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The Quiet Cool of Modern Mallorca

With aquamarine waters, historic hotels, and a vibrant new food scene, this Balearic Island is experiencing a well-deserved renaissance.



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WHEN I WAS 20, I studied in Seville and became infatuated with that southern region of Spain. I loved the tinto de veranos (red wine plus lemon soda over ice, the city’s water substitute), the flamenco, and, of course, a local boy with blue-grey eyes. I wanted to stay forever, but my friends had planned a beach getaway — to Mallorca, an island further north. They described it as "like Ibiza but calmer.” So I went. Without a car, itinerary, or enough time, we barely grazed the surface of a place that, despite my initial reluctance, has stayed with me ever since. This was an island that needed time to unfurl.

Recently, I returned — older and perhaps a bit wiser. I wasn’t the only one who had changed, it turns out. Mallorca has undergone a bit of a renaissance, reclaiming its roots as an elevated hideaway for discerning travelers. A swath of high-design boutique hotels have opened, and a talented class of chefs are injecting the food scene with hyperlocal inspiration. But best of all? The things that remain utterly untouched: hidden aquamarine coves, tapas bars, preserved limestone architecture, and that mountainous landscape — waiting to be discovered, and in no rush at all.



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Second Impressions

Jasmine-scented air, wild goats, and sobrasada on toast.

There are wild goats that roam the mountains of Mallorca’s Serra de Tramuntana range. Brought to the island by humans some 2,500 years ago, the goats have auburn coats and black faces. The babies are tiny and adorable. Which makes this segue a bit savage — the meat is delicious. At some of my most standout fine-dining experiences on the island, a Mallorcan goat dish was served — a compact, tender filet often bathed in a thick, sweet-savory sauce.

Fragrant herbs, such as jasmine and rosemary, grow in the more remote areas. Hiking through the mountains, my guide gestured toward some small green berries. I broke one open. “Ginebra,” he said, smiling. Gin berries. Indeed, they smelled like a bottle of the herbaceous spirit. Another, pinkish-red in color: “The strawberry tree. Different from strawberries,” he explained. “If you eat enough berries, you get drunk.” Curious.

Sobrasada, a cured, paprika-drenched sausage spread similar in flavor to chorizo, is common in the Balearic Islands. Aioli is typically served at the beginning of meals at restaurants. Hierbas, an anise-based digestif distilled with Mallorcan herbs, was originally produced in monasteries for medicinal purposes and is now a traditional way to end a meal. “Or to just let loose with friends after work,” explained a smirking waiter.

On the last leg of my trip, I ended up in Palma during a Corpus Christi procession, a holiday occurring the ninth week after Easter in honor of the Eucharist. The sound of bagpipes (known as xeremias), the ancestral instrument of Mallorca, filled the streets with melancholic wails.

Historic Hotels

A pirate castle, Miró on my wall, and cathedral views.

My first stay was at Can Ferrereta in Santanyí, a charming village on the island’s northeast coast. Set in an old seventeenth-century mansion near some of the best swimming spots on the island, the hotel is a hushed wash of limestone and striking modern art. Their long cerulean pool, set within a grand internal courtyard, stuns. An arresting Jaume Plensa sculpture stands amid fragrant gardens around the pool’s perimeter, and a Joan Miró painting hung in my room’s dressing chamber.

The hotel’s two courtyards are connected by a peach-hued, gas lamp-lined passageway. At night, I felt as though the passage might be a portal to a bygone era. An air of wellness runs through the hotel. Rooftop morning yoga with the sound of next door’s lilting church bells was a dreamy start to the day. Matched only by a perfect end at Can Ferrereta’s spa, complete with a heated indoor pool, sauna, and Turkish bath.

The newly renovated Grand Hotel Son Net, located in the foothills of the Tramuntana mountains, is like sleeping in a museum. According to lore, in the seventeenth century, a pirate named Don Francisco de Net was rewarded by the king for protecting the island. Elevated to a nobleman, Net purchased land in a valley, building the mansion that would become the hotel. Now, with fresh interiors by renowned decorator Lorenzo Castillo, each room is lush with jewel tones, intricate tapestries, antique furniture, and period artwork glowing beneath the original banisters and stone archways.

