The Balearics Best Kept Secret

Photography by Mitchell Webb | Shot in Menorca, Balearic Islands | Created in collaboration with Grupotel Macarella Suites & Spa

It’s 15th June, 3.30am and my alarm is reminding me that unless I plan to miss our flight, I need to haul my ass out of bed, like, I don’t know, now.  After a swift, relatively stressless but zombie-like-state pass through check-in and security we boarded our flight for our third jaunt to the island we have come to love so deeply.

We have done a fair bit of exploring Menorca on our previous trips, driving pretty much the entire length of the island, but this time around we discovered the rich history of it and the poignancy that a seemingly bad situation can have on a countries culture. Most people aren’t aware but in 1993, thanks to the diversity of its various landscapes, flora, and fauna, Menorca was declared a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. The central zone of this reserve is the island’s S’Albufera des Grau Natural Park, home to many species of birds and including five islands off the coast. Protected from development and a great source of national pride, it offers everything from turtles to wild olive trees and a selection of walking trails. It’s also a niche accolade but an accolade nonetheless: Menorca’s Naveta d’Es Tudons is said to be the oldest building without a roof in Europe. Open to visitors, this eerie megalithic chamber was once a tomb, found approximately three miles from Ciutadella in the West of the island. Being declared a Unesco Biosphere Reserve is something that the island has, strangely, Generalissimo Franco to thank for. In retribution for the little island’s Republican stance during the Spanish Civil War, the fascist dictator spent the next 36 years denying Menorca access to public building funds. The island couldn’t build a thing, not even a shed in their back gardens. As the years went on though, Menorcans rejoiced in the result of their beautiful unspoiled island remaining as such and escaping the high-rise concrete epidemic that blighted the mainland costas.

On one of our excursions, we traveled across almost the entire island on a 4×4 Jeep. Our first stop was to the local (and only) salt farm, a place ran entirely by one lovely chap – Pedro. Once a week, Pedro opens the gates and lets the sea water in, the water evaporates and he’s left with pure sea salt. The salt that evaporates into the air during this process literally changes the taste of everything on the island from the vegetables we ate at dinner to the grass the cows eat. This gives everything a slightly different taste, the walls of the salt farm barn were even covered in a thin layer of salt that comes from the air. After purchasing some salt spiced with cumin, coriander and thyme (delicious, by the way) we headed to the next pit stop.

We then stopped off at the northernmost point and most exclusive area of Menorca, Addaia, to pick up a picnic lunch. Our guide explained that Addaia is an area mostly populated by locals that completely shuts down during the winter months – not even the street lights come on. Historically the residents bought villas by the water to bring the children during their summer holidays, the kids get 3 months off so that’s a long time for them to be at home with mum and dad. With our brown paper lunch bags in tow, we rumbled along off-road into the largest area of private land on the island. Back when Menorca was a British colony, the island wasn’t seen as desirable to build/trade on, so the royal family split it into 8 sections and gave each member a piece of humongous land complete with a palace for them to summer in. We ate our picnics in the grounds of one of the palaces under the shade of a blackberry tree, with 360-degree views of the surrounding nature. The previously royal palace where we enjoyed our picnic was owned by a gay member of the royal family, who of course had no wife or children to pass it down to, only his younger partner. He managed to have the palace wrote into his will for his partner, being only 70 or so years ago it was still an outrage to be gay in Spain at that point – it was such an inspiring story.

After that, we took a long and very bumpy ride to the highest point of the island to enjoy views of about 85% of it, taking in the sights of Fornells and the ancient fortresses that protected the coasts from invaders hundreds of years ago before finally stopping off at a secluded ‘virgin’ beach for a dip before heading home.

For a tiny, lesser-known island off the coast of its big brother, mainland Spain, Menorca has such a rich history, is truly unspoiled and has corners even the locals have yet to explore. We will surely be back.

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