“First time in Menorca?”, the smiling Hertz agent asked as he handed us the keys to the car.
“Sí. Yes”, we replied. “We’re excited to explore the island and do some hiking this week.”
“Have you been to Mallorca? Mallorca is really nice. They have mountains,” he said with what I can only describe as a wistful gaze at some undefined distant point. Perhaps Menorcans suffer a bit of an inferiority complex, as their island is neither the large, geo-diverse island of Mallorca nor Ibiza, the diminutive neighboring island famous for being a playground of rich, beautiful, yacht-owning, Euro-chic summertime party animals. For those who do stumble upon Menorca, as we did, there are many natural treasures to be found, even in the off-season (as long as you’re not looking for nightlife, shops, restaurants, tourist information, buses, or museums…).
In our quest to soak up as much of what Spain has to offer in our time here we knew we wanted to get to the Balearics. They are a group of four islands situated about 120 nautical miles east of Spain’s Mediterranean coast, with a long history of human occupation and conflict given their strategic position. Serendipitously, a week at a resort where we have timeshare reciprocity came available when we happened to have a rare unscheduled week, so we jumped at the opportunity to go. (For a photo gallery of our week on Menorca, click here or go to Photos: Spain Photos on the menu above.)
Menorca is known regionally for just a few things. In the early 1700s, the island was briefly controlled and occupied by the British. Cows and sheep were imported and a dairy industry flourished. To this day, varieties of Mahón cheese (named for the capital city of Menorca) are produced and sold locally. Sadly, I doubt any of this delicious, hyper-local product can be found in the States, and I am not even sure it gets sent to Spain’s mainland. Another somewhat anachronistic product to be found here, perhaps again thanks to the British, is Mahón gin. Unlike most gins, this one is served mixed with lemon-lime soda rather than tonic water, and called Pomada. There is some speculation that mayonnaise (Mahón-aise) was invented here and later exported to France after the French routed the British in 1756. Lastly, for those who enjoy outdoor pursuits, Menorca has a stunning 185 km. trail that rings the coastal edges of the entire island, divided into manageable stages.
It is this last regional speciality that particularly interested us. We love to get to know a place at a slow pace, discovering its natural beauty, hiking its trails and walking the small village roads. And immediately after picking up our car, we found ourselves sampling all three.
On an island as small as Menorca, if you head in one direction for more than about 20 minutes you are going to find yourself at the coast. Menorca is a rugged island and there are more than 200 beaches: some tucked into coves, others wide, white-sand, half-moon beaches, pebble-strewn beaches at the base of high cliffs, or wind-whipped and rocky beaches. In summer, I’m sure there are many spectacular spots to drop anchor, snorkel, and sunbathe. The entire island was designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1993 and has one natural park on the northeast side that is a bird sanctuary, in particular serving migratory birds traveling between Europe and Africa. Basically there is something for everyone.
After picking up our rental car on arrival day, we had some time before checking into the resort, so we headed south from the airport and quickly found ourselves on a beautiful stretch of coastline. We were close to a town named Binibeca, so we headed there knowing little about it. Turns out Binibeca is an incredibly charming, quintessentially Mediterranean, white-washed, seaside village with narrow streets and charming homes. There are tiled signs embedded in the walls of the homes, kindly requesting silence and respect for the inhabitants, which gave us an inkling into how different our experience might be in the summer. But in mid-March, we were the only people out and about. Shutters were drawn, shops were closed for the season, and there was not a morsel of food to be had. So we snapped our tourist photos, imagined a great game of hide-and-seek in the twisty maze of footpaths through town, and respected the silence. In search of a meal at that point, we eventually found one open waterside restaurant, where we capped off our al fresco meal with local cheese ice cream. Yup, that’s right! It is this weird frozen concoction made with the local semi-cured cheese, sugar, and cream. It feels like ice cream in the mouth but tastes more like cheese than cheesecake. We were instant fans and spent the rest of the week looking for any open heladería (ice cream shop) to no avail.
