Seeking Beauty in Mallorca

When choosing among Mallorca, Spain's, prettiest towns, beauty is in the eye of the beholder By: Janice Mucalov
The picturesque town of Deia is built into a mountainside. // © 2011 Immanuel Bloch
The picturesque town of Deia is built into a mountainside. // © 2011 Immanuel Bloch

Where to Stay

Castillo Hotel Son Vida
Perched high above the bay of Palma amid cypresses and pines, this 13th-century castle hotel is a wonderful retreat from Palma de Mallorca, yet only a 15-minute bus ride away from the action. Part of the Starwood Luxury Collection, the Castillo Hotel Son Vida has 164 rooms and suites. Our room had gilt-framed mirrors, an entrance hall with wooden French doors to the bedroom (ensuring a quiet night's sleep), and a Juliet balcony overlooking the city lights. In warm weather, meals are served outside on a lovely palm-dotted stone terrace, lit at night with crystal oil lamps. Guests can swim in the grand pool and play on three championship golf courses.

FincaHotel Can Coll

One of Mallorca's many charms is its fincas (or farm estates) in the countryside, offering delightful escapist accommodations. FincaHotel Can Coll is a particularly idyllic find. A 10-minute walk to Soller and its restaurants, the restored butter-yellow manor house has nine rooms and suites with whitewashed stone walls and slip-covered furniture. When we arrived, we were greeted by the owners' retriever, Max, who likes to sleep on the cobbled porch outside. Breakfast, which includes home-made peach yogurt and date-and-nut bread, is served in the garden. Gourmet dinners by the talented new chef can be served in the candle-lit bodega (wine room). There's a pool as well for whiling away sunny lazy afternoons.

La Residencia
Set on 30 acres of olive and citrus groves in Deia, this Orient-Express property is one of the island's best. It fits right into the surrounding little town, with a couple of 400-year-old, ivy-clad, former manor houses and 76 rooms and suites scattered around a gorgeous pool. Interiors are decorated with red stone floors, traditional Mallorcan furnishings, original oil paintings and fresh-cut flowers. Its brilliant Michelin-recommended El Olivo restaurant occupies what was once an olive press and uses organic vegetables from La Residencia's garden. Guests should try the lamb with aubergine caviar in rosemary sauce.

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The Details

Spain Institute of Tourism
It's been dubbed "Mallorca's prettiest town." Some even say that it is Spain's prettiest town. I'm not sure whether Fornalutx really is prettier than the postcard-perfect villages of nearby Deia or Soller, but getting to Fornalutx certainly ranks as one of the most scenic day-trips on the Balearic island of Mallorca (also known as Majorca).

From the historic port of Palma, a narrow-gauge train rumbles for more than an hour before reaching Soller. Squeezing through 13 tunnels cut into the craggy Tramuntana Mountains, the vintage train is the most popular way for tourists to visit Soller. Just before Soller, the train stops for five minutes at a picturesque viewpoint. It's a quintessential Mediterranean scene as trees hang heavy with lemons and oranges, laundry flutters in the breeze outside Soller's red tile-roof houses and the sparkling turquoise sea laps at Port Soller, a couple of miles beyond.

Leaving the train in Soller, we ordered a cafe con leche at an outdoor cafe beside the cathedral in the town's main square. It came with fresh-squeezed orange juice (Soller is famous for its oranges) and a warm croissant. Fortified, we left for Fornalutx.

The northwest region of Mallorca is laced with many walking trails, and the walk to Fornalutx is one of the finest. Past Soller's cobbled streets (lined with shops selling books, cheeses and Mallorcan wine), we walked along a narrow paved road and through a set of gates before reaching a section of the famous "dry stone" route. This ancient 90-mile trail of stepping stones is what villagers once walked to cross the mountains before roads were built. The gradual climb led us past olive groves and farmhouses, and the views of the valley around Soller, with the mountains behind it, were stunning.

Some 90 minutes later, Fornalutx appeared. Steep staircases and winding narrow streets connect the village's green-shuttered stone houses. Because of its scenic location, many expatriates live there, owning about 40 percent of the homes. It certainly has the look of a wealthy town, where all the buildings have been renovated and pots of pink geraniums grace the doorways.

The traditional art of painted tile that dates back to the 14th century is also found here, as travelers will find in other Mallorcan towns. We gazed upward at roof tiles with outlines of plants, religious scenes and geometric shapes. Apart from being decorative, these paintings were also thought to protect the occupants from misfortune.

After more caffeine and a crusty ham baguette, we continued on the loop trail back down to Soller and debated whether Fornalutx deserves to be rated as Mallorca's prettiest town.

Unlike Fornalutx, which is quiet, Soller is grittier; it bustles with more locals pulling their shopping buggies and chattering in shop doorways, and it has the energy of an authentic town where people live and work year-round.

I also enjoyed visiting the nearby village of Deia. A charming place, Deia clings to the mountainside with breathtaking views of the sea far below. The English poet and author Robert Graves lived here, and the village is inhabited by artists, writers and the wealthy. Art shops abound; visitors will notice pots with paintbrushes on the windowsills of stone houses. There's also a great walk on a donkey track down the mountain to an idyllic swimming cove, with two seafood restaurants.

After much deliberation, which town did we decide was island's prettiest? Well, let's put it this way -- Fornalutx is definitely one of Mallorca's prettiest towns.  
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