Holidays Travel

Vamos, it's time to rediscover Mallorca

Mallorca has long been a favourite for the package holiday crowds, but Aeneas Bonner discovered restful resorts, stunning, unspoilt scenery and a few hidden delights during a family trip with TUI this summer

Mallorca is an island of stunning sea coves and restful resorts, such as Port de Sóller
Mallorca is an island of stunning sea coves and restful resorts, such as Port de Sóller Mallorca is an island of stunning sea coves and restful resorts, such as Port de Sóller

What springs to mind with mention of Mallorca?

Rowdy stag weekends in Magaluf perhaps. Impossibly sculpted singletons on Love Island. Early morning Anglo-German hostilities over sun beds.

But actually, the reality of a visit to Mallorca these days could not be further from those stereotypes.

Think family-friendly hotels, secluded sea coves and culture around ever corner – which along with wall-to-wall sunshine, means pretty much the perfect holiday formula.

Mallorca (Majorca in years gone by) is the largest of the four Balearic islands, lying just over 100 miles off the east coast of Spain and the destination of choice for more than 100,000 Irish people every year.

A big selling point is the short hop from Belfast or Dublin airports (under two and a half hours), and after landing at Palma, nowhere is more than an hour’s drive away.

We enjoyed a week’s break in Cala Bona, a tranquil resort on the east coast of this stunning island.

And for anyone still sniffy about package holidays, I can happily report that our experience with travel giant TUI met just about every expectation and more.

Our hotel was the all-inclusive Grupotel Mallorca Mar, holder of a coveted Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice award (meaning it ranks in the website’s top 10 per cent of properties). And for a family with young to teenage children, it offers almost everything they could possibly need on site.

Most of your time will be spent splashing or sipping cool drinks at the three supervised outdoor pools – one a mini-water park for younger kids.

The view onto the main pool of the Grupotel Mallorca Mar in Cala Bona
The view onto the main pool of the Grupotel Mallorca Mar in Cala Bona The view onto the main pool of the Grupotel Mallorca Mar in Cala Bona

These are set in beautiful gardens, shaded by swaying palm trees and surrounded by six blocks of spacious and spotlessly clean one-or-two bedroom apartments. Ours came with a separate bedroom and fully kitted-out kitchen.

The spacious living area of an apartment in Grupotel Mallorca Mar in Cala Bona
The spacious living area of an apartment in Grupotel Mallorca Mar in Cala Bona The spacious living area of an apartment in Grupotel Mallorca Mar in Cala Bona

The TUI Blue for Families brand means there are kids’ clubs, a swim school and activities from morning to night.

As well as the familiar pool games, quizzes and evening entertainment by reps or local acts, there’s an admirable focus on wellbeing. From early morning yoga, to family fitness sessions and healthy eating challenges for youngsters, your holiday needn’t have you arriving home half a stone heavier.

The well-stocked buffet restaurant at Grupotel Mallorca Mar offers enough choice for any eater
The well-stocked buffet restaurant at Grupotel Mallorca Mar offers enough choice for any eater The well-stocked buffet restaurant at Grupotel Mallorca Mar offers enough choice for any eater

There’s no beach, but the hotel is literally on the sea front and a free bus shuttles guests to the golden sands and smart promenade of nearby Cala Millor. Try renting a four-seater bike to take the more scenic, leisurely journey.

Having gone all-inclusive before, it’s difficult to go back. A big buffet restaurant provides a huge amount of choice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while lounge and pool bars serve up free drinks and ice-cream all day. A snack bar for food outside meal times doubles up as an a la carte restaurant at night. No-one goes hungry.

The kids’ clubs offer two hours of themed activities, six days a week, with a baby club for tots and a hangout area for teens to congregate away from uncool parents and younger siblings.

Across the road there is even a tennis court, beach volleyball and football pitch. Multi-lingual hotel and TUI staff are on hand for any possible query, with special mention here for the ever-helpful Mallorca Mar managers Michael and Xavi.

