellavista and you’ll be greeted with a great view of the entrance to Port Mahon. The port has long been the hub of life for most of Menorca, due to being a huge strategic point for the occupiers’ naval fleets throughout history. Slap bang in the middle of it is Illa Del Rei, a small island used by the British to treat those wounded at sea since the 18th Century. Looking out to it can take you back centuries, as you picture ships coming and going, delivering and transporting their cargo (whether it was goods or soldiers).
Turn right here and walk along the front. Usually, you’ll catch a glimpse of the local kids sailing club pottering along, avoiding the floating mansions on their way to dock in the port. Walking around the corner we reach Cales Fons, a tiny harbour with the most amazing jazz bar; Chespir. By this point we’re too full for more food, but they do the most amazing pulpos con patas here (that’s octopus and boiled potatoes with, you guessed it, pimenton). Still, a swift gin and tonic and freshly squeezed juice for the driver and we’re sorted. Watching the sun fall behind the cliff face, we drift along the harbour and back up towards Es Castell’s main square. Just before the top of the hill is the local pescaderia, where we pick up some fresh prawns for dinner and settle in for an early night – the key to not letting the morning flight ruin the rest of the trip.
After dreaming of floating prawns and a gangly octopus, I stir (a little later and more dazed than scheduled) and start to get my plan together. Staying somewhere where you spent most of your childhood summers brings back lots of miniature memories, especially when it’s quiet and all you can hear are palm trees rustling in the easterly breeze. Here, the table and chairs where my sister refused to speak to my dad because of a Trivial Pursuit loss. There, the toilet door that doesn’t quite lock after that time someone got scared when they couldn’t get out and shoulder barged it open. I make some coffee and finally wake up; time to hit the road.
I’m a firm believer that you don’t need to drive miles and miles just because you have a car; it just gets you places quicker and in an endurable heat. We head 3km down the road to San Lluis towards a tiny village called Trebaluger. It just so happens to have a great little supermarket that is perfect for picking up seaside provisions. Back on the main road, we follow the signs to S’Algar, a great beach known for its cove diving and luxury resort. But that’s not where we’re going.
A little further down the coast is a tiny, secreted enclave called Cala Rafalet. I stumbled on it when I walked the coast with two friends in 2009 and I remember thinking I’d just discovered Menorca’s very own secret garden. Turns out it’s known by the locals as a great spot to dive, but it also has different levels of rocky outcrops perfect for a picnic of fresh bread, ham and cheese, topped off with a sunbathe till late afternoon. This, of course, is all you’re allowed to do on a weekend getaway.
After a winding drive home, past the local dairy farm, Fort Malborough in the distance, we quickly spruce up with shower and head back out for the finale of the weekend, a trip to Pan y Vino (meaning Bread and Wine in Spanish).
Travelling companions Patrick and Noelia settled in this 200 year old farmhouse, just outside San Lluis, in 2008 and I couldn’t be more grateful for it. The food, the setting, the location; it’s unreal. Patrick, inspired by the intricacy of French cuisine, combines local Menorcan produce with traditional French methods. We are treated to the warmest of welcomes from Noelia and are seated under the veranda. It’s that perfect evening warmth that comes with a slight breeze and the smell of garlic radiates from the kitchen. It’s now I realise I’m very, very hungry.
We both start with scallops…but not just any scallops. These monsters are served with ‘butifarró’ (Menorcan sausage) and caramelised apple; it is, quite literally, melt in the mouth business. After precisely the perfect amount of time has passed we receive our mains. I’ve gone for duck magret with Mallorcan sobrassada and honey – the sweetness is perfectly balanced alongside the spicy, tender sausage. My girlfriend has chosen a traditional French rabbit dish with herbs de Provence, beautifully laid on the plate with a lavish tomato confit. We finish with a selection of French cheeses and an espresso to bring us back into the real world. All you seem to want to do at this point is tuck in for a nap, but it’s worth sitting back and savouring the meal, as the Spanish tend to do till gone eleven.
As we drive back, it’s finally gotten dark and the lights across the port flicker intermittently against the deep black of the sea. I can’t help but wonder whether each of them is another peaceful villa, home to another little family with just as many stories to tell. I’ve realised the island is a like a second home to me – each road, town or beach has a memory. But strangely, every time I come here, I always seem to leave having learned something entirely new.
Words and Photos by Elliot Riordan