The four Balearic Islands have been popular with holidaymakers for years – with crystal clear Mediterranean waters, powder soft beaches, stunning natural scenery and plenty to see and do. In a nutshell Majorca is the granddaddy offering a bit of everything, Minorca is packed with ancient monuments, Ibiza is the original party island and Formentera is a tranquil eco getaway. The Balearic Island archipelago lies off Spain’s east coast and are autonomous communities.
Majorca, aka Mallorca, has the most land out of the four Balearic Islands and is considered the ‘granddaddy’ of the archipelago. It was populated by the Romans during the first century and in time was also occupied by the Byzantine Empire, Moors and eventually came under the control of James I of Aragon. It remained under the control of Spain and during the Spanish civil wars battles were fought on the island.
Back in the 1950s Majorca began to attract tourists from around the world, drawn to the temperate climate, laidback atmosphere and pristine beaches. Tourism has increased on the island dramatically. In 1960 there were half a million visitors and last year there were an estimated 1.8 million visitors.
Visitors to Majorca experience some stunning beaches and fine restaurants. A trip to see the spectacular Caves of Drach are popular. Travellers can visit Valdemossa in the Tramuntana Mountains. This is where Frederic Chopin and George Sand spent time working on music. There is also Bellver Castle that dates from the 14th century and provides a beautiful view across the bay of Palma. Active families can hike the Serra de Tramuntana Mountains and take a sunset bike trip to Cap de Formentor.
In the capital, Palma, the Cathedral of Palma was built on the site of a former Arab mosque. It’s an architectural gem worth seeing. Work on it began in 1306 and continues today. Alcudia Old Town is dotted with historical monuments too.
The island of Minorca, aka Menorca, is island is popular with visitors who want to see its variety of stone monuments that are indicative of activity from the prehistoric age. It was invaded by the Romans in 121 BC and remained under their control for centuries. In 1344 it became part of the Kingdom of Majorca and eventually was a part of Spain.
Many people like to travel to the island of Menorca for their festivals. They are held in each town on the island and designed to recognize the individual town’s patron saint. The festivals are known for music, people showing off their equestrian skills, food, music and more.
Visitors can also enjoy a trip around the island in a glass bottom boat showing the island’s underwater life as well as historical landmarks. Travellers can see everything from the La Mola Fortress to the Sant Felip Castle and more. Anyone who enjoys exploring places on horseback will be able to enjoy a variety of equestrian activities offered by the many riding clubs on the island. Try an enjoyable day of kayaking to discover Menorca’s many coves and natural harbours, which can be further explored by snorkelling and swimming.
One of the first recorded residents on the island of Ibiza was the Phoenicians around 654 BC. The island was given the name of ‘Ibiza’ from the Greeks who visited the island. Ibiza was at one time part of the Byzantine Empire and then the Moors. The island governed itself for hundreds of years before it became a part of Spain in 1715. Ibiza’s rich biodiversity and culture has earnt the Isle Blanca a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list, the only Balearic Island to hold the hour currently.
The island is recognized around the world for the wild nightlife during the summer season. The major dance clubs can be found in the island’s capital, Ibiza town, as well as in Saint Antoni on the western part of the island.
Aside from its well-known nightlife, Ibiza also offers visitors a chance to experience the Archaeology Museum as well as the Centro de Interpretacion Madina Yabisa (history of Ibiza) and more. There is also a cathedral in Ibiza complete with museum as well as the Saint Cristofal Monastery.
It also has some fantastic beaches with crystal clear waters such as San Antonio and Cala Bassa. All beaches are easily accessible by either bus or ferry.
Formentera is the smallest and less well-known of the Balearic Islands, which offers a great opportunity to really get away from the crowds. Its original inhabitants were Carthaginians followed by Romans, then the Byzantine Empire and Moors before eventually becoming part of Spain.
It is known around the world for its stunning white beaches and the fact that nude sunbathing is a popular activity on the beaches. Since most of the island is flat, bicycling is very popular and there are many places that offer bike rentals.
A popular place to see is Ca Na Costa. It is a megalithic stone circle that many archaeologists feel was made to hold a large burial chamber that was constructed around 2,000 BC. The island’s capital is San Francisc Xavier and is a perfect place to spend a day enjoying excellent cafés and restaurants as well shopping for arts and crafts.
By Julie Bowman