With its Gothic arches and ornate interiors, Mallorca’s Almudaina Palace has a regal vibe. Photo / Getty Images.
If Spain is at the top of your travel wish list, be sure to add a trip to the nearby Balearic Islands. Here, Amar Grover shares some of Mallorca’s best royal residences, grand estates and historical hotspots to explore.
Mallorca, the largest and most diverse of Spain’s four Balearic Islands, lies just south of Barcelona. At its pre-pandemic peak in 2019, nearly 15 million visitors graced its shores and most were on vacation. The appeal is also broad. Aside from the hedonistic havens, families gravitate to the beaches, hikers to the rugged hills, and the glitterati to a swanky cluster of high-end and boutique properties.
An obvious starting point in Palma, the capital, is the central palace, La Almudaina. Facing the famous cathedral, the 13th-century Almudaina was originally a Moorish fortress, but was remodeled by King Jaume II and enlarged by successive monarchs. Honey-colored masonry walls still support parapets and battlements, while the Gothic arches, stone lion fountains, royal apartments and huge tapestries give an appropriately regal feel.
Although it’s still an official royal residence, since 1973 visiting kings of Spain have generally summered at the more private Marivent Palace, perched on a clifftop on a small promontory near Palma’s Cala Major. Only the gardens, which opened in 2017 and contain around forty native species, are open to the public. Art lovers will appreciate the twelve bronze sculptures by artist Joan Miró, whose nearby studio and home is now a museum.
Barely a kilometer away and towering incongruously above the modern skyline, a hilltop clearing brims with the pale bastions of Bellver Castle. Built by King Jaume II in the 13th century as a royal palace and fortress, it spent much of its life as a prison for royal pretenders and political revolutionaries. The unusual circular design (from above it almost resembles a bizarre missile silo) includes both ravelin and curtain walls, as well as towers and a free-standing keep. Its distinctive arcaded courtyard with trellis fountain is one of Palma’s most photographed monuments. Today it houses the rather dry History Museum of Palma, but most visitors come for the panoramic views over the city and the beautiful bay.
North across the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, a turnoff from the spectacular coastal road leads to the Miramar Monastery, originally a 13th-century missionary school founded by Ramon Llull and the closest thing to a patron saint in Mallorca.
A century before modern tourism, Mallorca acquired a kind of one man marketing
Machine in the shape of the Habsburg King Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria. With money to burn and freedom to roam, he cruised up and down the Mediterranean aboard his beloved yacht from the 1860s, giving his heart to Mallorca. Seduced by the spectacular views, Miramar became his first Mallorcan property.
He promptly restored the monastery and today the lozenge-embossed villa displays Salvator relics, pictures and nautical charts, as well as facets of ancient island life. From here Louis discovered Sa Foradada, a pretty hook-like promontory jutting into the Lapis Sea, and above it the small estate of Son Marroig, which he also bought.
Guests have included artists, intellectuals and royalty, and today the resort’s prime properties attract tycoons, tourists and the discreetly wealthy, with a certain Mr. M. Douglas adding a touch of Hollywood glamour. Still owned by the family of Ludwig’s faithful secretary, Son Marroig is one of the best known and most accessible of Mallorca’s venerable houses.
Externally, it resembles a fusion of Italian palazzo and princely hunting lodge, attached to a much older watchtower. The ballroom’s high wood paneled ceiling and tall oceanfront windows, as well as the adjoining dining room and arcaded porch, are reminiscent of another gracious time.
After acquiring several houses and lands, Ludwig built scenic bridle paths up and down the mountains. The best known, still called the Cami de S’Arxiduc (or Archduke’s Path), broadly traces the rugged mountain range high above Miramar and remains one of the island’s most scenic walks.
Nearby Palma is La Granja, a much older property with roots dating back to the 10th-century Moorish conquest of the island. Restored and expanded over centuries, La Granja is both a museum and a magnificent home. There are dyer’s vats and olive presses, perfume distilleries and a rope factory; even a sinister hair dryer resembling a wacky contraption from a 1950’s sci-fi movie.
Stranger still are the cells and the torture chamber with gruesome shelves, paraphernalia and a spiked interrogation chair. There’s a sort of grotesque, if unintentional, humor here, too. In the time it takes you to read about institutionalized torture used by lords and nobles in medieval Mallorca, you’ll hear a looped recording of a hooting owl and a creaking door, followed by the screams of an unfortunate victim – maybe a little too authentic for teenagers.
Finca Raixa near Bunyola is an altogether more sober experience. What was originally a Moorish farmstead, now state-owned, had become an important country estate by the 12th century. Formal terraced gardens feature a monumental staircase dedicated to Apollo and, typical of the fashionable Romanticism of the 18th and 19th centuries, mock neoclassical ruins dot the surrounding lush hills. The property now also serves as the center of the Serra Tramuntana, whose exhibitions underline the importance of the mountains as a “cultural landscape” and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visit spain.info for more inspiration
Travelers must present an international travel vaccination certificate or a Covid-19 RT-PCR report for a negative test taken no more than 24 hours before departure. Check with your airline for details.