Story and photos by John Coyne

Menorca Cala Corb

Menorca In The Sun

In the swirl of European summer travel, Menorca, Spain is the calm eye of  the storm. It is not a jet-set haven or the playground of young,  swinging Europe; rather, it is an island that attracts visitors who love the sea and sand and quiet nights.

From the air, Menorca lies open like one’s palm, smooth and pink, and  crisscrossed with twisting and narrow roads that look like so many  lifelines. The island, one sees from the air, crowds its coasts.  High-rises hotel complexes and sprawling urbanizations hem in rocky  coves and patches of Mediterranean sand, leaving the interior landscape  to a few towns, miles of low, rock walls, and isolated whitewashed  farmhouses.

Where in the world is Menorca (Minorca)?

The island of Menorca lies in the Mediterranean, 130 miles off the coast of Spain. It is the northernmost island of the Balearic archipelago. Less  than 32 miles long and only nine miles wide, it has more than 100 sandy  beaches, rocky coves and tiny inlets. The abundance of warm blue water  beaches is the island’s greatest, but not, its only treasure.

Menorca Mahon

Mahón/Maó

The capital, Mahón, is a city of 25,000, half the island’s population.  Mahón is an ancient fort-city, built by the Carthaginians high up on  steep cliffs.

The word ”Mahón” is  actually a corruption of Portus Magonis, the name of Hannibal’s brother  who spent the winter of 206 B.C. in Menorca.

Prize of the Med

Mahón has one of the finest deep-water anchorage in the world. The U.S.  maintained a naval base in the Port of Mahón from 1822 to 1847 where  midshipmen trained prior to the founding of Annapolis. A number of  sailors married Menorcan women and America’s first Admiral, David G. Farragut, was of Menorcan descent.

Lord Nelson sailed into the port of Mahón in 1799, arriving with a squadron  and seizing the Golden Farm, a red-brick mansion with a classical  portico that overlooked the harbor. Some accounts say that Lady Hamilton was with him during the several months he spent on Menorca, but local  historians have no record of her arrival. There is documentation,  however, that Lord Nelson wrote part of his memoirs while on the island. The Golden Farm is still visible on the cliffs overlooking the city.

Menorca Port of Mahon

In and around Mahón

Mahón has Georgian town houses and tight, narrow cobblestones streets that  twist and turn through the hills, leading from one plaza to the next.

And herein lies the town’s real pleasure — to wander aimlessly, discovering accidentally the eccentric collection of historical sights. In the  Plaza Generalísimo Franco, for example, is the Baroque church of Santa  María, built in 1748. Farther along a cobblestone side street is the  city’s most famous ruin, a section of the medieval stone fortification  walls that were erected around Mahón during the reign of King Alfonso  III, who conquered Menorca in 1287.

Beyond Mahón

Most of the island’s interior is farmland. The gentle, rolling hills are  dominated by large red-tile-and-whitewash houses built to overlook acres of green fields. The land has been squared off with long walls of rock, cleared from the fields and built up through centuries of manual labor. These walls stretch to all horizons in checkerboard fashion, and when  you drive the narrow back roads, you feel caught in an endless maze  until quite suddenly bright blue water comes into view. Every road in  Menorca leads eventually to the sea and the sand.

Menorca Place Reial

What to do in Menorca

I usually start my day in Mahón with café con leche and a huge sugar-dusted ensaimada pastry at the outdoor bar in the Place Reial in the center of town and  watch the small cobblestone streets fill up with British tourists.

Then I wander off to have lunch down on the port, or drive to nearby Cala  Fonts in Es Castell where I can stare at the water and enjoy a meal at  one of the half-dozen inexpensive seaside restaurants.

Menorca Son Parc Golf Course

Later in the afternoon, when the sun is less menacing, I’ll travel ten  minutes to the Son Parc golf course and play a round. The course is only nine holes and not difficult, and its setting, carved out of farmland  and pine groves, is lovely. Afterward, I might go for a swim at nearby  Son Saura beach, a smooth arc of beach in a glorious cove.

Returning to Mahón. I’ll stop at sunset down in the port and watch local fishing  boats glide silently out into the night. Also in this famous harbor are  dozens of shops and restaurant that in recent years has turned the port  into the center of the island’s night life. Two bars to visit after  midnight are Café Baixamar and Akelarre.

If you aren’t one to wander late into the night, return to Es Castell and  find Gabriel’s Bar on Cala Corb and listen to local customers sign  Spanish standards and folk songs. It is a wonderful way to end an  evening.

 

John Coyne’s latest novel, Long Ago & Far Away is partially set in  Menorca. Coyne has written for Travel & Leisure, Diversion, Foreign  Affairs, Smithsonian, Americana,Washingtonian, Horizons USA, Today’s  Education among other magazines. He is the author of 26 books, fiction  and non-fiction.

 

 

 

© February 2017 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.

 

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