by Sally Peck, The Daily Telegraph, August 15, 2017
My brother hated my hat. It was a wide, floppy-brimmed white linen-cotton blend, designed to protect my face and shoulders from the sun. I thought it had a Bardot-on-the-beach vibe.
But with the targeted cruelty best mustered by siblings, he said: “You look like someone’s mad aunt. I don’t want anyone to see me with you.”
That he delivered this assessment more than a third of the way into a seven-hour hike, halfway up a twisty mountain path – during which the only other being we’d encountered was a donkey – didn’t bother him; his was a matter of sartorial principle.
My brother, Than, is my best friend. Two years younger than I am, he lives with his wife and son about a mile away from me, my husband and children in south London. We see them at least once a week, often more. But, as much as I love our children and spouses, they tend to dominate. I wanted to hear more about a food business Than was developing, and to solicit his advice on a writing project I was working on. Walking is the perfect conduit; a hike, like alcohol, loosens the tongue: the lack of eye contact relaxes your inhibitions.
Our spouses could spare us for four nights. Given this time frame and in need of some sun after a long, dark spring, we chose a four-day self-guided walking holiday in Mallorca in mid-May with On Foot Holidays, an operator that designs a bespoke itinerary for each group, books the accommodation, and organises taxis to transport your luggage from hotel to hotel while you walk. In addition to detailed booklets with walk instructions and reliable and up-to-date dining recommendations, On Foot’s local expert is adept at choosing characterful and comfortable B&Bs in the island’s most charming inland villages and towns.
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Mallorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands, gets a bad rap. There are Jamón ibérico-shaped pillows for sale in Palma airport, and flights from the UK are filled with the sort of carousers you’d change carriages on a train to avoid. But the island is also home to some of the most beautiful and historically interesting walking trails in Europe.
The Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, jutting up from the western edge of the island, is less than an hour’s drive, and a world away from the package holiday haven of Magaluf. Despite its small size, the Serra displays dramatic zones of different vegetation: fertile valleys with almond and fig trees, and centuries-old gnarled olive groves give on to pine forests and oak woodlands and, at the peaks, barren rocky outcroppings with nothing to block your view in all directions. Named a World Heritage Site in recognition of the techniques used to develop agriculture on its steep slopes over the centuries, the north-western corner of the island is also a long-running celebrity haunt (see Chopin, Lloyd Webber, Nadal).
It was the arrival of the Moors, in 707AD, which shaped the land: they designed a system of underground irrigation and began terracing of the steep hillsides – the villages of Estellencs and Banyalbufar are perhaps the nicest extant examples. Many of the paths used by walkers today were made by the charcoal producers that worked on the island until the early 20th century. That the walk reads like a primer on human cultivation of land was rather handy for my own agenda: the cultivation of our projects.
Over the course of four days, Than and I spent three hiking a strenuous 40 miles, with nothing but the disconcerting bleating of goats to break up the beguiling monotony of mountain, breeze, sun and sea. We spent one day, after a particularly energetic introduction to the local food and wine the night before, resting on the beautiful but rocky Cala Deia beach.
On Foot Holidays offers itineraries ranging from easy (such as Dubrovnik) to hard (Bulgaria or Chamonix and the French Alps); the Mallorca trip fits in somewhere in the medium-to-challenging end of the company’s portfolio (my brother would want me to mention here that we beat the estimated times each day, but only by about half an hour. I was slower in both ascent and descent but, as each of my legs is around a foot shorter than each of Than’s, I make no apology.)
Carefully marked maps and instructions note where you can find a bus, which could help shorten the days, putting these walks within reach of all those comfortable walking in mountains; we could easily have brought our parents, a fit pair in their 60s, along with us.
But walking is a joy best shared by two. On our final hike, we passed reservoirs; pine valleys; rocky mountain tops; a dead brown goat. And as we marched, we had the sort of conversations I miss when our children are there. In the evenings, we enjoyed local specialties – ranging from the rustic (in the village of Valldemossa) to the refined (Sóller has excellent options; the more flamboyant waterside Port de Sóller is great for seafood).
Mallorca can only be appreciated from a yacht, a wealthy hedge funder I know breezily told me just before I went. She is only partially right. Approaching Mallorca from the sea – by kayak, sailboat or Richard Branson-esque bling monstrosity – allows you to access beautiful beaches unreachable by road. But to truly appreciate this island – the 1,000-year-old terracing, the drama of the sheer mountains overlooking the cerulean sea – head for the hills. And when you do, wear a Panama hat. My brother made me buy one in Port de Sóller. They’re far more chic, he says. I’m sorry to admit he’s right.
How to do it
A five-night trip with On Foot Holidays ( onfootholidays.co.uk ) costs £800 per person, based on two people sharing, and includes all maps, accommodation and transfers. EasyJet flies to Palma de Mallorca 23 times each day from London Gatwick and other airports around Britain, from £30 single per person.
Three routes you mustn't miss
1. Es Capdella to Estellencs
Starting from the Galatzo estate, wind up through the valley; this walk feels more rural and less dramatic than those to the north, with beautiful views of the Med to the south.
Distance: 6 miles. Duration: 3¾ hr. Difficulty rating: medium.
2. Valldemossa to Deia
After a steep climb out of Valldemossa (500m), take in 360-degree views from the high ridge of the Archduke Path. After a spectacular and athletic descent (you’ll be sweaty; it’s a steep 800m) have lunch in the genteel village of Deia. There’s a beautiful beach here, too.
Distance: 8.3 miles. Duration: 5¼ hr. Difficulty rating: hard.
3. Cuber to Alaro
A stroll by the Cuber reservoir turns dramatic as you wind your way along mountain trails, and then through the magnificent Sólleric estate and gently downhill into Alaro, with its bustling café-lined central square.
Distance: 9.3 miles. Duration: 5 ½ hr. Difficulty rating: easy to medium.