Mallorca: Novice cyclists, your eyes will thank you but your backside may not
By DAVID CAWLEY | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: July 10, 2014
Whatever your level or ambition, the off-season is the perfect time for hikers and cyclists to visit the Calvia region of Mallorca, Spain.
For decades, Mallorca’s warm summer months, sandy beaches and full-on nightlife have made it a famed and popular vacation playground.
Less well-known is that the island also has a strong cycling pedigree and is an annual training destination for Tour de France riders. Both the U.S. Postal Service team and Britain’s Team Sky regularly take to the region’s Tramuntana Mountains for winter training.
For those who haven’t perched on a saddle for years, the Calvia region is also a great place to get reacquainted with bicycling on less-punishing courses.
Visitors like me who don’t know a Cannondale from a Penny Farthing can find routes more suited to their fitness levels and interests. With this in mind, bike rental centers have been set up at many local hotels. Various shapes, sizes and styles are available. All are of top-notch quality, with some carrying a purchase price of upward of 3,000 euros (about $4,220). Fortunately, rental prices start at 18 euros per half-day, and with a guide — as we opted for — the cost comes in at a reasonable 25 euros each for a group of four.
Our guide for the next two days is Juan Carlos. Lean, quietly self-assured and charming, he assesses us for bike size and fitness before instructing us on basic braking and gear techniques.
There’s a choice of road and rough-terrain routes, depending on the amount of time booked — half a day, a full day or longer. We even buy and squeeze into branded cycling jerseys.
Despite our now sleek cycling attire, we’re clearly not in any state to join the pro racing routes through the nearby Tramuntana Mountains. Carlos instead suggests a more forgiving 20-kilometer, low-level route.
We head west through affluent suburban avenues lined with striking, contemporary villas, and before long we’re weaving through pine forests on relatively flat, dusty tracks.
Quickly assessing our low stamina and proficiency levels — more a wobbling, panting straggle than a finely tuned peloton — Carlos diplomatically makes regular stops along the way to point out flora and historical sights.
Through the trees we freewheel down and out into the sunshine of the secluded sandy cove and nudist beach of El Mago. Eyes averted from slumbering heaps of hairy pink man flesh, we follow the rocky coastal path clinging to the bay and on to the next isolated and picturesque bay of Portals Vells. On the sandy terrace of the Es Repos beach cafe, we snack like yellow-jerseyed champions on cold beers, olives and Manchego cheese.
The following day we’re back on the bikes, though with much less enthusiasm. We’re all suffering from acute saddle soreness — despite some self-indulgent time in the hotel spa. Understandably, it’s an ailment the hotel masseuse was not willing to treat. The saddle now feels more like a spiky 2-by-4 plank than a high-tech, ergonomic leather accessory, and with another four hours of cycling booked, the sympathetic Juan Carlos offers us a gentler ride east along Palma Nova’s boardwalk.
A completely different landscape from the previous day, this is a 10-km round-trip on smooth cycling paths through one of Mallorca’s modern tourist hot spots. To the right we skirt Mallorca’s tourist beaches; to the left are the bars and clubs that, come dusk, fire up the neon and crank up the beats for another cocktail- and shot-fueled all-nighter.
Our destination is the marina of Puerto Portals, where we sit on a swanky cafe/bar terrace sipping cafe con leche and eavesdropping on private yacht crews planning sailing routes for their rich employers.
That evening we head inland by car to the whitewashed hillside town of Calvia for dinner at the rustic Restaurant Meson Ca’n Torrat, owned and run by a former pro bullfighter. The candlelight, dark wood and toreador memorabilia set an intimate scene for the Spanish, English and German diners who, like us, head here to take on the hearty signature dish of fire-roasted suckling pig.
For those less inclined to take to the saddle, there are walking trails. High in the mountains is a network of remote, marked trails. Route GR221 is one. A six-hour, dry riverbed hike winds past abandoned dry-stone vine terraces, ancient settlements and a once rather stately hacienda.
Here we discovered park ranger and rugged man of the mountains Biel Salom. Through a gap-toothed mouth set on a craggy, wind-burned face, he talks of his passion for the 365-day-a-year job, which includes single-handedly looking after 14 million square meters of nature reserve and taking care of once-abandoned donkeys. The latter he now employs as eco-friendly grass and weed trimmers.
Whether hiking, cycling or both, the best times to visit Mallorca are between February and May and between October to November, when the temperatures range between 59 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit and the landscape is greener and less dusty. March, when the many almond trees are in full, riotous pink blossom, is especially rewarding. Not only is the weather cooler, but hotels and flights also tend to be cheaper. Plus there’s less traffic.
For Juan Carlos, the Calvia region of Mallorca is one of the best cycling destinations in Europe, whatever your level of fitness. And when it all gets too much and the uncompromisingly hard bike saddle becomes something to dread, there are always the spas, beaches and nightlife to help ease the pain.
David Cawley is a U.K. freelance journalist who specializes in travel and history.
Air Berlin (www.airberlin.com) has flights to Mallorca from Berlin, Dusseldorf and Munich, while Condor (www.condor.com) flies from Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne and Leipzig. Jet2 (www.jet2.com) has flights from a choice of U.K. airports. From Palma airport it’s a 20-minute drive to the resorts of Palma Nova and Magaluf.
Where to stay
Viva Palma Nova is just one of a number of modern, family hotels with a bike station and spa, and it’s only a couple of minutes’ walk from Palma Nova’s beach and nightlife. Phone (+34) (0) 9716 81251; website hotelsviva.com/en/viva-palmanova-spa.
Besides the Restaurant Meson Ca’n Torrat, we tried and tested Restaurant Las Olas, a popular lunch spot for local tapas, seafood and paella set right on the bay of Santa Ponsa.
For accommodation, cycling and hiking routes, go to visitcalvia.com. For information on Mallorca, see visitmallorca.com.