With mock GSCE exams looming for our 15-year-old son, taking a mini-break in Mallorca for October half term might have seemed foolhardy. But it was the best tonic for breaking up the monotony of revision (for him) and the tension (for us) and enjoy some quality family time. With its dramatic coastline, cultured towns and spirited fiestas, Northern Mallorca is considered the island’s heart and soul. Just a 45-minute car journey from the bright lights and big resorts of the South West coast, the craggy North is, however, a world away.
The lovely little village of Cala Sant Vicenc is even more so. Nestled at the foot of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, it is set around four jewel-like coves with stunning turquoise waters and views across to the limestone cliffs of Cap de Formentor.
Ros and her family stayed at Hotel Cala Sant Vincenc
We’d visited Mallorca the year before in August, but had spent most of the week in our hired car in a hopeless search for deserted beaches. This time we decided to stay local. Pollenca, a beautiful old town which has attracted artists, writers and statesmen from Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie over the years, was only an eight-minute taxi ride away. And the area was ripe for exploring by bicycle or on foot.
We were collected from the airport at Palma by car and enjoyed a stress-free journey to the warm and welcoming Hotel Cala Sant Vicenc where we were to spend the next five days. The 38-room hotel, which has enjoyed visits from Pixie Lott and her boyfriend Oliver, as well as Brendan Cole and his wife Zoe, is set against the dramatic mountainous backdrop with a lovely swimming pool and terrace surrounded by palm, olive and pine trees. The newly revamped Lavanda Restaurant served delicious Mediterranean cuisine, which we’d enjoy at lunchtime on the terrace. Breakfast was a particular delight, especially for our son who can’t resist a running buffet and would start his day with fresh fruit, cereal, copious pastries as well as bacon and eggs. He also practiced his Spanish with the friendly staff.
The suite offered views over the swimming pool
We had two adjoining spacious suites overlooking the pool, which is where my husband and I would sit in the morning on sun loungers while our son revised for a few hours. Yes, we felt mean – who wants to be stuck indoors learning about electro magnetism? – but by midday the torture was over and he could come and join us by the pool.
In the afternoons we’d go to the local beach, just a five-minute walk away. With temperatures in the mid 20s, we were extremely lucky with the weather for October and swimming in the beautifully warm and crystal clear Mediterranean water felt a real bonus. The beach was busy with mostly British and German families but there was still a sleepy, end-of season feel to the village which even in the height of the tourist season never gets too crowded since it doesn’t attract much passing trade. If you fancy more than just a splash about there are plenty of scuba diving opportunities (as well as cliff jumping) although when we were there you didn’t have to go far for an underwater adventure. A few weeks before a car had skidded off the narrow coast road and into the sea, much to the fascination of snorklers. Luckily the driver had escaped unharmed.
The local beach is just a short walk away
After a shower and aperitif at the hotel we’d meander back down to the cove for dinner. We’d swap between Pepes Bar and La Tasca Restaurant, both still open at the end of season and serving simple, inexpensive Mediterranean dishes including delicious fresh fish and paella with the biggest prawns in the world and where the token local stubby-legged, elderly dog tried to chase the the local ragged-eared cat every night.
Even without a car it was easy to make short excursions from the hotel. One afternoon we took a taxi to the Cap de Formentor, the most dramatic stretch of Mallorca’s coast with dizzying views from razor-edge cliffs and limestone peaks jutting far out to sea. At the very tip is the 19th-century lighthouse with fine views to Cap Ferrutx at the far side of the bay.
The family hired bikes to explore the local area
With its breathtaking nature reserves, mountains, valleys, beaches, wetlands and cliffs, as well as an abundance of wildlife, the area is ripe for walking and bike tours. I was a little nervous about the prospect of hiring a bike – there weren’t enough flat roads for my liking. The area is popular for serious cycling tours, with no shortage of lycra-clad enthusiasts powering up the vertiginous hills. This is where road and track racing professionals like to limber up for the Tour de France. But I bit the bullet and we hired three bikes from a local hire shop, Atemrausch, for a three-hour, 20k round trip ride which, we were assured, was mostly along a flat route. Setting off late afternoon, we cycled down quiet country lanes lined with fig, almond and pomegranate trees, through olive groves and a nature reserve for birds, passing old goats and grazing horses. We didn’t quite make it to our final destination of Pollenca but stopped off to have a coffee in the nearby Punta de Manresa before starting our journey back as the sun was setting.
There are beautiful country lanes and olive groves to explore
With a whole day ahead of us before our evening flight home from Palma, we decided to experience one of the island’s highlights by taking the ancient wooden train from Soller to Palma. After enjoying our final breakfast on the terrace and saying goodbye to the staff who had looked after us so well, we took a taxi for the hour-long journey to the train station in pretty Soller. With a little toot of its horn the train trundled out, clackety clacking past tiny cottages, barking dogs and lemon groves. I persuaded the 15-year-old to get off his phone and soak in the scenery as it zipped past – olive groves and steep terraces growing oranges and lemons, pine forests and glimpses of the sea through the mountains, traversing through tunnels and narrow valleys before arriving in the capital of Palma.
We ended our day with a bit of culture, taking a bus to the Museum of Modern Art, which houses permanent collections by Joan Miro, Barcelo and Picasso. We ate lunch in its light, airy restaurant and enjoyed a drink on the terrace overlooking the beautiful marina. We arrived home refreshed and relaxed, having cajoled a reluctant teenager to revise and switch off in between. This mini break ticked all the boxes – and there was a good set of mock exam results at the end of it.
FAMILY TRIED AND TESTED CHEAT SHEET
When to go: The island is beautiful all year round, with each season offering something different. We travelled in October and had glorious sunshine and temperatures in the mid 20s. It’s less crowded then too. The island moves into top gear in June, and the summer months of July and August can be hot, dry and busy.
Where to stay: We stayed at the Hotel Cala Sant Vincenc, just a five minute walk to a choice of four coves. A room costs from 160 euros per night (bed and breakfast) based on two sharing. A family staying in a Junior Suite costs from 230 euros per night (bed and breakfast). Flights from Easyjet cost from £74.75 return (LGW to Palma). hotelcala.com
What not to miss: hiring bikes and cycling through fincas and olive groves; taking the slow train from Soller to Palma; enjoying sensational views from the lighthouse at Cap de Formentor; eating fresh fish from local restaurants
What to avoid: be wary of jellyfish which can wash up on the shore in droves during the summer months; steer clear of the crowds in Magaluf and Palma Nova favoured by the 18-30s groups