Spain, the finals frontier

7th August 1998 at 01:00
Half an hour's drive from Mallorca's tourist inferno is Deia, a paradise on earth favoured by poets, artists and the odd tycoon. Bridget Reiss went there on a student's budget and felt like a millionaire.

My friend and I were taking our finals in two weeks' time, so we thought we'd go to Mallorca for some peace and quiet. Yes, Mallorca.

There are in fact two Mallorcas. There's the skyscrapers-and-sangria enclave around the Bay of Palma (very popular with producers of fly-on-the-wall TV documentaries); and there's the rest of the island. Into the second category, on the west coast of the island, falls one of the best-kept secrets of the Balearic Islands - the village of Deia.

Our trip consisted of a two-hour flight from Luton to Palma (Pounds 96 return), and a 30-minute taxi ride from the airport. En route to Deia, up winding, mountainous roads, we didn't see a single high-rise hotel, just stone villages and tiny fields dotted with fruit trees.

As we approached the village, lights beckoned from bars and cafes; but first we had a steep climb to the Ca'n Oliver, a small, family-run pension.

This is not luxury accommodation. The furniture is simple but elegant - typically mallorqu!n; and there are just three bathrooms serving 16 bedrooms. But the view from the bedroom window at night is pure fairy tale: twinkling lights surround the valley and rise up towards the hilltop church; the scents of flowers and shrubs soften the air.

Meals are usually taken on the vine-clad terrace. But on the first morning it was raining so we moved inside, while a group of French women stoically breakfasted alfresco. Other guests included a couple from Chicago, a young Australian, and various Germans and Italians.

Getting to the beach involves a 30-minute walk down the valley that delights all the senses: the clinking of goats' bells, the colours and scents of the flowers, trees and shrubs. In the village the grocer sells large tomatoes, aubergines, chicory, olives, delicious cakes and cheeses, wine, bread and mallorqu!n sausages. Perfect for a picnic lunch.

Further down, the road winds between the little houses owned by a mix of locals, expats and the occasional celebrity. We pass a verge covered with orange nasturtiums; under the trees, an old man tends a group of turkeys. The path becomes narrower as we descend through olive groves on ancient terraces, and climb the wooden stiles.

Just before reaching the sea, we pass under the shadow of cliff-side caves, overhung with pine trees, our progress monitored by a family of kittens.

The sea appears suddenly. On the small beach, there's a rush-roofed terraced cafe serving freshly squeezed lemonade, coffee, wine and brandy. To eat, there's grilled sardines, tuna salad, olives and coarse mallorqu!n bread. It is easy to imagine yourself a millionaire.

Walking back up in the afternoon heat is harder, but you have little choice - unlike in the evenings, when we had to decide where to eat: a traditional mallorqu!n family dinner on the terrace of our pension, or one of the restaurants in the village.

Some famous feet have stomped through Deia. Robert Graves lived here for 50 years, and some of his family still do. The La Residencia hotel is owned by Richard Branson. Fifteen minutes up the coast is Valdemosa, where Chopin lived with George Sand. In the other direction a perilous bus ride brings you to the old fishing port, Soller.

Deia is by no means the only pretty place in Mallorca; the island is full of lovely old villages and mountain scenery. But Deia is special. My friend liked it so much that she walked straight out of the exam room into the travel agent and booked another flight, again costing Pounds 96 return. The question is, will she come back this time?

Shop around for flights. Try Airtours International (01619 085651), return flights to Palma from Pounds 59 to Pounds 299 plus 1.5 per cent booking fee, or Easy Jet (01582 702900). Ask the Spanish Tourist Office for low cost accommodation in Mallorca (0891 669920). It is possible to camp on the cliffs, or to hire a car and travel round the island looking for places to stay.

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