The cuisine at their restaurant Mar & Duix, where I dined on salt grilled beetroot tartare and Mallorcan lobster stew, with the enthralling managing director René Zimmer, was lavish yet dialed in all the right ways. Growing up in East Berlin, Zimmer had wanted to be an actor but quickly realized that he was better suited for hospitality. "What other industry requires the same level of seamless theater?" he mused with a sparkle in his eye as we beta-tested the wine pairing. A note on wine — a real treat of the Son Net experience is a tour through their vineyards of malvasia grapes, with a tasting of the estate’s wine. Winding through the property, I remarked on the blooming white roses planted beside the vines. The hotel’s sommelier explained that the roses act as a canary in a coal mine, since humidity, which damages grapes by creating a breeding ground for fungi, shows up on the flowers first.

For a city stay, Sant Francesc Hotel, located in the old town's tranquil Plaza San Francesc is an impeccable home base. It was the former residence of sugar merchants in the nineteenth century, and the owner’s seafaring past can be felt in the hotel’s internal courtyard. Maritime-style windows adorn the small atrium, illuminating the silvery olive trees planted within. This is an excellent spot to sip a drink, as is the hotel’s rooftop, where a small pool and staggering cathedral views can be found. The restaurant Quadrat, lamplit in the hotel’s back courtyard and perfumed with blooming gardenias, is exceptional.


Cove Swimming

Aquamarine waters, hidden coves, and white sand.

Rocky, sandy, crowded, or exquisitely empty — the calas (coves) of Mallorca are marked by their crystal-clear water — darker blue in the rockier parts and the palest aquamarine in the sandier stretches. The coves are often in clusters. For sandy beaches in the south, there’s Cala Llombards, a sizeable expanse with pale-blue water and a chiringuito, a beach shack where you can post up and enjoy a sizzling plate of gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) and a beer. Cala S’Amarador is another stunning pale-blue enclave on white sand. Be sure to walk past Cala Mondragó on your way, which is more crowded, with raucous construction.

Es Trenc is another very long span of crystalline beach (the middle point to the northern end has the nicest water, though it’s all pristine), with a nearby casual eatery. Caló des Moro is otherworldly, with shallow water stretching far out. It’s a bit of a scramble to get down the rocky edges, but more than worth the trouble. Nearby is the moodier, rockier, less crowded S’Almonia, its water sapphire tinged.

To visit a few other craggy coves on the northwest side of the island, I took a harrowing drive with breathtaking mountain views and hairpin turns to Platja Port des Canonge. I recommend visiting this spot around golden hour, when the light slants, honey hued, across the landscape. Closer to Palma, Platja Punta de ses Punxes is another little aquamarine bubble on a tiny swath of sand about a 20-minute drive from the city center.

Sa Foradada is a restaurant that’s more James Bond cosplay than meal. It’s a paella spot built into a towering cliff above a small cove. Hiking there is possible (about an hour there, hour back from Son Marroig, a nearby estate and monastery), but the real experience is arriving by boat from Port de Sóller — a cinematic coastal journey past rocky crags, with the restaurant rising up as if in a scene from “The Count of Monte Cristo.” You disembark at a dramatic cove and walk up to behold large black pans flashing over an open fire.

Memorable Meals

Beachside langoustine, cliffside paella, and the island’s buzziest tapas spot.

To start on the more casual end, the aforementioned Chiringuito Cala Llombards is an unfussy joint for seafood and drinks right by the water, good for eating in your bathing suit. Getting slightly more formal but still laid-back, Restaurant Es Trenc, off of Es Trenc beach, makes for a glorious lunch — try the ensalada de queso feta, which is essentially a Greek salad, and the langostinos a la plancha — grilled, juicy langoustines dripping in a garlic and herb oil. La Rosa Vermutería in Palma is a buzzing vermouth and tapas bar where tourists and locals mingle. Try their vermouths paired with gildas (pickled green chilis, anchovies, and olives skewered together) and jamón ibérico. Sa Fonda in Deià is an iconic, hippie joint for aperitivo hour, as well as late-night drinks. Their patio, where they have live music, glows with energy on the weekends.

