Ed’s Note: This is the fourth of the ELDA TRAVELS series by the wanderlust husband and wife team who makes you think no place in Spain or Portugal is worth visiting if Elda (Elizabeth and David White) hadn’t been there.
Menorca’s history is very different from the other Balearic islands. While elements of very ancient civilizations are well preserved, it was the Romans who named it Balearis Minora. The Arabs conquered it in the l0th century and Alfonso III of Aragon drove them out in 1287, but it suffered constant attacks by Moorish pirates and Turks. The English wanted the harbor at Mahon, the largest and deepest in the world after Pearl Harbor, and in l713 won the prize at the Treaty of Utrecht, governing Menorca for most of the l8th century. The French ruled from l756 to l763 and while there a Spanish chef in Mahon accidently mixed eggs with olive oil, thus creating “mayonnaise” much to the delight of the French commander and the world.
During Elda’s trip we decided to stay near the town of Ciudadela and selected a rural hotel, Sant Ignasi, which was originally the summerhouse of an aristocratic family. It was built in l777 and modernized 18 years ago. The grounds were spacious and what we most enjoyed was having our meals on the large patio shaded by very tall oak trees. In the surrounding gardens Nasi, a loud peacock, paraded around shrieking from time to time and showing off his feathers. While dining on the patio the first night we were charmed as we listened to an old CD of Ella Fitzgerald. The best meals were breakfast, which featured an elegant buffet of fruit, ensaimadas (always a must on the islands), cereals, eggs from the nearby farm, and homemade breads, plus excellent coffee. Rooms were well appointed and very comfortable. The June weather was balmy with gentle northerly breezes, the temperate 17-25 Celcius great for sleeping. We awoke each morning to the crowing of the house rooster. The scene was absolutely bucolic and totally peaceful.
Menorca gets approximately one million visitors during the months from May to October. It is an interesting mix of tourists— Spaniards from the mainland as well as Germans, Italians, French and English. By and large the crowds seemed to be quite civilized and not as rowdy as they can be on the other islands – especially Ibiza.
Menorca is small enough so that one can explore the whole island in a day but we preferred the area of Ciudadela, particularly the narrow harbor deep enough for fishing boats on one side and sailboats in the deeper areas. Where the harbor narrowed, one side was lined by seafood restaurants. There were many alternatives but we selected Café Balear, highly recommended and were not disappointed. The shellfish and fish are excellent here and among other beverages one must try the local gin, a specialty in Menorca for many years.
Menorca is known for its beautiful calas, basically coves in the rock cliffs with tiny beaches. The roads leading to the calas are extremely narrow and since parking is complicated we had to visit the beaches early in the morning. We particularly enjoyed Cala Macarella and realized that it would have been much easier to get there by sailboat as many were moored in the outer part of the harbor. Swimming was a delight in the clear Mediterranean waters.
We enjoyed visiting the Cathedral constructed under Alfonso III, frequently attacked by pirates and destroyed during the Civil War but now fully restored. We were pleased to hear an organist practice and suddenly he gifted us with a beautiful concert.
One should not leave Menorca without visiting the statue of US Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, flag officer of the U.S. Navy during the American Civil War who would later become the first U.S. Naval officer to hold the rank of Admiral, born to the native Menorcan Jordi Farragut and his wife Elizabeth Shine of North Carolina. The Madrid Council of the U.S. Navy League visits the island annually and pays homage to Farragut whose statue looks out at the Mediterranean from the mouth of the harbor.
Here’s how to make Gin Tonic Verde (Green Gin Tonic) with the Menorcan gin Xoriguer.
Featured image (Mahon Harbor) and Sant Ignasi dining area by ELDA
Lobster stew, PD
Menorcan gin Xoringuer by MinorKan: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:MinorKan, CC BY-SA 3.0
Cala Macarella by ebOka, via Creative Commons
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