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Beyond PalmaSeptember 18, 2012 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
|At Bodegas Santa Catarina, a wine expert talks about vintages while guests relax and sample the wines.|
Cruisers whose ships call at Palma de Mallorca in Spain’s Balearic Islands can walk or take a taxi from the cruise pier to Palma’s city center for its historic architecture, narrow streets and a magnificent, 13th-century Gothic cathedral. But if clients want to get out of the city, they might book a shore trip to the island’s countryside.
Travel Agent visited Palma de Mallorca this summer on Carnival Breeze. As “been there, done that” clients on the final day of a fast-paced European travel schedule, we opted for the “Palma Wine Tasting,” a half-day motorcoach tour for those 21 and older. This shore trip combines the best of viticulture and wine tastings at a winery nestled within one of the island’s scenic western valleys as well as a tour of Els Calderers, an 18th-century Spanish mansion and farm estate situated in the island’s flat interior. Cost was $79.99 per person.
Vines and Tastings
Adoring the constant sun and mild Mediterranean weather, the Romans planted the island’s first vineyards. In fact, viticulture was a main source of farm revenue for thousands of years until disease destroyed most of the island’s vines in the early 20th century. Fortunately, the industry has battled back and today, grape vines grace the Mallorcan landscape much as they did in Roman times.
Carnival’s “Palma Wine Tasting” excursion begins with a 45 minute drive by motorcoach to the western side of the island via resort towns and Sierra de Tramuntana mountain scenery. After negotiating the challenging S-curved roadways, the coach reaches Bodegas Santa Catarina, a winery situated amid a valley that’s now home to such French grape varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.
Today, the winery produces about a half million bottles per year. Cruisers disembark the coach to view the vineyards, receive a short briefing in the wine production facility, and then stroll to a romantic, darkly lit sandstone cellar where they may head into side corridors to view oak barrels.
Then it’s time to reboard the coach for a very short drive to the winery’s tasting facility. Cruisers walk slightly uphill past rows of picturesque vineyards to a lovely mansion. Entering a Mediterranean-style outdoor courtyard, they relax while seated at small round patio tables. A large display of the wines awaits as a wine expert discusses the specific characteristic of each vintage and an estate employee makes the rounds among the tables to pour the samples.
Tastings include not only Santa Catarina’s vintages but also those of nearby Bodegas Macia Batle, which has been producing wine since 1856. The entire experience is very Mediterranean; guests look upward at grape vines intertwined among the trellises above their patio tables. They can savor Mallorcan olives and cheese, and dip bread in olive oil before adding a touch of flavored sea salt.
Back to the 1200s
Then clients reboard their motorcoach for about an hour’s ride before reaching the village of Sant Joan in the island’s interior. Soon the bus pulls into Els Calderers, a historical agricultural estate. This site is a throwback to the Mallorca of 200 years ago.
|Els Calderers is a historic agricultural estate reminiscent of Mallorca 200 years ago.|
The Els Calderers estate can be traced back to 1285 when the manor was first mentioned in historical records as belonging to the Calderers family. The noble Veri family bought the estate in the 18th century and the imposing main building is thought to be from the 1750s era.
What’s impressive is that cruisers will not only tour a historic mansion with period furnishings but they’ll also see cattle-breeding outbuildings, farming activities and indigenous animals, including black pigs from which the Mallorcan “sobrasada” or sausage is made. (Guests may sample that delicacy at the end of the house tour.)
Guests stroll through the mansion with a self-guided tour sheet. Docents answer questions, take photos of guests or just point out special features.
The entrance to the house leads to a large enclosed courtyard with a well that draws fresh water. One highlight is a spacious, ornate chapel where the master and mistress of the manor celebrated mass daily and the rosary was said nightly. Another unique room is the Hunting Room which boasts a knight’s suit of armor, hunting trophies, and weapons of different periods.
The mansion’s cellar seems much as it might have looked several hundreds of years ago with old wine presses and wine barrels. Guests also peer into or walk through a music room, multiple drawing rooms, a formal dining room with a table set for 18 guests, several bedrooms and the original kitchen.
At one bedroom turned into an exhibition room, guests can look into the large, handcrafted doll house from the late 19th century. It recreates life on a Mallorcan estate with tin soldiers, historical clothing, dolls, pistols and fans. Cruisers also get a sense of rural farm life at the estate’s granary, stables, barn and chicken coop.
Then it’s onto the motorcoach for the hour-long ride back to the cruise pier.
Most cruise lines offer city tours, but many also give clients options for similar countryside tours. For example, Royal Caribbean International has a day-long “Calderers and Drach Cave” shore excursion that includes a visit to Els Calderers as well as a pearl factory, Drach Caves and lunch at a Port Cristo restaurant. Cost of this full-day excursion is $118 per person for adults, $62 per child.
Wine tasting at a different historical home is offered by Norwegian Cruise Line on its Norwegian Epic cruises this summer. A half-day “Spectacular Scenery and Flavors” tour is priced at $69 for adults, $39 for children.
Luxury, premium and niche lines also have their own twists on such offerings. A half-day “Taste of the Past” excursion offered by Oceania Cruises also visits Els Calderers, but also includes a visit to Bellver Castle, which was constructed in the early 1300s. The cost of this shore trip varies per voyage.
So tell clients to do as the Romans did. Get out in the vineyards. And stroll through the historical mansions and estates in the island’s interior. They deliver a sense of Mallorca, its aristocracy and its agricultural past.