Balearic Islands: Which Island to Choose?

Balearic Islands: Which Island to Choose

Lack of time, practical considerations, cost... we rarely visit all the Balearic Islands during a single trip. So the question arises: which one(s) to prioritize? It all depends, naturally, on your interests and the time you have available.

Let's take a quick look at each island, followed by the must-see attractions and our personal favorites, theme by theme, island by island.

The Balearic Islands: An Archipelago with Four Main Islands

Majorca is by far the largest and most visited island. It is also the most diverse, offering a rich cultural heritage (especially in Palma), stunning natural landscapes, bustling urban beaches in the Bay of Palma and the eastern coast, more secluded coves for discreet swimming, charming villages in the Serra de Tramuntana, and magnificent hiking opportunities. Everything you could ask for is here. And even though the island attracts many visitors, it is still possible to find your own corner of serenity away from the crowds.

Cabrera, just south of Majorca, is uninhabited. In fact, it is the largest uninhabited island in the Mediterranean! Once a military zone, it has now become a nature reserve. Definitely worth a visit if you have the time.

In the north, Menorca embraces nature and relaxation. Less rugged and more rustic, it combines luxury agrotourism with beautiful exposed coves (in the north) or secluded turquoise waters surrounded by pine trees (in the south). There are no large resort towns, only a few slightly more developed beaches on the southern coast. And at each end of the island, you'll find two beautiful cities: Maó, influenced by the British, and the charming Ciutadella, with a distinct 18th-century vibe. A special feature of Menorca is its impressive remains of villages and structures from the Bronze Age.

In the south, Ibiza remains, in the collective unconscious, one of the European strongholds of partying. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted this vibrant scene, and many clubs have closed. They will likely reopen just as quickly... Before heading out to explore the most beautiful coves scattered along the coast (which can get crowded quickly) or discovering hidden corners for a nature walk (especially in the southwest and northwest), be sure to pay full attention to the fortified old town of Eivissa, a UNESCO World Heritage site (absolutely stunning!).

In the far south, the youngest member of the family, Formentera, is still associated with the memories of famous Anglo-Saxon rock bands that made it renowned in the 1960s. Although it has only one small resort town, the island has developed quite a bit since then and can appear overcrowded during high season, with a constant flow of cars and scooters. It's definitely better to visit before or after that period, especially to enjoy its exceptional Ses Illetes Beach, undoubtedly the most beautiful in the archipelago.

Balearic Islands: Which Season to Choose?

Balearic Islands: Which Island to Choose

The season usually starts during Semana Santa, a fervent period in Majorca when processions (from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday) take place, with penitents wearing long pointed hats, similar to those in Andalusia. Finding accommodation during Semana Santa can be challenging, so it's advisable to plan your trip well in advance.

From mid-April to early June, spring is radiant with plenty of sunshine and mild temperatures. The vibrant green fields inland are adorned with patches of white and yellow daisies, poppies, and blooming fruit trees. The islands are still relatively calm during this time. However, it's a bit early for swimming as the sea temperature in April does not exceed 15°C.

Summer is hot, very hot, and crowded. Spaniards love it, but visitors from the north, not so much... Traffic jams are frequent, especially near the beaches and coves, and finding parking can test your patience. However, swimming becomes enjoyable, and if you're looking for a party, you won't find a better time with so many people around.

Late summer and early autumn offer scorching sun and warm seas, making it a prime time to visit the Balearic Islands. Although the vegetation might be scorched after the hot temperatures, September is still a busy month, and finding accommodation can be challenging. In October, the fever subsides, especially with the closing parties marking the end of the clubbing season in Ibiza.

Winter, once considered the low season, is now attracting more visitors. It's a great time to avoid the crowds and enjoy the islands in their own right, particularly from late January when almond trees bloom. While not as famous as Japanese cherry blossoms, the white flowers of almond trees are equally captivating.

Balearic Islands: Which Island to Choose for Art and Culture Enthusiasts?

Balearic Islands: Which Island to Choose

Miro Foundation in Palma, Valldemossa Carthusian Monastery, Talayotic ruins in Menorca, the old town of Eivissa in Ibiza... The attractions of the various Balearic Islands are for art, history, and culture enthusiasts.

Art and Culture in Majorca

In Palma, all eyes are drawn to its venerable city walls, gothic cathedral, Llotja, Bellver Castle, Royal Palace (Almudaina), baroque palaces, and elegant modernist buildings.

