Adults-only Menorca – spending 48 hours in Menorca
The first time I visited Menorca, I was about seven – after all, it’s a perfect place to holiday with kids. So when I was invited on an adults-only Menorca trip this summer, it seemed an unexpected combination – rather than beach breaks and sandcastles, this 48 hours in Menorca featured gin in a cliffside bar, a vineyard, discovering Mahon’s history and browsing boutiques.
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If you fancy a weekend in Menorca, it’s easier than ever to get there now as well – along with low-cost airlines flying to Menorca during the summer, easyJet has launched a new winter route from Gatwick, running until at least 2021.
So for a city break with a difference, or a beach break with history, shopping and vineyards, here’s my tips on what to do if you have two days in Menorca… without kids.
Adults-only Menorca: where to stay
A glamorous grown-up trip needs a glamorous grown-up hotel (and a pool where no-one is wearing arm bands). In pretty Es Castell, the Barcelo Hamilton hotel has its own rooftop bar with hot tubs and balinese beds, two pools (one heated in the winter), a little spa, plus two restaurants, including one on the waterfront.
I’m a fan of the hotel chain after staying in Barcelo Raval in Barcelona, with its quirky style, enormously comfy beds and lots of funky little touches, from sculpture to decor. And if a Menorca city break is a bit different from a weekend in Barcelona (although Catalan was once the official language on the island too), the hotel works just as well.
One of the easternmost points in Spain, it’s also one of the best places in Menorca to watch the sunrise. At least, so I’m assured. Those enormously comfy beds meant I was lounging fast asleep when the sun made its appearance, although watching the sun set from the roof after cocktails and a manicure was just as good.
Adults-only Menorca: Day 1
The water in the Bay of Mahon glitters in the sunlight, sparkling silver and blue as we hop into our water taxi. With one of the world’s largest natural harbours, the island has been visited and ruled by a string of civilisations, from the Romans and Phoenicians to the British.
As we cruise slowly from our hotel in Es Castell to the port, Mahon towering whitely above at the top of steep steps, we even spot the old houses where British Admirals Nelson and Collingwood could stare at each other from opposite sides of the water.
I was busy eyeing up some of the houses: grand sprawling ones with their own docks and smaller colourful ones among the green of the hills and lining the waterfront. Our first stop: a glass-bottomed boat trip with Yellow Catamarans, cruising past some of the Navy vessels which still use the harbour, bristling with high-tech equipment, out past the remains of forts and historic hospitals on quarantine islands along the way.
At the mouth of the bay, we swapped the open-air deck for the wide glass portholes onto the sea; plenty of space meant there was no crowding around to get a glimpse of Menorca’s marine life. The small sharks which occasionally appear were keeping their distance today, silver shoals of fish swirling past and tiny pulsating jellyfish, little splashes of vibrant pink among the green sea grass.
Climbing up the steps into Mahon wasn’t quite as effortless as the jellyfish’s elegant underwater ballet, but the island’s capital was worth the effort. Twisting alleyways weave among old medieval fortifications, traditional white buildings gleam blindingly in the sun, with pastel homes and more unusual modernist creations sandwiched in between.
It’s easy to wander, following your own walking route, or there are guides to help you explore Mahon, including some of its British history with leaflets available from tourist information. Who knew Menorca’s unique wide curving ‘boinder’ windows got the name because they were like British bow windows. Or that you’ll find ‘grevi’ used in cooking, along with ‘neverso’ plums – so called as the British governor at the time commented he ‘never saw’ plums quite like them.
Past the Teatro Principal theatre, its unassuming facade hiding the ornate chandeliers and famous acoustics of Spain’s oldest opera house, and past the cathedral, whose organ has over 3,000 piles and which holds classical music concerts every day.
There’s something to discover around every corner: local history and art museum Can’Oliver was once a merchant’s house, back in the 18th century.
The ceilings and walls are still decorated with spectacular frescoes, although the best views of all come once you’ve climbed yet more steps, from the tower where the original owner would have gazed out to see to check for ships approaching the harbour. I suspect he might have delegated the job to a minion… although looking down to the blue of the Mediterranean across the red roofs and eye-catching towers, it’s not a bad spot to work from.
And outside the old city walls, peaceful Parc D’es Freginal hides a bloodthirsty past. Today, there are children playing and flowers blooming, kept watered by irrigation channels created a thousand years ago under Moorish rule.
But in the 16th century, the notorious pirate Barbarossa camped here with 3,000 followers before attacking the city. A year later, they returned with their sights set on old capital Ciutadella, at the other end of the island. The two towns have a fierce rivalry to this day… said to date back to these attacks.
In Mahon itself, the only rivalry we see is for the best seats at the fish market. Half traditional market, with the freshest fish and seafood laid out on crushed ice, it’s half tapas bar with tables in the sunshine outside, tapas so large that a couple is about the size of my usual lunch, accompanied by a cold drink. Music floats through the air from one of Mahon’s many buskers as we sip.
