Sun, sea and good taste

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
Renata Rubnikowicz finds another side to Mallorca

A brochure for one of the Mediterranean's original notorious holiday hotspots reads:"Conveniently situated on the edge of Magalluf (sic), the hotelI is well positioned to make the most of the resort's infamous nightlife." But that's far from the whole story of the mountainous green island of Mallorca, now seeking once more to assert its identity, its language, its culture and, most happily for tourists, its cuisine.

Development close to beaches has been banned and some of the uglier concrete package palaces have been pulled down. When I looked out across the wide bay towards Magaluf from my balcony at the tranquil Punta Negra hotel, one of the Reis de Mallorca group, which concentrate on character and local ambience, I felt a world away from the English-style pubs of that "infamous" resort.

In the other direction, Punta Negra's balconies overlook Puerto Portals, where the king of Spain keeps his yacht, and I was soon gossiping with the management about who the king was relaxing with last summer, and making plans to return in February to see the pink and white almond blossom cover the island. With its secluded beaches, gardens studded with pine, orange and banana trees and its emphasis on Mallorcan style, the pink-washed Punta Negra, a short taxi ride from the smart clubs and bars of Palma, has been a relaxing haven for decades.

Even older, on the other side of Palma in a quiet residential area with plenty of restaurants, the friendly family-run Hotel Ciutat Jard! has been restored to its original 1921 Indian-inspired glory. Its 85-year-old palm trees now almost reach the romantic bedrooms in the roof domes - I left with a packet of palm-tree seeds as a memento. The facade has been declared a national monument, so, like the Punta Negra, it is allowed to keep its place on the beach.

Palma itself is now an ideal weekend destination, several low-cost airlines such as bmi fly in to the shiny new airport, and it has an enviable mixture of shopping and sights - the Gothic cathedral and the Arabian baths, to name but two. Pavement cafes provide rest and a chance to gaze up at the splendid buildings, medieval and modernist. Try an authentic tapas bar such as Tast for lunch and, once the shops have shut, show off your new finery in Abaco, more a ruined palace full of rococo treasures (Fake or real? Who cares?) than a bar.

The grand stay at Palacio Casa Galesa in the Gothic district. Dating from 1571 and furnished in 17th and 18th-century antiques, with modern art on the walls, it offers sumptuous formal dining, an underground swimming pool and a fountain splashing in the courtyard. More relaxed is the Hotel San Lorenzo, a 17th-century manor house with only six bedrooms. I'd be more likely to chat to fellow guests here, reading on one of the terraces, sitting around the rooftop pool or looking at the view of the cathedral at sunset. Just the place for a weekend of laid-back modern luxury.

The splendours of the city's smaller hotels are hidden behind doors big enough for a coach and pair, but to ride in the real thing make for the interior of the island and Son Xotano. This really is a destination hotel.

When you arrive at the 16th-century house that has been home to eight generations of Don Pedro Ramonell Colom's family, you have arrived at the heart of Mallorca. Like all the Reis de Mallorca owners, Don Pedro is a hands-on hotelier, as passionate about the vintages of the wines in his cellar and the dishes served in his restaurant as he is about the horses he breeds on his vast estate. Guests can ride horses or bikes, walk, or simply breathe in the history with the scenery.

Another bastion of local tradition is Es Rec"de de Randa, so near to Palma you could nip there for a dinner of sucking pig, though the hotel, its hospitality and the village, with its three monasteries, are set centuries back in time.

Or for a completely modern approach to Mallorcan ingredients, go to Can Furi"s, a newly converted rustic house in the hamlet of Binibona, with views of the Tramuntana mountains, fantastic walking country. Susy and Adrian, cheerful veterans of the London restaurant trade, like nothing better than grown-up conversation over grown-up food and say firmly that their hotel is "unsuitable for children". Now why do I think that would be just what some teachers need?

Kings of Mallorca (www.reisdemallorca.com) features 29 independently owned manor houses, former palaces and beach hotels in Mallorca. Classic Collection (0870 787 3377; www.classic-collection.co.uk) offers many of these hotels in its summer and winter brochures.Tast tapas bar, Carrer Union 28, Palma (00 34 971 72 98 78) Abaco, Carrer San Juan 1, Palma (00 34 971 71 49 39). More information: www.visitbalears.com

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