 The capital is teeming with interesting museums that explore the history and the arts, including the Museu de Mallorca, Museu Diocesà, Palau March, Museu Fundació Joan March, and Museu es Baluard. A must-visit is the Fundació Miró, which houses a large exhibition center showcasing the master's works, as well as his preserved home and studio as they were at the time of his death.

Beyond the city, the La Granja Museum in Esporles is a conservatory of traditional arts and crafts housed in a centuries-old farmhouse nestled in a beautiful natural setting. The extraordinary Alfàbia Gardens, with their Moorish heritage, and their 12th-century Almohad coffered ceiling residence are also worth a visit.

In a different style, the Royal Charterhouse of Valldemosa (14th-19th century) is a must-see, featuring two museums that evoke the stay of George Sand and Frédéric Chopin in 1838-39. Concerts of works by the Polish composer are organized in the adjacent Palau del Rei Sanxo.

Further north along the west coast, the Son Marroig Palace was built for Archduke Louis Salvador of Austria, who fell in love with the area. In Soller, the Museu Modernista Can Prunera, located in the central square, showcases quality art exhibitions in a beautifully preserved Art Nouveau building.

Finally, in the north, the old town of Alcúdia, despite its popularity, has its own charm with its two-tower gates and a nucleus of ancient streets contained within medieval walls. The ruins of the Roman city of Pol-lèntia are open for visitors (with a small museum). Not far away, surrounded by nature, the Museo Sa Bassa Blanca houses a collection of classical children's portraits and a garden of contemporary sculptures.

Each of the Balearic Islands has its own unique appeal, so depending on your preferences, you can choose the one(s) that align with your interests and the experiences you seek.

Balearic Islands: Which Island to Choose?

Art and Culture in Minorca:

Minorca is known for its scattered navetas (collective tombs) in the fields and the remains of villages dating back to the Bronze Age. Usually protected by cyclopean rock walls, they are built around one or several Talayots (bulbous towers) and often feature a taula, a "table" placed on tall menhirs, likely used for ceremonial purposes. Some of the most impressive sites include Talatí de Dalt, Torre d'En Galmés, and Torralba den Salord.

Art and architecture enthusiasts can leisurely stroll through the charming historic center of Ciutadella, with its beautiful ochre stone palaces. Two of them used to be open for visits before the COVID crisis, so it's advisable to inquire about their current status.

In Maó (Mahon), you can explore the interesting local museum and the Hernández Sanz Center of Art and History, housed in a rich and beautiful 19th-century merchant's residence. Taking a water taxi across the bay, you can visit the marked route that explores the fortress of La Mola.

Art and Culture in Ibiza:

Unexpectedly, Eivissa (Ibiza) is primarily a historic city, shaped by 26 centuries of history since the arrival of the Phoenicians. Layering Moorish walls and fortifications redesigned by Italian architects, Dalt Villa (the "upper town") stands as one of the most beautiful Renaissance citadels in the Mediterranean, alongside Valletta in Malta. The small Centro de Interpretación Madina Yabisa - La Cúria delves into its history, and the Puget Museum allows you to enter one of its palaces, now a museum of art. But the most beautiful, in our opinion, is the Diocesan Museum in the beautiful Gothic cathedral (with a rectangular bell tower!). Precious and rare sacred artworks from the 14th to the 16th century are beautifully displayed there.

As an artistic colony throughout the 20th century, Ibiza pays homage to painters in its Museu d'Art Contemporani d'Eivissa, where you can also catch a glimpse of two paintings by a famous forger.

The nearby Puig des Molins neighborhood houses a Punic necropolis and its museum (UNESCO). Successors to the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians settled in Ibiza for nearly five centuries until they were displaced by the Romans. The museum features a collection of fascinating objects, including countless funerary offerings, decorated ostrich eggs, and coffin amphorae. You can then go underground to visit the hypogeum of la Mula, where various sarcophagi are nestled in rocky alcoves.

Beaches in the Balearic Islands:

Balearic Islands: Which Island to Choose

In Majorca, the Bay of Palma is the quintessential beach destination, but it can be quite crowded and developed, especially towards Magaluf. The bays of Pollença and Alcudia in the north of the island offer a similar scenario, although they are suitable for kiteboarding. A more family-friendly option is Port de Sóller, located at the foot of the stunning Serra de Tramuntana.

