“Lazy days on the beach and leisurely dinners by the waterfront – that’s the order of the day on this slow-going Balearic isle.”
Two words sum up Menorca better than any others – ‘calm’ and ‘charming’. It plays things differently to its bigger Balearic sisters, Majorca and Ibiza. The island’s got its fair share of tourist spots, but they tend to revolve around low-rise hotels, attractive marinas and cosy seafood restaurants.
In the bigger hubs, like Cala’n Forcat, Cala’n Bosch and Son Bou, holidays are all about lazy days on the sand. And it’s easy to see why – Menorca’s beaches are really impressive. You’ve got everything from long golden sweeps and pine-backed bays, right through to off-the-beaten-track coves.
Inland, it’s a case of gently rolling countryside, walking trails and little villages where everything seems to stop come siesta time. And you can’t go far without spotting a sign for one of the island’s prehistoric relics. The deserted village of Torre d’en Gaumes, for example, dates back to 1400 BC.
Then you’ve got Menorca’s tale of two cities. Mahon and Ciudadela are collections of harbour-side wine bars, elegant eateries, and top-end boutiques.
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Menorca holiday resorts
Resorts in Menorca include
Arenal D'en Castell,
Cala 'n Blanes,
Son Bou and
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Start counting. Menorca’s got over 100 beaches to choose from. In fact, it’s got more beaches than Majorca and Ibiza combined. We’re talking quiet bays of demerara sands. Sweeps of gold bustling with beach life and watersports. Solitary coves snuggled between cliffs. All lapped by see-through waters. They’re pretty much all family-friendly, with feather-soft sands perfect for tiny feet and calm shallows made for little swimmers with L-plates.
Most of the favourites are scooped into the island’s south, east and west coasts. Take Son Bou for instance. The island’s longest, it’s a solid-gold slice of fun set on the island’s southern shores. Then there’s Cala Galdana and Cala’n Bosch – pretty coves specked with pedalos. Or how about Punta Prima? A ribbon of sand with rocks at one end, it’s great for tan-toppers, snorkellers and windsurfers. And that’s just for starters. All around Binibeca, S’Algar and Cala’n Blanes, you’ll find coves perfect for catching the rays and swimming until sundown.
The north coast’s got some winners as well. At Arenal D’en Castell, a horseshoe bay of pale sands awaits, while nearby Cala Tirant is a Mecca for windsurfers. And if you’re looking for something a bit more secluded, get out the map and look a little harder. All around the rockier north and gentler southern coast, quiet bays and coves burrow into the coastline. Pin-drop quiet, they’re perfect for hiding away for the day and drifting off into your own sun-drenched daydream.
- While Cardinal Richelieu was busy concocting dastardly plans to outwit the three musketeers, his cousin Louis was living it up in the taverns of Mahon. In between clinking tankards, he was served a tasty Menorcan sauce. Returning to Paris, he introduced the new garnish to the royal court where it became an overnight success. Known in Menorca as ‘salsa de mahonesa’, the French gave it the moniker ‘mayonnaise’. And that’s how the world was introduced to one of its favourite salad buddies. These days the locals like to mix mayonnaise up with garlic to create ‘allioli’ dip – lovely with some crusty bread. Mayo aside, fish and seafood is what Menorca does best. So much so that in lots of harbourside restaurants, you can watch your supper being landed minutes before it hits your plate. Think steaming bowls of still-in-their-shell mussels. Tender fillets of tuna and seabass. And topping the lot, Menorca’s signature dish of ‘caldereta de langosta’. This lobster casserole is slow-cooked with onions, tomatoes, garlic and parsley. Served with crispy bread, it’s a tastebud sensation. So good in fact King Juan Carlos of Spain quite often pops over to the harbour-town of Fornells for a plate. It’s fairly pricey though, but there are plenty of cheaper versions made with fish and other seafood if you don’t fancy shelling out. Another must is ‘arroz marinera’. It’s Menorca’s version of paella – seafood mixed into fluffy mounds of saffron-infused rice. Not hooked on all the ocean fare? There’s plenty more besides. Roast meat and gravy dishes – a tasty legacy of Menorca’s brief stint under the British. Stews like ‘tumbet’ - peppers, potato and tomatoes baked in earthenware pots. And sausages – fantastic served cold with ‘queso de Mahon’, cured cheese. There are more treats lined up dessert-wise with ice-creams by ‘Menorquina’ – the island’s answer to Walls - and gooey ‘armagas’ macaroons. If you like your flavours more familiar though, you’ll find plenty of places serving fish and chips and full English breakfasts in Menorca’s family-oriented resorts like Cala’n Forcat and Cala’n Bosch. And even in the smaller towns, you’ll never be far from places rustling up steaks, pizzas and pasta. As to drinks, give the local tipple a whirl. It’s called ‘pomada’ – a zingy mix of gin and lemon. And rather interestingly, the local gin comes from the Xoriguer distillery, a hangover from British rule.
