It was off-season in Mallorca and my pal and I had been strolling around the little suburb of Cala Major, a pretty little sandy beach on the outskirts of Palma, with no real plan for what to do that day other than ‘see somewhere we hadn’t seen before.’ I’d say that’s a very valid kind of a plan, although it leaves an awful lot up to fate. Risky business, guys, risky business. Even during winter, the island is a colourful place pretty much continuously bathed in sunshine, but still most of the shops and bars in the area were closed and waiting warmer times later in the year. We walked back along the main road from the beach, residing ourselves to the fact that we’d probably have to head back towards Palma if we wanted something more to fill our day. And at the exact point that I mentally gave up on finding somewhere new, we spied on the horizon (well, on the opposite side of the road), a rather shabby-looking but brightly painted RENT-A-BIKE SHOP!! Destiny was calling. And so was the open road!!
Hiring a car in Mallorca
Now, I might have slightly mis-led you here pals, as in the end it wasn’t the bikes that we decided to go for. I’m too much of a scaredy-cat to ride either a motorbike or moped, or even a bicycle, down any road, let alone into the unknown Mallorcan backcountry mountains, so on that particular day we went for the far safer option of a car. The man handed us the keys in exchange for €30 and the flash of a crew ID card, pointed us in the direction of a clapped-out looking old banger out the front, and that was it. The car was ours! Until approximately 7pm that evening.
We clambered in, brushing the crumbs from whoever had last ridden in the vehicle off of the seats. The glove compartment clattered open as I slammed my door shut behind me. I can’t imagine they get many people hiring cars from that tiny office in the middle of winter, and given the state of it part of me started to wonder if the owner had actually just lent us his own car. It was very much a used vehicle, know what I’m saying?
We got out our phones and checked to see where on Earth we actually were and how far away we could conceivably get in the time frame given to us. My pal pointed to a village which looked like it should be about half an hour’s drive away: Andratx. After a moments pondering- what do we know about Andratx? Nothing! What do we know about the road there? Nothing whatsoever! Are we even sure how you pronounce the name!? No way, Jose!- we decided to throw caution to the wind and just go with it. After all, it felt logical that ‘Andratx’ would be pronounced something like the word ‘Andrex’, which for those not in the know, is a brand of toilet paper synonymous with the golden retriever puppies which feature in all of its ad campaigns. Therefore- it felt completely logical that WE SHOULD CHECK ANDRATX OUT, ON THE DOUBLE!
The long and winding road
After a brief stop at a garage to stock up on petrol and snacks, we opted for the scenic route, heading North-West into the Mallorcan countryside in the vague direction of the mysterious toilet-paper-puppy village. What a time to be alive!!
The main roads of the island are quite a smooth and easy-going affair, but once you get into the twists and turns of the little country lanes, it’s not as easy on the old suspension, it has to be said. Especially if your car is in questionable condition, like ours was. But the countryside was so pretty that I didn’t care in the slightest. Rural Mallorca is downright, absolutely, 100% STUNNING.
All luscious green fields dotted with yellow flowers and the odd lamb skipping merrily about, it felt more like a super-warm day in Spring than a January morning. Every now and again we’d come across an old stone building or crumbling down old wall, and even though there were dark clouds in the distance, the sun seemed to be following us wherever we drove. My pal pulled up in a lay-by next to a field, turned the engine off, and we both got out.
My favourite sound.
My pal was doubtful that we were heading in the right direction, so I re-consulted my iPhone. The road on the map looked suspiciously windy and filled with very tight bends; in my experience as a frequent road-trip Designated DJ/Map Reader, bendy roads means high altitude roads. It was evident, in my highly professional opinion, that Andratx lay on the other side of the mountains in the distance. We would have to cross the mountains.