On the eastern coast, most of the coves and beaches are (more or less) developed. Among our favorites, although often busy, is the long Cala Agulla (near the resort town of Cala Ratjada), with its fine sand and adjacent pine forest. A similar and pleasant option is S'Amarador, located in the Mondragó Natural Park, near the charming town of Santanyí. The only structure there is a beach kiosk (chiringuito).

The resorts of Porto Cristo (further north), Cala Figuera (further south), and Cala Pi (south coast) are also worth considering. As for Cala d'Or, although it was designed for tourism, it avoids overly massive buildings, and its small beaches are perfect for swimming, even with young children.

For a wilder experience, various sandy beaches can be reached by trails or paths between Es Trenc and Es Caragol in the southeast of the island. The first one has a backdrop of brackish marshes and is partially naturist. For an even more secluded option, there's the (almost) secret Cala Barques (30 minutes walk), rocky but with a divine setting on the eastern coast, and the large S'Arenalet d'Albarca, sandy with a campsite and refuge, but only accessible on foot in the Península de Llevant Natural Park, northeast of the island.

Please note that the information provided is based on the text you provided, and it's always a good idea to verify the current status and availability of attractions and sites before visiting them.

Beaches in Menorca:

Menorca is known for its lack of large resorts and concrete developments, except for areas like Cala d'Alcalfar, Cala en Porter, Son Bou, and Cala Galdana, where there are hotel residences and villas. However, even in Son Bou, the beautiful sandy beach, which is the longest on the island, remains largely untouched by constructions (which are clustered in the background).

If you want to swim, it's best to head to the south. You can find beaches in the resorts mentioned above, as well as in quieter coves accessible only by dirt tracks or coastal paths. Some of our favorites include Binigaus, Mitjana, Trebaluger, Macarella, Turqueta, and Son Saura. These beaches offer pine trees and translucent turquoise waters.

In the northeast, the beach of Es Grau, located in the S'Albufera d'Es Grau Natural Park, is ideal for swimming with children. Near Maó, you can visit Cala de Sa Mesquida, keeping in mind that it is also a nudist beach. In the northwest, Calas Pregonda and Algaiarens are stunning options.

Balearic Islands: Which Island to Choose?

Beaches in Ibiza:

Partygoers often flock to Playa den Bossa (with its beach bars and clubs) or Talamanca Beach, located on either side of the old town of Eivissa (Ibiza Town). However, for a quieter experience, we prefer Ses Figueretes beach, which is closer to the center and has a more relaxed atmosphere.

Ibiza has two major resorts. Santa Eulària des Riu, on the east coast, is the most pleasant one, with a beautiful (artificial) urban beach and the Puig de Missa hill crowned by a venerable fortified church. The clientele here is usually older. In the west, Sant Antoni de Portmany attracts a younger and predominantly Anglo-Saxon crowd, who have taken over most of the businesses and bars, especially around Café del Mar and Mambo during the sunset hour. The atmosphere there is often lively. The beach is not exceptional, but the accommodation here offers excellent value for money on an otherwise expensive island.

For more privacy, you can explore the most beautiful calas (coves) along the coast, although it's important to note that almost all of them attract crowds and face parking issues during the peak summer season. Some are sandy, others have pebbles, and almost all of them have beach kiosks (chiringuitos) where you can enjoy fried fish (but it's advisable to make a reservation due to the crowds).

Our favorite beaches are mostly in the south and southwest. Ses Salines is a large, sandy beach but gets quite busy. Sa Caleta is smaller but lovely, nestled between two ochre cliffs. Platjes de Comte is another great option, as well as the discreet Es Racó d'en Xic, which is exclusively nudist and offers turquoise waters and radiant cliffs. Cala Bassa, with its pleasant campsite, features a crescent-shaped sandy arc. North of Sant Antoni, you can visit Cala Saladeta, which is a 5-minute walk from Cala Salada (although it can also be quite crowded).

In the north, Cala Benirràs, with its brown sand, is a gathering place for musicians and revelers on Sundays.

The largest beaches can be found in the northeast of the island, but most of them are quite developed, such as Es Figueral (which offers affordable and pleasant accommodations) and Cala Sant Vicent. Cala de Port Sant Miquel, located further north on the island, has

 a small beach perfect for swimming but can get crowded. A bit further, Cala Portinatx (especially S'Arenal Petit) is slightly quieter.

Beaches in Formentera:

How can one resist the long stretch of fine sandy beach that extends from the northern tip of Formentera? On the west side lies Ses Illetes, the most beautiful beach in the Balearic Islands, with its rolling dunes. On the east side, Platja de Llevant is equally stunning. However, during the peak summer season, this area gets crowded, and beach bars charge exorbitant prices. In the early morning, the beaches are still deserted and free to access.

