5 Mar

Balearic beauty

The Sunday Times has declared Palma the best place in the world to live. It’s also a pretty good place for a spring short break, as Karen Glaser discovers when she takes in a gastronomic tour of the beautiful Mallorca capital.

As this magazine goes to press, polar gales and arctic frost are sweeping across the country bringing fears of yet more disruption and travel chaos.

But shivering in winter chill is not obligatory at this time of year. Or at least not every weekend. The year-round sunny town of Palma is a two-hour hop from Gatwick, 10 minutes’ drive from Mallorca airport and worlds away in vibe, if not kilometres, from Magaluf.

Yes, worlds. Party resort Magaluf and cosmopolitan Palma may be on the same Balearic island, but that’s about all the two Mallorcan towns have in common.

In fact, earlier this year the Sunday Times gave Palma the ultimate accolade and declared it nothing less than the best place in the world in which to live. With its peerless climate, upmarket shopping and fine dining Mallorca’s capital was described as “a pocket-sized city that has it all.”

And what makes this upmarket seaside city great for the long haul, makes it great for a year-round foodie weekend, too. No wonder it is increasingly becoming a favourite as a ‘commuter destination.’

The city’s gourmet food market San Juan (gastronomicosanjuan.es) is a great place to start supping and quaffing your way around the pocket-sized city. Originally the city’s slaughterhouse, it was unveiled last summer with 17 stalls showcasing both old-style bites like cocas, Spain’s thinner, flakier answer to pizza, and newcomers to the local cuisine such as Indo-Hispanic fusion croquettes stuffed with curried Mallorcan mushrooms. Though the city hopes the market, open every day of the year, will become a gastronomic destination for tourists, so far its beautiful Moorish tiles are largely trodden by locals. The elderly behatted gents washing down oysters with Cava on a sunny January afternoon certainly looked rooted in place.

Although he hails from the home counties, chef Marc Fosh could fairly be described as rooted here too. He came to the island 20 years ago and is now the owner of the Michelin-starred restaurant, Simply Fosh (simplyfosh.com/en/) located within the 17th century Convent de la Mission Hotel. Venison with pumpkin, orange blossom, anise and yoghurt is an example of the fresh, clean yet unexpected combination of flavour and texture which have earned the culinary hotspot its coveted star.

Unsurprisingly, given Mallorca’s pristine seas, there’s plenty of fish on the menu at Simply Fosh, too, a goodly chunk of it bought, no doubt, at the Pere Garau market. It’s worth a stroll here just to gawp at the gleaming rows of yellow fin mackerel, wild blue lobster and crimson Soller prawns, among other locally landed fish. Plus the stall holders are incredibly knowledgeable. How, for example, can you tell if the slightly stirring lobster in front of you was caught that morning or yesterday? Answer: peer into the crustacea’s tiny eyes.

If you’re more of a carb than a piscine foodie, take a bakery tour with Mallorca Rutes (i-mallorca.net) around Palma’s slow-paced, picturesque Old Town, the skyline of which is dominated by Palma’s huge cathedral, a dramatic sandstone edifice with one of Europe’s largest rose windows. All of the city’s bakeries sell einsaimada, the ancient Mallorcan pastry made of flour, sugar, eggs and pork lard, but in Forn des Threatre they serve the coiled cake with sobrasada, a raw, cured Balearic sausage made from pork, paprika and other spices. The salty-sweet combination is divine. If you really want to emulate the locals, accompany your doughy delight with Tunel, a herb liquor.

And if you want to make like the locals in Palma’s happy hour, head for Rosa Vermuteria (facebook.com/larosavermuteria/) where, in time-honoured Mallorcan style, you can wash down a helping of razor clams or mussel croquettes with a glass of Vermouth.

It is not just Palma’s gastronomic offerings which are exceptional. In recent years, its hotels have been following suit, and nowhere more so than at Can Cera (cancerahotel.com),  a beautifully restored 13th building combining 17th century furniture and rich fabrics with striking contemporary art. All 14 rooms feature enormous beds with monogrammed bed linen, and breakfast is served on a traditional Mallorcan courtyard within the building.

The boutique hotel Calatrava (boutiquehotelcalatrava.com)  perched right on the Old Town’s walls and with long views over the bay of Palma, is another perfectly placed palacio. Its 16 rooms combine cool minimalist design with 19th century architecture, and are utterly stunning. Hotel guests can enjoy the Finnish sauna and jacuzzi in the intimate basement spa for free. But if you really want to spoil yourself, book the whole spa for massages, cocoa-butter treatments and rose facials that will prep and prime you for the sun.

British Airways flies year-round from London City Airport with four flights during the winter and up to two flights a day during the summer. Rates start from £55 each way.