The Balearics on a go-slow
The sleepy island of Menorca plays things differently to its bigger Balearic sisters, Majorca and Ibiza. It’s got its fair share of tourist spots, but they tend to revolve around low-rise hotels, fairy-lit marinas, and restaurants that have been in locals’ families for generations.
Blue Flag beaches
In the bigger hubs, like Cala’n Forcat, Punta Prima, Cala’n Bosch and Santo Tomas, 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. For the longest stretch of sand, head for family-favourite, Son Bou.
Inland, it’s a case of rolling countryside laced with walking trails, and tiny 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 Ciutadella are collections of harbour-side wine bars, elegant eateries, and top-end boutiques.
Things to See and Do in Menorca
Menorca has more beaches than Majorca and Ibiza put together, and most have been given Blue Flags thanks to their quality and cleanliness. Caribbean-like white sands are ten-a-penny in the south of the island, while the north has a slightly rockier coastline, with darker, caramel-hued sands bracketed by steep cliffs.
The big beach
Son Bou may be home to Menorca’s longest beach, but southern Cala Galdana’s offering pulls in the bigger crowds. So much so, it’s been nicknamed the ‘queen of beaches’ – pretty impressive when you consider the island’s sandy stretches are in triple figures. This horse shoe-shaped cove comes with a double helping of ice-cream shops, watersports and open-air restaurants.
The secret beach
Cala Presili’s crescent of white sand has no facilities to speak of, so you’ll need to bring a picnic if you’re heading down to spend the day here. The lack of amenities means there’s also a lack of crowds, though, so it’s perfect if you want to escape the busier resorts. To get here, you’ll need to make the 20-minute drive from Mahon and then walk about 15 minutes down to the sands.
Ciutadella is a boutique mecca, and the selection of goods here spans everything from D&G shades to gold and silver jewellery. For the best choice, poke around the town’s backstreets, where the high-end stores sit alongside upmarket delis. Alternatively, hail a cab to Mahon – the main street is full of shops selling top-quality jackets, handbags and belts crafted from the soft local leather.
Cala’n Bosch is brilliant for after-dark retail therapy. The marina is freckled with stalls selling everything from jewellery to sandals. There are henna tattooists and caricaturists, as well, so you can pay for some body art or a cartoon portrait to take home. Look out for similar stalls along the Cala Galdana, Punta Prima and Santo Tomas promenades. Son Bou, meanwhile, has a couple of small commercial centres near the Sol hotels, where you can browse local high street fashions and Quicksilver beachwear.
Mahon’s Placa de S’Esplanada and Ciutadella’s Noveau both host bric-a-brac markets Monday to Saturday, where you can pick up local crafts, clothes and jewellery. On Saturdays in Ciutadella, follow the crowds to the Farmer’s Market beside the cathedral, and you can browse the sausage and cheese stalls. Just be sure to look for the 'denominacion de origen' label if you’re buying local produce.
In Cala’n Bosch, the nightlife revolves around the town’s marina. Tiny bars and restaurants share space along the seafront, giving diners a front-row seat to the bobbing fishing boats and guitarists that set up camp next to the water. The nightlife forecast in Cala Galdana and Son Bou is fairly sedate, although you’ll find a few karaoke bars and pubs in Son Bou’s Centro Commercial area. In Punta Prima and Santo Tomas, meanwhile, the scene is one of softly-lit restaurants.
Set your sights on Cala’n Porter if you want to party into the small hours. The town is home to Menorca’s most famous nightspot, the Caves of Xoroi. Set in a series of cliff caves, this disco-come-bar has people dancing on terraces suspended high over the sea. Grab a cab to Mahon’s waterfront, meanwhile, and you’ll find jazz cafés and cocktail lounges. And all around Ciutadella’s Placa de Joan, warehouse-style clubs let rip from midnight to morning, playing everything from house to funk.
Caldereta de langosta
Menorca’s signature dish is a steaming lobster casserole that’s slow-cooked with onions, tomatoes, garlic and parsley, and served with crusty bread on the side. It’s fairly pricey, but there are plenty of cheaper versions made with other types of seafood if you’re looking at keeping costs down.
Whether you like it in your sandwiches or for dunking chips in, you can thank the Menorcans for mayonnaise. The white stuff originated in the town of Mahon in the 1700s, and was known on the island as ‘salsa de mahonesa’. Today, locals mix it with tons of garlic to create ‘allioli’ – a thick sauce that’s delicious smothered on bread.
This is Menorca’s answer to paella – seafood tossed with mounds of saffron-infused rice. Unlike the traditional paella, though, it’s much more like a broth, and you won’t find many different types of seafood in there, either. This version is simple and hearty, and it tends to come with just a few clams and some shrimp.
Queso de Mahon
The island’s signature cheese is creamy, buttery, salty, nutty and sweet all at the same time. The most popular way to eat it in Menorca is sliced and sprinkled with black pepper and tarragon, and then drizzled in olive oil. Try yours alongside some slices of spicy chorizo sausage.
Make sure you sample the local tipple while you’re here. A zingy mix of gin and lemon, Pomada is sipped as a digestif after dinner, to help food go down. The Menorcans learnt how to make gin from the British, and the most well-known brand is Xoriguer. Pick up a bottle and you can mix yourself up a pomada when you get home.