On the west coast, Cala Saona is probably the most charming cove, although not entirely untouched. Es Pujols, the only resort on the island, located on the north coast, features two shallow turquoise beaches (perfect for children, especially on the Platja des Pujols side).

For the rest, the "beaches" are mostly narrow strips of sand and/or rocks along the southern coastline. Platja de Migjorn has had a good reputation since famous rock bands from the '60s, including Pink Floyd, sunbathed there. However, the waves can be strong, and honestly, there are better options.

Balearic Islands: Which island is best for hiking and nature?

Balearic Islands: Which Island to Choose?

One of the world's most beautiful hikes can be found in Mallorca, the Camí de Cavalls in Menorca, providing a rejuvenating experience after partying in Ibiza or Formentera.

Hiking and nature in Mallorca and Cabrera:

The GR 221, also known as the Ruta de Pedra en Sec (Dry Stone Route) due to its numerous dry stone walls, is considered one of the most beautiful hikes in the world. It runs along a significant portion of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, passing through high-altitude villages, cultivated terraces, irrigation channels, scrubland, forests, and mountain passes.

The most popular section covers 77.5 km (5 days of walking) between Deià and Pollença, with well-equipped refuges along the way. Another section spans 17.5 km between Esporles and Estellencs, south of the Serra.

On a clear day, you can embark on the famous Torrent de Pareis hike, which is shorter but still challenging (5-6 hours). It takes you from the mountains to the sea through a narrow riverbed. However, this hike should be avoided during rainy weather due to slippery rocks.

Some of our other favorite walks include a long descent to the cliff with a natural hole called Sa Foradada from Son Marroig (about 2.5 hours round trip), a day trip to the deserted island of Sa Dragonera (a natural park) reached by boat from Sant Elm, a strenuous hike to the ruins of Castell del Rei (3 hours) north of Pollença, and a coastal walk through the Península de Llevant Natural Park between Cala Estreta and S'Arenalet d'Albarca (2-2.5 hours each way). And why not embark on an adventure to the large and wild island of Cabrera? The most dedicated hikers can reach the Ensiola lighthouse (4 hours of walking) on the west coast.

Hiking and Nature in Menorca:

Less rugged than Majorca and Ibiza, Menorca is perfect for hiking on foot, mountain biking, or horseback riding, especially along the Camí de Cavalls (GR 223), which completes a full circuit of the island in 185 km. It is possible to only explore certain sections, knowing that a complementary network of trails allows you to explore the essence of Menorca without getting close to asphalt. We highly recommend walking at least a few kilometers along the southwest coast, between Calas Turqueta and Trebalúger. The coves surrounded by pine trees with translucent waters are divine.

Hiking and Nature in Ibiza:

For a short walk, you can connect the Ses Salines beach to the watchtower (16th century) of Ses Portes or head to the Es Vedrà viewpoint at sunset (with an optional climb to Torre des Savinar for an even more breathtaking panorama, but without children). A more demanding option is to do the tour and ascent of Sa Talaia, the highest point in Ibiza (475 m), near Sant Josep, which takes about 5 hours. Start early in the morning!

There are also some lesser-known hikes that allow you to explore the hidden corners of the island. We particularly love the Buscastell Valley, with its narrow terraces planted as they were in the past, accompanied by a shy river, a channel, and irrigation pools. You can even find cherry trees there.

For a wilder experience, you can take a less crowded hike to the Torres d'en Lluc (about 4 hours), marvelously overlooking the sea, or descend to the rocky shores of Cala d'Aubarca, where you'll discover a beautiful sea arch. The amphitheater of cliffs covered in pine trees is splendid.

Hiking and Nature in Formentera:

The island is crisscrossed by trails and bike paths that allow you to avoid most of the road network. However, it's important to keep in mind that in summer, it gets hot, very hot, on this low-lying island typically bathed in sunlight.

There are no long hikes here, but rather pleasant short walks. For example, you can explore the area around Can Marroig (in the nature reserve) to the Sa Gavina tower (1.5 hours round trip).

If you're looking for a Robinson Crusoe experience, inquire about the small boat connection to the (deserted) island of S'Espalmador. You'll find almost white sand, turquoise and shallow waters, especially in the northwest, where a lagoon forms in front of the Sa Torreta islet. It's truly divine.

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