For a departure from Balearic fare, fusion-style Es Taller, in the frozen-in-amber town of Valldemossa, holds a joyful energy. Wander the town before dinner, get lost in the little streets, and check out the gardens. Es Taller’s modern space is airy and plant filled, located in a former mechanics’ garage. Southeast Asian-inspired Nama in Deià is another delight, where I got my kimchi fix. Other recommended dishes: siew mai, Korean-style roast lamb buns, and crispy duck salad.

For fine dining, Michelin-starred Dins by Santi Taura is a dazzling history lesson in Mallorcan cuisine. Chef Taura, alongside his team, researched the food of the many groups who inhabited the island, including what people ate from the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages, through Arab cookbooks and Christian texts. One sauce, a sweet-savory plum reduction layered over tender wild goat, is from one of the oldest recipes in the world. The recipe is sourced from the fifth-century Roman book “De Re Coquinaria” (roughly translated to “The Art of Cooking”); its author is widely presumed to be Apicius, a Roman gourmet living in the time of Tiberius. Another fine-dining option I loved, located in Santanyí, was Laudat. Their skillfully executed tasting menu, served on their picturesque inner patio beside a lemon tree, makes for a delicious, winsome night. Try their house Mallorcan wines, made by owner Michael Laudat. Divine.

Next, for a lively lunch (or dinner), El Camino is a must. Located on a tiny street in Palma, London restaurateur Eddie Hart opened this tapas spot a few years ago to great acclaim. The space, deep and narrow, holds an elegant marble counter gleaming under warm brass lamps. Chefs call out orders as seafood hisses on the plancha.


The magic mountain, Miró’s house, and Gothic cloisters.

In terms of activities, Miró’s studio and residence in Palma is an immersive place to wander. The Fundación Joan March is another excellent art destination in the city, with works from Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí on display. The Basílica Sant Francesc is full of Gothic detailing and a peaceful cloister.

A hike through the Tramuntana mountains is transcendent. My guide, from a group called Viatges Falcó de la Reina, took me to the peak of Galatzó, the highest in the mountains’ northwest range. The ascent and its astounding summit offer breathtaking, panoramic views of the land and surrounding Mediterranea. Some say the ghost of the “Comte Mal” (“evil count”) has been doomed to roam here for eternity, in penance for his cruelty as a nobleman. Some say the Galatzó is the most magnetic mountain in Europe, full of mystical energy.

Boutiques and Keepsakes

A secret perfumery, custom gems, and an ethereal showroom.

I stumbled upon a hidden perfumery in Palma: Arquinesia. Tiny ante chambers and hallways lead to a back room overlooking a courtyard filled with floral and musky scents. Cortana, also in Palma, is a clothing store that feels like a gallery. Ethereal womenswear, in rich silks, barely-there gauze, and earthy linen hang from the ceiling across a multiroom, white-washed space. Lastly, Altésmas Joieria in Sóller is a beautiful enclave of craft. There’s a workshop in the back, and gems for sale on their own or in custom pieces.

Songs for Mallorcan Drives

Everything seems to be between 20 minutes to an hour away on the island, so a car is important. Rent a small European one, as many of the streets are quite narrow, and take extra care when driving, as hairpin turns abound. I take this moment to credit my partner, who drag-raced in his delinquent youth and cautiously shepherded us from coast to coast with a level of agility well beyond my own. What I did contribute — and now wish to share — is a playlist. I typically despise being in a car. But with the right rhythms, my tightly wound pedestrian programming relaxed into the joys of a scenic drive.

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Our Contributors

Sophie Mancini Writer

Sophie Mancini is a New York based writer. Under the New York Times’ creative agency, she helped lead the relaunch of Departures Magazine, where she then went on to become the food editor. Her background spans editorial, brand, and books.

Silvia Gil-Roldán Photographer

Silvia Gil-Roldán is a photographer from Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain). Her work as a photographer is deeply connected to her experience as a graphic designer.


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