Related: Our Big Fat Greek Roadtrip
Driving through the Serra de Tramuntana
It was all getting a bit Lord of the Ringsy, but what other choice was there? Onward and upwards we went, towards the rocky peaks of the Serra de Tramuntana. This mountain range, which runs all the way along the North-West coast of the island, is a UNESCO World Heritage site- not that we knew that at the time. Back in the days when the Moors lived here, they created an ingenious irrigation system, complete with terraces carved into the mountains, which allowed them to farm the craggy land of Tramuntana; they were a right clever bunch, clearly. As we drove higher and higher up, I was blown away by the landscape that surrounded us. Forested, rugged terrain, which rolled away into the distance, and finally as we began to swoop down some bigger bends, we could make out a higgledy-piggledy collection of stone houses and the odd church-like tower, nestled into a valley below. Andratx here we come!!!
The village of Andratx
After the glossy beachfront bars of Palma (and even the Medieval backstreets of the city, which are filled with boutiques and coffee shops), the village of Andratx felt like worlds apart, almost as if we’d stepped into a different era completely. Although the sunshine was still out in full force, the air up in the mountains was rather on the chilly side. We explored the streets in complete silence, every now and again encountering a tiny bar outside which a few locals were sat, but for the most part it felt like the majority people were still asleep.
We headed uphill, through streets lined with brightly-painted houses where the odd dog barked down at us from a balcony or a cat blinked solemnly back at us before disappearing from view around the corner. The only other humans we saw as we walked uphill even further was one woman who ran out of her house and drove away in a silent hurry, and a man who appeared to be the ghost of Charlie Chaplin, walking slowly back down the hill away from us, leaning on his cane. This town is really, really pretty. Add to it the fact that there was hardly anyone else there, and I was basically in heaven. What a gem!!
Apparently the only time that Andratx really tends to spring into life is at its weekly Wednesday morning market in the village centre. Life here is slow-paced, and definitely not the kind of location tourists flock to.
The best fish I ever tasted in my entire life, ever
Before long, we realised we were absolutely starving, and headed to a tiny restaurant near where we had parked. Sa Societat de Ca Na Fornera looks rather unassuming from the outside, but inside it was jam-packed full of people, mostly locals but with the odd table of English or German folk thrown in for luck.
In comparison to the bustling areas along the seafront in Palma, the food on the menu is amazingly priced, and has an amazing taste to match. Oh my dear sweet Lord!! The Mallorcan baked fish that I had was hands down THE BEST FISH I HAVE EVER EATEN. I’m pretty sure it was cod, though my memory’s a little fishy now (geddit), with a garlicky tomato-y sauce, involving raisins and pine nuts. If you ever go to Mallorca, you have to eat this.
Eventually, and reluctantly, we made our way onwards, slowly back to Palma along the more coastal route. We drove further downhill towards Port d’Andratx, the seafront version of the town, which has a completely different atmosphere. Andratx the beach town is a fairly exclusive resort, filled with holiday homes and privately owned boats. Slick. The beach towns and villages between Port d’Andratx and Palma de Mallorca are a mixture of rocky and sandy coves, containing a smattering of locals jumbled in with shut-for-the-winter hotels and holiday homes; the notorious party town of Magaluf is situated on this little stretch of coastline, although we drove straight on by to the big city.
This was one of my last days on the island of Mallorca, and if I’d have realised how stunning the interior of the island is, and how quaint its rural villages are, I’d probably have attempted to drive into the countryside far sooner. This is one magical little island which surprised me in every way.
- Hiring a car in Mallorca was a surprisingly easy task. In order to hire a car in Mallorca you must be over 18 with a valid driving license. And you’re pretty much good to go.
- Driving within Palma de Mallorca, or up the windy roads of the mountains, would have been a fairly strenuous business for me. You’ve got to be a pretty confident driver to face those challenges.
- We took a really long, really slow route to reach Andratx; it’s far quicker to take the main road.
- It’s true that Mallorca attracts many tourists, both English and German speaking, but particularly in rural parts of the island it pays to know at least a basic level of Spanish.