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Menorca on my Mind

Ok, who hasn’t said to themselves at least once in the last couple of months, “Get me the hell out of here”? I think we’re all hankering for some new found freedom right about now and just the idea of going anywhere that isn’t a supermarket or a pharmacy has me breathless with excitement. For some, planning an epic road trip or an escape to the countryside is the salve. For me, it would be transporting to an island.

Being in lockdown here in Morocco has not been without a little positive spin on the current crisis. With plenty of time on my hands, and in between youtube yoga videos and working on perfecting my sourdough recipe, I’ve spent a lot of time trawling over past travel pics. As I’ve been compiling photos and plotting changing getaway scenarios, my recurring craving at the moment is to head to Menorca.  But what’s so special about Menorca?

It’s got beaches.

Of course it does, what do you think we’re talking about here?  Menorca arguably has the “best” quality beaches with regards to the four Balearic Islands (the others being Mallorca, Ibiza and Formentera), a fact not lost on droves of European tourists that descend on Menorca in the summer looking for their own spot of turquoise-coloured Shangri-La. Beaches here are smaller coves (“calas”), meaning many are sheltered from wind but their reduced size equals crowding quickly during high-season. So finding uncrowded beaches over these periods is a tricky proposition if not an outright pipe dream, but there’s always the shoulder months of June and September (even into the beginning of October) to maximize the weather vs crowds ratio.

It’s got hiking.

Ok, not serious mountain hiking, but perfectly decent and respectable walking, particularly along the Cami de Cavalls, 186km of trails that ring the island from the rockier cliffs of the north to the less accessible Calas or beach coves of the east and south. For being only about 45km or so wide, Menorcan life is surprisingly more oriented inwards than outwards, where the  Mediterranean Sea was always associated with peril rather than freedom, be it pirates, invading Turks, or invading British sailors looking for their gin fix. The Camí was created in the 13th century for horsemen to patrol the island and was up until recently in many places blocked off as it crosses through a number of the island’s farms. Today thanks to a local initiative, it’s reopened for hiking, horseback riding, or mountain biking which can be an excellent way of seeing the island over several days, plus it allows you to walk up to some of the least accessible, car-free Calas.

It’s got its own Gin.

We have the British and the Treaty of Utrecht to thank for three hundred years of gin distillation on the island. Brits established their naval base in the port town of Maó after Menorca was handed over to them in the early 18th century, and that meant lots of thirsty sailors. Xoriguer is the potent local brew, made with grapes instead of grains, but infused with the island’s juniper berries and a few other botanicals, in a centuries old recipe that’s strictly a secret. I’m a gin lover and nothing’s better than gin & tonics infused with island herbs served in chilled fishbowl-sized goblets, accompanied by epic sunsets, such as those that can be enjoyed at Cova d’en Xoroi. This may carry the crown for me for “best sunset cocktail spot in Spain” but if you have a nomination for a better place, let me know. Gin lovers will also delight in the island’s festive local drink, the pomada.

It’s got Talayots.

No, not these Talayots (but if those hip cats are not in your vinyl collection, you are seriously missing out). These stone ceremonial and funerary structures are seeded throughout the rocky island, lending an ephemeral atmosphere found away from the beach crowds even in the high-season months. Bronze Age stone chambers, menhirs, and Andy Goldsworthy-worthy stone walls are cool, and add a touch of that same mystical allure to Menorca that bless all sacred burial sites.

Caveats on Menorca’s beaches in high-season aside, smart planning in the 70s kept the big chain hotels and most package tourists away, leaving Menorca today a more bucolic, low-key island with intact local culture, cuisine, and dreamy landscapes and even dreamier sunsets. Take note contemporary tourism ministers, as you plot and plan the return of travel…. Add a few cool boutique hotels to that mix and you’ve got all the ingredients for several days of escapism which adds a great coda to a mainland Iberian trip. Now that’s something I’ll raise my gin glass to.

Sebastian plans our trips to the Iberian peninsula from his base in Morocco, and you can email him here for his thoughts on travel in Spain, yoga, sourdough, gin, and collecting old Balearic island pop hits on vinyl.

Bronze Age stone chambers, menhirs, and Andy Goldsworthy-worthy stone walls are cool

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