I have memories of Menorca. Pretty distant ones, but they’re happy ones, and revolve largely around the hotel swimming pool and sliding off pedalos into the bluest of seas, which seemed terrifyingly deep to me at the age of six or seven. Beyond that, really nothing. To get the chance to go back to somewhere I hadn’t been for about 20 years then, and to see a whole new side of this intriguing Mediterranean island, was a chance I couldn’t turn down.
Less than two hours flight from Britain, Menorca is within spitting distance of both the Spanish mainland and its big sister, Mallorca. It is one of the Balearic Islands and the whole island is a UNESCO biosphere reserve. This gives you some sense of the pride the Menorcans take in their island. It is pristine, from the dazzling white walls of the houses dotted across the countryside to the crystal clear blue waters of the many harbours. Everything about the place seems neat, organised and cherished.
To make the most of the time you might have on Menorca, here are a selection of activities on offer:
1. Adventure sports
Given its location, the main focus of adventure sports on Menorca is the water, naturally enough. We went sea kayaking around a stretch of the southern coast from Cala Galdana and explored the Dragon’s Cave and various other cave systems along the way. Not only did we get to do this, but we had the opportunity to stop and go for a snorkel to take advantage of the crystal clear water.
On top of this, the guys who took us kayaking also produced beers, soft drinks and crisps, all of which we ate while sat on a submerged rock, enjoying the water lapping around us.
Menorca also has excellent scuba diving, windsurfing, surfing and stand up paddle boarding if you want to really make the most of it as a water sports destination.
While on Menorca we saw signs everywhere marking camis, similar to the Camino de Santiago, which we found out form part of an ancient ring route around the island. The whole route is 186km long and is believed to have come about in the 14th century as a way to link the watchtowers and fortresses that defended the coast. It is possible to walk the whole route self-guided, but of course requires appropriate preparation and research. One of our fellow bloggers (Teacake Travels) took it upon herself to walk a 50km chunk of it on one of our days there and reported that it was beautiful and a good way to get to some of Menorca’s more remote beaches.
Menorca doesn’t quite have the reputation that its neighbour, Mallorca, does in the cycling world, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t short on fantastic places to cycle. If you’re looking for great road cycling, it’s got it. We saw plenty of lycra clad speedsters haring around the island on the smooth tarmac roads and Monte Toro is a climb to rival even Sa Calobra. If you’re in the mood for mountain biking, then the aforementioned cami can also be cycled. We saw two lunatics cycling through the swell on a beach, before heading up into the dunes and across the scrubland on a well established, but, by all accounts, extremely challenging route.
Menorca’s prime location in the Mediterranean means it has, particularly over the last 300 years, been fought over repeatedly. It has swapped hands more times than I can count and is steeped in history. There are 19th century Martello forts dotted all the way around the coast, massive Napoleonic fortresses built on clifftops (have a look at this video from Out the Box for a terrific aerial shot of the Fort Marlborough) and even a rather haunting, but beautiful quarantine island, which has recently opened.
Not only does Menorca have this recent history, which is of great relevance if you’re interested in British military history (surprise surprise, we controlled Menorca on at least three occasions), but there are also significant megalithic sites such as the t-shaped taulas and boat-shaped navetes, which date well back into the prehistoric period. As is often the way, these more ancient sites lend the island an air of mystery, due to the lack of knowledge about their constructors.
4. Food & Drink
It would be fair to say we were spoilt rotten for food choice in Menorca. In typical Iberian fashion, the meals were long, involved many courses and far, far more food than we could possibly eat. The fish was among the best I’ve ever eaten, being fantastically fresh and perfectly cooked. Likewise, the seafood was amazing. The shrimp and octopus were huge, delicious and practically still wriggling they were so fresh. Equally, we had delicious beef cheek, Menorcan speciality croquetas and a host of incredibly indulgent desserts.
Not only are you spoilt for choice with the food itself, but the restaurants we went to also had some of the best views on the island, whether it was La Minerva, sat on a pontoon in a harbour, beneath which we could see fish swimming, Cova d’en Xoroi, which is a bar in a cave and probably the coolest bar I’ve ever been to, or the final meal of the trip at Cap Roig, which was perched on a clifftop and had a panoramic view of the sunset. You really couldn’t go wrong.
We Brits didn’t just leave a legacy of crumbling fortresses, we also left a healthy liking among the Menorcans for gin. There are several distilleries on the island and Menorcan gin is particularly light and fragrant. Not only does it make excellent G&Ts, but also the local speciality, pomada, which is a mix of gin and grapefruit juice is delicious and delightfully refreshing. Just what you need after a hard day site seeing on a warm Mediterranean island.
How has it taken this long to get to the beaches? Once you’re done with everything else Menorca has to offer, there’s really only one thing to do, and that’s sit on the beach, sun bathe and just do nothing for a while, perhaps while sipping a pomada.
Of all the beaches I’ve been to on the Mediterranean, Menorca has to rank among the best. From the pearly white, smooth sand of the beaches on the south coast, which look like they’ve been lifted lock stock from Thailand, to the almost red gold beaches of the north coast, Menorca has beaches to suit all tastes.
If you’re looking for something a little unusual, Menorca also has the smallest beach I think I’ve ever seen, known locally as Lover’s Cove, it’s about 3 metres wide and when we saw it, was packed out by one Menorcan family.