- Moli d’es Reco, Es Mercadal – Go local at this holiday favourite where meals like squid stuffed with almond sauce are served on a pretty terrace. It’s easy to find – just look for the windmill.
- Es Cranc, Fornells – Dive into the backstreets behind the seafront for this popular haunt that serves fresh fish and swoon-inducing shrimp.
- La Minerva, Mahon – Posh food and a pretty terrace make this one of Mahon’s finest dining spots. Don’t miss the ‘borrachitos al gin’ – melt-in-the-mouth puddings drenched in gin.
- Sa Parareta, San Luis – Tucked in the countryside near San Luis, this sweet little restaurant combines Spanish favourites with British classics like roast beef.
- La Baras, Cala’n Forcat – Feast on leg of lamb roasted in Menorca’s only clay oven at this friendly restaurant. The locals can’t get enough of the place – always a good sign.
- Apart from the bigger resorts, the pace here stays permanently pressed on the go-slow pedal. And that’s just how most visitors like it. In most of the smaller seaside villages, evenings start with a ‘passeig’ - a gentle stroll along the waterfront, eyeing up restaurants on the way. Then it’s time to pull up a chair, sip a sangria or two and feast on an al fresco supper.
And if the night still feels young, there’s always a few lively bars to help you pick up the tempo. In Es Castell and Cala’n Bosch for instance, you’ll find a fair few music dens and karaoke joints to get you swapping PJs and pillow for some late-night antics. If you want something buzzier, set your sights on Cala’n Forcat, Son Bou and Cala’n Porter. In all three, lively bars, theme pubs and nightclubs rev up at dusk if you want to trip the night fantastic.
And if you’re anywhere near Cala’n Porter, there’s one disco that no self-respecting party animal should miss. Set in a series of cliff caves, the Caves of Xoroi keeps armies of die-hard dancers moving on terraces suspended over the sea.
Mahon and Ciudadela are no wallflowers either. Hail a cab and head for Mahon’s waterfront, where jazz cafés and cool nightspots pump out sounds for the capital’s twenty-somethings. And all around Ciudadela’s Placa de Joan, warehouse-style clubs and discos let rip from midnight to morn, blasting everything from house to funk.
- Cova d’en Xoroi, Cala en Porter – This legendary cliff-cave disco’s unmissable. With its cliff-side stairways, caverns and terraces teetering over the waves, it’s an ultra-cool mix of dance anthems and laser beams.
- Akelarre, Mahon – Trippy live jazz takes centre-stage at this club on Mahon’s waterside. The fun doesn’t start until after midnight, so prepare for a long night.
- Mamas & Papas, Es Castell – It may be pocket-sized, but this subterranean bar packs a powerful punch-per-inch. Perfect for late-night partying with the locals.
- Hawaiano, Son Bou – Punters at this Hawaiian-inspired hidey-hole are served flamboyant, fruit-laden cocktails by roller-skated waiters. Try the head-spinning Volcano – it’s explosive.
- Big Apple Karaoke Bar, Cala’n Bosch – Sing your heart out to cheesy pop at this loud, much-loved karaoke joint. There’s big-screen footie during the day and discos most nights, too.
Wherever you wander in Menorca, you’ll think a crowd of leather shops is secretly following you. No kidding - they’re everywhere you turn. And they’re stuffed with high-quality jackets, bags and belts crafted from the local butter-soft leather.
Favourite by far, though, are leather shoes and sandals. Shoemaking’s one of Menorca’s biggest industries and you’re not allowed to forget it. Expect lots of places selling ‘arbarcas’ – the comfy rubber-soled sandals that are popular here. You’ll be spoilt for choice on the jewellery front, too.
Menorcans are crazy about the costume variety and in most resorts you’ll find shops selling gold and silver pieces. Another good place for trinkets is the street markets. The best ones are in Mahon and Ciudadela. Mahon’s Placa de S’Esplanada and Ciudadela’s Noveau both host bric-a-brac markets running from Monday to Saturday.
And don’t forget the food markets. In Mahon, head for the fruit and veg stalls inside the Claustre del Carme. On Saturdays in Ciudadela, meanwhile, follow the crowds to the farmer’s market beside the cathedral to cherry-pick from the sausage and cheese stalls.
And if you’re in either town, let yourself loose on all the other shopping opportunities. In Mahon, high-street names mingle with one-off boutiques, dusty bookstores and tourist emporiums. And in Ciudadela, boutiques and mouth-watering delis cram the backstreets.
Talking of which, gourmet goodies are great take-homes. Don’t leave without some Xoriguer gin or pungent ‘queso de Mahon’ cheese – just look for the ‘denominacion de origen’ mark to find the best.