Our third full-day in Mallorca started with our customary breakfast of cereal, hard-boiled eggs, bread, jam, and coffee. We also packed a picnic lunch, and debated over clothing and what to bring.
Stacey had planned a hike/walk through the towns and villages of Soller, Biniaraix, and Fornalutx. Feeling lazy, the 14 kilometer (8.5 mile) jaunt felt intimidating when we started off in the morning, but it was one of the highlights of our visit to Mallorca, and so pleasant it felt more like sightseeing than a disciplined hike.
The first challenge, however, was parking in Puerto de Soller, located at the foot of the Sierra de Tramuntana mountain range, and the only resort town on the rugged west coast of Mallorca. Until the 3,023 meter (nearly two-miles) Tunel de Soller was built in the nineties, it was a lengthy trip to reach Soller. However, the tunnel makes it a quick 40-minute drive from Palma.
It took 15 minutes or so of circling around the narrow Soller streets to find a place to park. And because we couldn’t read Spanish, we weren’t certain whether there were restrictions as to where (and when) we could park. Nevertheless, Stacey using her parallel parking skills, squeezed into an itsy-bitsy space, a short walk from the start of the trail.
Escorting us at the start was a beautiful cat with bright blue eyes, and Siamese markings. It ran between our legs, jumped onto the stone walls, and running ahead, waiting until we caught up and gave it a pet. We were concerned it would follow us throughout the day, but after a quarter mile, it decided to head back to town.
Sometimes when researching a place to visit, the photographs and descriptions exaggerate what turns out to be a lackluster experience. Mallorca, however, was much more magnificent than touted in tourist reviews from Palma to the Formentor lighthouse on the opposite coast. The island has a range of landscapes, including beach, tall cragged mountains, flat farmlands, and where we hiked, gentle rolling hills with groves of cultivated olive, orange, tangerine, lemon, grapefruit and lime trees, along with picturesque oak, pine, wild olive, juniper, and carob trees. Because of the mild Mediterranean temperatures, there was also strands of cactus, prickly pear, palms, and flowering bushes like rosemary, rockrose, myrtle, foxglove, and oleander.
Even the trail were noteworthy, cobblestone paths and stairs worn smooth from villagers walking over them for hundreds of years. Even though it had recently rained, there was little mud because rock terraces — sometimes on both sides of a path — held back the dirt. The terraces were jigsaws of flat rocks with rounded stones and dirt as mortar. Most were probably constructed hundreds of years earlier to create flat spaces to grow crops, graze sheep and goats, create holding ponds, and construct houses, sheds, and public buildings.
As we climbed higher, we were able to see a panoramic view of Soller, Biniaraix, and Fornalutx, and the surrounding hills and valleys. It was definitely postcard perfect.
What’s New is Old
After leaving Soller, we trudged up numerous steps, past villas, farms and fruit groves before descending into the village of Biniaraix. My first thought was “wow!” Even though the town is primarily composed of very old stone houses, cobbled streets, and lush private gardens, everything is spotless. Merchants sweep outside their shops. Residents decorate the doorsteps with plants (clivia, sago palm, bromeliad, oleander, rosemary, bougainvillea, and anthodium) in large ceramic pots. And public areas are free of trash, even though most establishments and plazas have outdoor seating.
We stopped in the center of the town at a small café and ordered café con leches. Earlier, I’d seen an older woman with a perky dachshund, leaving her house. She went to a shop, and then visited the café where we were seated. She conversed with several people, including the mother of two school-aged girls who briefly stopped, then continued down the street. During our coffee break, we saw a dozen or so people drop by the café, sit down and chat for a few minutes, order food, or continue with their day’s activities. One couple had a black and white cat in tow, which followed them like a dog, bounding into the house when they opened the door.
Later, we saw the woman with the dachshund on another street, visiting a house or maybe dropping off something for a friend. I wondered what it would be like to live in a small town where everyone knows everyone, and takes the time to chat with neighbors, walk to shops (instead of drive), enjoy leisurely meals with friends and family, and not be stressed over health insurance, medical and dental expenses, cost of housing, utilities and food, and being laid off because their job is being outsourced or their company is making cuts because of a dip in the previous quarter’s earnings.
I suspect many of the houses in Biniaraix are passed down from generation to generation, including the antique and rustic furniture, paintings and other tasteful furnishings, which I spied through open windows and doors. Here’s an example of the type of houses we saw. This house is located in Deia, south of Biniariax.
