Once synonymous with sun and sangria mass tourism (Magaluf is just along the coast), Palma has reinvented itself in little more than a decade as one of the most elegant destinations in Spain. Stretching for seven miles along a beautiful bay, with Roman, Byzantine and Moorish heritage, Palma is full of handsome buildings, smart streets, and major sights. Hot in summer and mild in winter, it’s a perfect year-round destination, now attracting wealthy visitors with its designer shops, high quality restaurants and boutique hotels. Anwer Bati finds it’s still possible to find reasonable prices, and a sense of local life, around the town.
Although there are several excellent hotels in Palma, few offer a view or a sense of space like the opulent Castillo Hotel Son Vida, set in extensive grounds on a hill ten minutes out of town. On the site of a 16th Century castle, the hotel offers very high levels of friendly service and comfort in spacious traditional rooms, many with balconies and terraces, and has attracted heads of state and stars of sport, movies and fashion. There are two restaurants – Es Castell serving an eclectic menu, and Es Vi specialising in modern tapas – both with terraces, and a pool bar serving light meals. The new spa is one of the best in the area, and there are four golf courses nearby, with a shuttle service from the hotel to get to them.
For tapas (tinned fish is a speciality) and tasty dishes of the day, try the casual and – though only opened eight year ago – decidedly retro Vermuteria La Rosa, with its yellow-tiled bar, and cheerful service. Another place favoured by locals is Patron Lumares , with a large air-conditioned interior and a few tables on the pavement outside.
For one of the best restaurants around, go to the luxurious St Regis Mardavall, a little outside town, to sit on the terrace of Es Fum, with views of the sea and the resort’s lush gardens. Chef Miguel Navarro’s vibrant and colourful Michelin-starred food is genuinely exciting, featuring light, beautifully presented dishes bursting with flavour.
Also away from the bustle of central Palma is Flanigan at the glamorous Puerto Portals marina – serving Mediterranean cuisine, particularly fish and seafood. It’s a favourite with the Spanish Royal Family when they visit their nearby summer residence, the Marivent Palace (open to the public, incidentally).
There are any number of bars and cafes in central Palma, but to literally rise above the hubbub of the busy designer shopping streets below, escape to the terrace bar of the Can Alomar hotel, housed in a 19th Century mansion. The restaurant, De Tokio a Lima, offers Japanese/Peruvian fusion food.
You literally can’t miss the Cathedral, and it’s well worth entering this imposing landmark, with its exceptionally tall nave, rose windows and twenty chapels. Look out for characteristic changes made to the interior by Antoni Gaudi in the early 20th Century. Next door and almost as prominent is another highlight, the Almudaina Palace. Originally a Moorish fortress, it is now a military HQ and a royal residence with grand rooms and good views of the bay.
Nearby, in an imposing mansion, is the Juan March museum founded by one of Spain’s richest men, containing works by Dali, Miro, Picasso and Gris. A short walk away are the Banys Arabs (Arab baths), one of the few remaining intact pieces of Moorish architecture in the city, with their charming gardens.
Although it’s slightly out of the centre of town, don’t miss the Miro Museum, which displays many of the Catalan artist’s works. Miro lived on the estate, and his studio, recreated for visitors, is also there. Also worth visiting is Palma’s architecturally impressive new modern and contemporary art museum, Es Baluard by the old city walls. There is both a permanent collection and special exhibitions. The view from the terrace – where there is a good café – is one of the best in the city.
The beach is around 8 miles from the city centre, so most of your time will be spent wandering around the city. It’s worth booking a walking tour, whether for food or sights. Do this through Corazón Travel.
There are also two hop-on-hop-off bus routes, one of which takes you to Bellver castle, a 14th Century fortress which, as the name suggests, has superb views of the bay. It’s worth walking to Portixol, a former fishing village which now buzzes with bars and restaurants by the sea.
Palma hosts several major events, and one of the most prestigious is the Superyacht Cup (thesuperyachtcup.com), the biggest regatta of its type in Europe, in which mega sailing boats of up to 52 metres, costing tens of millions of pounds, compete every June.
Go to the shaded Passeig del Born for top international designer brands, as well as leading Spanish labels such as Zara. Just off Passeig Born is Rialto Living, in a converted cinema, a stylish mini-department store selling clothes, home items and accessories. The café is a popular meeting place for elegant expats. Nearby is Estillo Sant Feliu, which specialises in high quality local fabrics and ceramics. Also in the area is a branch of the Corte Ingles department store.
For food shops, go to the narrow streets around the Placa Cort. La Pajarita is one of the best. There are also several artisan shops in the centre, including the charming Industrial, where you will find handmade dolls and other toys.
Palma has two markets, the bigger of which is Mercat Olivar. There, apart from food stalls, you will find numerous places for a snack or a drink. The other is Santa Catalina market, in an old fishermen’s area, now a fashionable district.
Double rooms with breakfast at the Castillo Hotel Son Vida start at £215 a night.