The Balearic Islands: A fascinating part of the Mediterranean

Mallorca is one of the four major islands that make up the

The sun shines 300 days a year. The climate is tropical without the humidity. Descendants of another century were known as “stone-slingers” and cultured black pearls are indigenous to these tropical islands.

The islands that make up this lush green spot looks like the Hawaiian Islands on the map, but are a continent apart. This idyllic area is known as the Balearic Islands (Greek derivative for “stone-slinger”), about 100 miles off the eastern Mediterranean coast, is actually a continuation of the Sierra Nevada mountain range of southern Spain.

Mallorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera make up the four major islands. The capital, Palma de Mallorca, is busy, modern and sophisticated. Anchored between Barcelona and Algiers, the archipelago is for the most part a geographical continuation of Iberia’s Andalusian Mountains and a cultural extension of Catalonia on the mainland. Each of the four major islands has a distinct and appealing character all its own. Their dialects differ, but it is basically Catalan well salted with local words that are of Arabic origin.

Mallorca (or Majorca), the largest and most outstanding of the Balearics, is roughly 60 miles long and 50 miles wide, is shaped somewhat like an arrowhead and covers 1,405 square miles.

The topography is dramatic, largely because of the Tramuntana range on the north and west coasts, which has nine peaks higher than 3,000 feet and one that rises almost 5,000 feet. Mallorca boasts an indigenous population of more than 700,000 with about half located in the capital city of Palma. Add 6 million plus tourists and you have the most visitors anywhere in Spain.

The best way to experience Mallorca for the first time is to approach by sea. (Cruise ships have this popular port on many of their itineraries. There are also passenger and car ferry services to Palma from Barcelona and Valencia.)

The first views are of some breathtaking structures that include a magnificent 13th century “Gothic Cathedral.” Explore this marvelous structure close up and see the most exquisite and largest rose window in the world. Above the alter hangs what is said to be the original “crown of thorns.”

Nearby is the 14th century Castle of Bellver, stronghold of the kings of Mallorca in medieval times. Go to the hilltop for a glorious panoramic view. These two outstanding monuments dominate the city with their beautiful silhouettes and are symbols of Palma’s rich historical past.

Father Junipero Serra, a native of Mallorca, was a resident of the Convent Church of San Francisco, which was built in the purest Gothic style with beautiful cloisters. This is the Father Junipero Serra who made his way to California and founded many cities, one of which he named San Francisco, for his monastery.

It has been recorded that Frédéric Chopin and George Sand spent the winter of 1838 in Mallorca. Chopin – ill and listless on his arrival – departed inspired by his stay.

Palma has many faces. One is a picturesque town with narrow, winding 17th century streets and friendly natives. The modern downtown is a shopper’s paradise and beautiful beach areas with many full service hotels appeal to all.

Palma is more than a place for sightseeing. Dining and shopping is first rate. There is just about every kind of restaurant available, from Spanish to Mallorquine, Italian, French and Chinese. Fish is one of the main specialties of the island. First rate supper clubs, discos and night clubs with live entertainment abound. Excellent brandies and wines produced in this area are available. Muscatel and Montona are their finest. Shopping in Palma is probably the best in all of the Balearic Islands. The world famous Mallorca black pearls are a prudent buy. Unbelievably soft leather is made into shoes, boots, gloves and jackets. (Be sure to know your European size.) Beautiful needlework and hand embroidered linen, ceramics, wrought-iron goods and hand-made glassware are also available. (You can watch glass being blown at the Gordillo Furnaces, a factory founded in the 17th century.)

The islands have one of the highest concentrations of hotels, villas and pensions per capita of any popular resort area in the world. It is prudent to make reservations well in advance.

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