With local gin distillery Xoriguer just a few minutes away on the quayside, it’s tempting to try Menorcans’ favourite cocktail, a pomada – gin with real lemonade, lemon squash or lemon juice (and on one occasion, with a cinammon stick in). Very refreshing, very drinkable, it comes in huge fishbowl glasses which would also mean it’s very easy to have slightly more than you intend.
Instead, we start with a glass of wine. 10 minutes from Es Castell, the vineyard of Bodegas Binifadet might not be big, but its 11 acres are famous. Michelin-starred El Bulli stocked their chardonnay (until the restaurant closed), and every year the limited edition sparkling wines sell out.
Started as one man’s hobby, a side interest to his life and work in Barcelona, it has been flourishing along with the vines since the first harvest in 1982. With a restaurant on the site, its menu designed to complement the bottles tucked away in the cellar, there are also plans to grow more local grapes, including ancestral varieties, as well as to open a small hotel and spa.
Wandering past the vines in the late afternoon sun, then into the cool of the cellar, tradition is important here – grapes are still picked by hand, while the 92,000 bottles produced aren’t mass marketed to supermarkets. Instead you’ll find them in select Menorcan restaurants, or to buy from the vineyard itself. If only I hadn’t flown hand luggage only…
I contented myself with a tasting instead. And once we’d decided which wines we liked (all of them!), we ordered a few more glasses to go with a spread of hams, cheeses, tomato rubbed bread and meltingly fresh salmon.
It’s tempting to stay at one of the tables, outdoors under a trellis of vines, sipping until the sun sets… but the best place to watch the sunset in Menorca is over a drink in a bar. A bar, with a difference.
Cova d’en Xoroi clings to the cliffside, twisting passages clinging to the rock face with small VIP areas to lounge on white cushioned sofas – or live music inside the caves of the cliff. But from the viewpoint, you can gaze along the headland, watching the water glow golden then crimson as the sun sinks below the horizon, the jutting cliffs silhouetted against the fading light.
Then just as suddenly, stars twinkling in the sky above the calm waves. If Barcelo Hamilton has the best sunrise, this is the perfect place to spend the evening. In fact one of the best views in Menorca at any time.
Adults-only Menorca: Day 2
If you haven’t slowed right down to the island pace of life – which combined with a siesta equals the ultimate de-stress – today is the day for low-key exploring and relaxation. Starting with a beach… Or rather, a choice of beaches. The island has over 100, although dozens are only accessible from the water or after a hike through forest paths to the secluded sand.
Tempting… but if you plan to fit anything else in, Fornells makes a great starting point. The sand here isn’t a secret, but there are loungers to hire and crystal clear waters to paddle in before heading in to the fishing village itself.
Boats for hire dot the harbour, and smaller yachts moor up in this sleepily stylish spot. But tear yourself away from the pretty waterfront to browse the boutiques.
Traditional espadrilles come in classic or designer updates (Jaime Mascaro, a local designer, is one name to watch). I found a pair of beaten silver earrings, but grudgingly decided I didn’t have space for straw bags decorated with pompoms or for the many many floaty white tops.
Do stop in at Es Celleret, whose shelves are groaning with local cheese and meat, wine and oil, flavoured salt and treats like ensaimada pastries.
Car hire in Menorca doesn’t cost a fortune and you can drive across the island in less than an hour. But if you don’t fancy venturing to the north coast for your browsing, take a wander to Cala Fonts for more window shopping, the harbourfront area just down from Es Castell and a gentle amble from our hotel.
Between the string of restaurants lining the waterfront, there are more boutiques crammed with boho styles and jewellery.
Now’s also the time to relax on a balinese bed on the rooftop (a steal at 20 Euros for the day), with a glass of cava or a pomada, take a dip in the pool or head to the small spa. Before trying some of Menorca’s most famous food: local cheese, fresh shellfish, sobrasada sausage and mayonnaise. Yep, the Menorcans claim this for themselves – ‘Mahon-ese’.
True? The story goes that when the French ruled the island, a local whipped it up from eggs and olive oil, the only things to hand – frankly, where would we be without mayonnaise, so I’m very happy to accept it as I dip a gigantic prawn in.
Adults-only Menorca: What else?
For this trip, we stuck to the island’s eastern end but there’s easily enough for more short breaks to Menorca. Head west and discover Ciutadella – check out these pictures from The Travel Hack of its peaceful, colourful streets.
And if you prefer to get closer to the waves than my Menorca boat trip, she also tried her hand at sea kayaking. Or work your way through those 100 beaches – including this tempting top 10 beaches in Menorca – not to mention lighthouses, watersports and waterparks, as Jenography discovered.
For more tips on where to eat and drink in Menorca, Eat Like a Girl has a string of mouth-watering posts – starting with the classics, including cheese and sobrasada.
PIN FOR LATER: ADULTS-ONLY MENORCA
Disclosure: I travelled to Menorca courtesy of Barcelo Hotels as part of a trip for my day job, and was under no obligation to share anything on the blog. But it was such a lovely sunny escape, I couldn’t resist. All opinions and new liking for lemony gin cocktails are my own. Contains affiliate links – any purchases you make are unaffected but I may get a small commission.
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