The same continuity probably holds true for jobs. If you’re born into a family of farmers, merchants or craftsmen that’s what you become. And like many European countries, people probably don’t work 50-hours a week, but instead work at a leisurely pace for some of the day, and then spend the rest of their time socializing or doing other enjoyable activities.
It sounds like a great life, if you’re okay living in close proximity to everyone else, and spending most of your life in and around the village since few people have cars. One tourist site mentioned “At both villages [Biniaraix and Fornalutx], the last 100 years appears to have completely passed them by, and visitors can experience the traditional Majorcan way of life, and how the island used to be before the tourists started to arrive.”
Onward to Fornalutx
We had a little difficulty finding the path to Fornalutx. After studying the map and surveying our surroundings, we were back on track, and once again climbing dozens of stone steps, and walking on cobblestone paths and narrow paved streets, occasionally shared by a speeding car or motorcycle.
When we reached what seemed to be the highest point, we found a grassy knoll, and laid-out a picnic lunch of local sausage and cheese, bread, grape tomatoes, tangerines, and trail mix. Our hunger satisfied, we descended into Fornalutx, which is home to less than 500 people.
Some of the olive trees in the area are over thousand years old. The stone building look equally old, but like most of Mallorja, everything is meticulously maintained and picturesque from the bright green shutters on the houses and rows of potted plants lining the streets to the breathtaking mountainous views. It’s hard not to snap a picture every few minutes!
Here’s a video from the top of the valley.
After strolling through village, we headed back to Soller. Even though we approached the town from a different direction, Stacey was able to navigate back to the car, which unfortunately, had a ticket in the windshield. With the street signs in Spanish, we hadn’t realized we needed to pay to park.
Luck on our side, Stacey spotted a police officer who helped remedy the issue, having her only pay the parking fee and not the fine. While she was paying, I heard the sounds of horse hoofs echoing on the cobblestone. From around the corner, going quite fast, was a man in a wooden wagon being pulled by two sturdy brown horse. I barely had enough time to turn on my camera and shoot a couple of shots before they disappeared down the road.
Puerto de Soller, our next stop, is almost a perfect horseshoe bay, enclosed by two headlands, and surrounded by the rugged Tramuntana Mountains. On one end are two lighthouses to help guide boats into the bay.
With sandy beaches, turquoise water, and numerous cafes, restaurants, hotels, marinas, and other tourist amenities it would be a lovely place to spend a couple of days, soaking in the sun. We zipped over to a breach-front café and ordered two authentic pizzas, along with drinks. One scrumptious pizza had anchovies, ham, capers, artichokes, and cheese. The other was simpler, but equally tasty with a rich tomato sauce with red onion and cheese. Both had a very thin, crunchy crust like a chubby cracker.
After getting a dose of sunshine, we headed over to a shop for gelato. Rich had coconut, and Stacey and I had orange with chocolate bits. Yum!
As the sun started to set, we then scurried back to the Marriot to get ready for the evening activity.
El Llac Dels Cignes
Months earlier, Stacey had purchased tickets to the Moscow Ballet Swan Lake (El Llac Dels Cignes in Spanish). After getting back to the resort, we quickly showered, and dressed. The performance was at the Auditorium de Palma de Mallorca, a multi-story concrete building with bright fuchsia seats and several balconies. In spite of the size, the auditorium was surprisingly intimate. Of course, it helped that our seats were less than 10 rows from the stage.
We arrived early, and watched as streams of little girls (and big ones too) in fancy dresses, tights and shoes, left the auditorium, having seen a matinee of the Nutcracker. Once inside, Rich and I were approached by an older Spanish couple who were anxious to talk with us. I don’t know if they thought we were important people, between our simplified English and their broken English, we convey that we were simply tourist from America.
I was very excited to see the ballet, knowing it would feature top performers. I definitely wasn’t disappointed with great dancing, costumes, and music. The most dynamic dancer was P. Raykov in the role of Bufo. He was tall and lithe, doing extraordinary leaps and intricate steps, and also using facial expression to convey emotion. Stacey was equally enthralled by this dancer.
I tried to find information about his background, but the closet I got was a dancer named Petr Bochkov on the Moscow Ballet site who looked similar. Extensive searching on the internet turned up no additional information on Petr.
The principal dancers, playing the roles of Prince Sigfrid and Odette (Swan Queen) were played by the husband and wife team of Alexei and Cristina Terentiev. Both were from Moldovia, and started training before they were ten years old. The other dancers also hale from Russian and other Slavic countries, including Kazakhstan.
The ballet was a wonderful treat!