On our way to the resort we stopped at a market to pick up some provisions for the week. And it’s a good thing we did, as it turned out that our options for dining on the island were quite limited. In the town around our resort there were only three options: a Chinese take-out restaurant (no thanks), an Italian pizzeria (not really interested), and an Irish pub that only served liquid meals (not that we would ever do that…). Luckily for us, we were not there for a gastronomic tour but to enjoy the hiking and nature.
And enjoy it we did! We hiked through open fields of neon-yellow spring flowers, observed by docile cows. We traipsed up and down craggy, volcanic paths hugging the coastline, across sugar sand beaches, past brackish pools populated with pink flamingos and through stands of pine trees, rarely seeing any other wanderers along the way. Each day brought new and varied sensory delights. We enjoyed the warm sun on our faces, battled stiff winds on exposed high points, marveled at the clear, turquoise blue water and breathed in the salty air.
Along the way, we learned that the island has over 1,500 prehistoric sites—and we saw them all! (Just kidding.) But the ones we did see were fascinating. Among them were necropoli caves carved into the stone hillsides, and a 3,600 year-old, two level, stone hut thought to have been used as a tomb. A number of these sites are well signposted and preserved, and unlike in much of the world, are still completely accessible for getting up close and even to touch. We also happened upon more-recent ruins suggestive of 18th through 21st century conflicts and defensive outposts. We learned about the various lighthouses (12 in total around this little island) and drove to the highest point, El Toro, at a modest 1,175 feet, for an overview of the whole island.
Besides the signs in Binibeca requesting quiet, we saw other indications that the island gets lousy with tourists in the high season. In the capital city we walked around the waterfront, which is three miles long and claims to be the second longest natural harbor in the world. Here, in summer, numerous car ferries arrive daily from the mainland, glass-bottomed boats provide tours, the wharf is lined with restaurants (all closed in March), and car, bike, and scooter rentals are readily available. In other towns, racks of kayaks and paddle boards lay stacked and ready for future use. And, the multitude of resorts, housing complexes, hotels and campgrounds—currently unpopulated—hint at what awaits the island in just a couple months.
If, like the group of girlfriends on spring break we met while enjoying an Irish liquid dinner, you are looking for the next beach party, Menorca in the off-season is not your place. For us, the quiet, solitude, and uninterrupted landscape was more than a fair trade for the lack of services (though an open ice cream store would have been welcome). As we were checking out on our final day, we got into a conversation with the hotel receptionist. She asked us if we had enjoyed our stay on the island and what kinds of things we had done. She then asked, “Have you been to Mallorca?” and then with a faraway, wistful expression she said, “You should go there. Mallorca is really nice.” Go figure!
For more photos of Menorca, click here or go to Photos: Spain Photos on the menu above.
10 thoughts on “Island Time: 7 Days in Menorca”
I feel as if I have had a first hand experience of the ‘little’ [Menorca] island. Thanks for a beautiful, vivid portrait.
Thanks for reading the post and responding. I will be interested to know what you think of Palma after you have been there.
Next trip to Mallorca? 🙂
Minorca is a gem and thank you for bringing it to me. I think if I were experiencing it for the first time in the high season I would yearn to explore its beauty without the throngs.
And perhaps without the thongs to boot(y) –lol
You have a lovely sense of humor!-muy chistosa🙃
Your beautiful writing brought this quiet island to life for me and made me nostalgic for the tiny mountain home I enjoyed for twenty five years, So thank you Rachel! I love your posts and could almost taste that ice cream!
Do you have some clues at what the 1500 historical sites on this little island are? Your description is lulling me into the slow pace of the island off season. Beautiful words and photos as usual.
Thanks Rosian. If you want to learn more, here is an excellent article from National Geographic about the prehistory of Menorca: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/menorcas-houses-of-the-dead-reveal-these-ancient-secrets
Fascinating. Never knew Menorca had unique historical structures. Thanks.