The Balearics are Spain's second most visited tourist destination (after Catalonia) and welcome more than 10 million visitors each year, most of them from the United Kingdom and Germany. In other words, its beaches are rather popular... Less known than Ibiza or Mallorca, traditional Menorca can therefore be a good option to have a little more tranquility. Classified as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, this Balearic island has managed to preserve its essence: it fascinates by the splendour of its beaches, its natural parks and the multitude of prehistoric sites whose significance is still, on the whole, unexplained. Mysterious, the island of Menorca is full of legends and the wind that blows there is said to change the personality of its visitors...
In 1993, Menorca was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Its two main cities, Maó and Ciutadella, are located at the eastern and western tip of the island respectively. Far from the madness of Ibiza and the massive tourism of Mallorca, Menorca is a quiet and family-friendly destination. Even if a few seaside resorts come to spoil the landscape (especially Cala'n Porter), you can escape the crowd even in the middle of August, especially if you put your towel on the beaches of the northeast of the island. While Formentera has its chiringuitos and Ibiza its nightclubs, Minorca has the best restaurants in the Balearic Islands. Lovers of long summer evenings around a bottle of white wine and a seafood platter, here is your paradise..
We'll start with Maó, the island's capital. Built on a cliff at an altitude of 50 m, it dominates one of the safest natural ports in the Mediterranean (it is also said to be the largest natural port in the sea), 5 km deep and sheltered from the strong winds that blow on the island several months a year. Tradition attributes its foundation to the Carthaginian general Magon, Hannibal's brother, who took refuge on the island after his rout on the peninsula.
The whole city of Ciutadella is a museum, with its narrow streets that take you to some medina, its villas hanging above the port. Ciutadella is secret and spreads an unfathomable atmosphere. Located at the western end of Menorca, Ciutadella is 45 km from Maó. It currently has a population of nearly 30,000. Its port, the second on the island, is deeply embedded in a ria, a kind of natural gully-shaped harbour dug into the cliff, which extends into the heart of the old town. It's really a perfect place for sunset walks.
Another unmissable walk is the one leading to the promontory of Monte Toro. At 357 m high, it is the highest point on the island. From there, the view is superb over the rocky and bare bay of Fornells to the north, and over the town of Maó and the plateau to the south-east.
Mystical souls will be able to gather in a sanctuary built on the ruins of a primitive convent, in front of the remarkable Black Virgin, patron saint of Menorca. Sceptics will respect the silence that prevails in this place. Attention: the dishevelled in beachwear will be mercilessly repressed! Legend has it that a black bull with silver hooves indicated where this statue of the Virgin was buried. But the name of this mountain would actually come from the Catalan word Turó, which means "hill". Visitors who take the steep path will discover the spring of the Enzell, the only spring water to be bottled in Menorca.
Prehistoric remains in a mess
There are 1,603 megalithic monuments in Menorca, representing a density of 2.5 remains per km2, and even 10 per km2 in the south of the island. The purpose of these constructions remains enigmatic. The 300 talayots, stone towers without mortar, comparable to Sardinian nuraghes, with an average diameter of 15 m, are about 8 m high. Historians have examined the origin of these strange constructions. Were they used as watchtowers or defensive towers? Were they funerary monuments, as suggested by the ashes and human bone fragments found in the Talayotic chambers? In any case, it was the function of the turnips, these collective tombs in the shape of an inverted nave.
The most mysterious and impressive monuments are, without a doubt, the taules, composed of two colossal T-shaped stones, placed in balance one on top of the other, and sometimes up to 5 m high. They can only be found in Menorca: there are about thirty of them, some of which have remained in excellent condition. Since the 18th century, archaeologists have been questioning the meaning of the taules: the central pillar supporting the roof of a huge covered room, a giant sacrificial altar, a stylized bull's head? The mystery remains
Lazing or diving?
White sandy beaches, rocky beaches, paradise for diving or relaxing, they are very rich in Menorca. Before choosing your beach for the day, ask the inhabitants in which direction the wind blows: if it comes from the north, towards the beaches in the south, and vice versa.
To find the most beautiful beaches on the island, famous for their turquoise waters and wild landscapes, head west of Menorca around the city of Ciutadella. However, these beaches are no longer a secret for anyone, and to enjoy a little peace and quiet, the beaches north of Ciutadella (Cala Pilar, Cavalleria) are just as beautiful and much quieter. South of Ciutadella, the beaches are beautiful but full of tourists and highly urbanized. Cap d'Artrutx, Cala en Bosc, Son Xoriguer beach or, closer to the city, Cala Blanca and Cala Santandria. Fortunately, there are still unspoilt beaches south of the city, and many ravines shelter coves of fine sand and clear water under the pine forests
To discover our favorite, head for the two small beaches of Cales Coves. Covered with pebbles and rocks, they are bathed in very pure water (except when the sea deposits dead algae from the open sea). As you approach the rocks, you can see many multicoloured fish, crabs and even octopuses. The rocky walls surrounding the beach are pierced by hundreds of caves, which gave them their name, used for funeral purposes in Roman times. In the 1970s, hippies and nudists set their sights on these virgin spaces, which are now very popular in high season.
Generous and varied, the Balearic cuisine is directly inspired by the culinary traditions imported by the various conquerors and colonizers of the islands throughout history. Its greatest borrowings undoubtedly come from Catalan cuisine and that of the Valencia region, the latter having itself borrowed heavily from Arab cuisine. Based on olive oil, this cuisine uses both local and seafood products.
Common to the four islands of the Balearic Islands, the famous pa amb oli is to be enjoyed at the beginning of a meal: they are pieces of bread previously bathed in olive oil and rubbed with garlic, which are toasted with a sauce made from tomatoes and vinegar. El allioli (garlic mayonnaise) is prepared in all the islands and is served as an appetizer with bread and olives. Another delight to enjoy in the four corners of the archipelago: the sobrassada (local delicatessen). Cokes, a kind of local pizza, are also well known.
When? When? The Balearic climate, of the Mediterranean type, seems deliciously mild in winter since the average temperature does not fall below 12 °C. Spring, like September and October, is very variable, but it is at this time of year that you can enjoy the most beautiful weeks of the year, with perfect sunshine and an ideal temperature. The main tourist season begins in June. Obviously, during the summer, the weather is warmer and sunnier (sometimes even too hot in the Pityuses), and July marks the beginning of the tourist invasion.
Getting there. From Spain, Menorca airport is served directly from Madrid and Barcelona by Iberia, Vueling and Air Europa. If you leave Paris, you can fly to Mallorca and then take the boat to Menorca.
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