The view from my room at the Grupotel Mallorca Mar
The view from my room at the Grupotel Mallorca Mar The view from my room at the Grupotel Mallorca Mar

That’s more than enough to occupy a family for the week, but TUI also run buses to a wide range of island attractions, from the large cave complexes in nearby Porto Christo to historic villages tumbling down ridges in the Unesco-listed Tramuntana Mountains.

To get an even better feel for the island, we rented a car for two days.

It’s perhaps only when navigating your own routes, and having the freedom to stop when the notion takes you, that you really get an idea of what a beautiful place this is and how friendly the people are.

On the first day we set out for Alcudia in the far north of the island. There we spent a blissful hour sauntering through narrow, winding streets packed with artisan shops and cafes, and climbed the medieval walls for epic views of the old town and bay.

Mallorca is full of charming old towns and villages such as Pollenca, near Alcudia on the north coast of the island
Mallorca is full of charming old towns and villages such as Pollenca, near Alcudia on the north coast of the island Mallorca is full of charming old towns and villages such as Pollenca, near Alcudia on the north coast of the island

On a recommendation from a local, we also drove out onto the spectacular Alcanada peninsula and high up to Ermita de la Victoria, a former hermitage which now houses a restaurant beside a spectacular little church. The views across the bay of Pollenca are mind-blowing – truly a hidden gem.

On the way back we jumped forward a few centuries to stop off in the ultra-modern Rafa Nadal Museum in Manacor, where the 22-time major winner grew up and learned to be a tennis demon.

As well as trophies and racquets belonging to Nadal and other leading players, it houses memorabilia from the biggest names in basketball, football and Formula 1. Upstairs also offers VR games and simulators to get a feel for high-performance sport. It’s off the main tourist route but well worth a detour.

The Rafael Nadal Museum, housing the tennis star's 22 major trophies, is well worth a visit
The Rafael Nadal Museum, housing the tennis star's 22 major trophies, is well worth a visit The Rafael Nadal Museum, housing the tennis star's 22 major trophies, is well worth a visit

The next day we headed for the island capital, Palma, and its famed aquarium, housing hundreds of wild and wonderful species from the Mediterranean and seas and oceans around the world.

The highlight is undoubtedly the 28-foot-deep shark tank, where sharks, rays and fish of every shape and colour dart alongside and over you as you make venture through a transparent tunnel.

The 28-foot-deep shark tank at Palma Aquarium lets you get up close and personal with some fearsome fish
The 28-foot-deep shark tank at Palma Aquarium lets you get up close and personal with some fearsome fish The 28-foot-deep shark tank at Palma Aquarium lets you get up close and personal with some fearsome fish

While in Palma a visit to its 14th century cathedral is also a must. This huge golden sandstone building, all buttresses and bells, is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and dominates the city skyline, while inside, 61 stained-glass windows flood its 16 ornate chapels with coloured beams.

The 'La Seu' cathedral in the Mallorcan capital Palma
The 'La Seu' cathedral in the Mallorcan capital Palma The 'La Seu' cathedral in the Mallorcan capital Palma
The stunning Cathedral La Seu at sunset in Palma de Mallorca
The stunning Cathedral La Seu at sunset in Palma de Mallorca The stunning Cathedral La Seu at sunset in Palma de Mallorca

A tip when driving: don’t put just the cathedral name into the sat nav as it will direct you down impossibly narrow streets, pinning bemused locals into shop doorways, before eventually depositing you literally at the front door like a super-slow motion scene from a James Bond film (although I don’t think 007 ever drove a rental Seat Arona).

If you’ve more time, you could go dolphin spotting by boat, spend a day at a water park, sample the fruits of local vineyards or try some cliff-jumping and adventure sports (ideally not the same day).

But best of all, just take time to relax, soak in the sunshine and simply enjoy this Mediterranean idyll where the Spanish themselves choose to holiday. As Rafa would say, vamos – just go.

FACTFILE

:: Aeneas Bonner flew direct from Dublin to Palma with TUI on August 9 and stayed for a week at the four-star TUI Blue Grupotel Mallorca Mar in Cala Bona on the east coast of the island.

:: A seven-night, all-inclusive stay, departing Belfast on July 4 or 7 next year, costs from £2,959 for two adults and one child, or £3,529 for a family of four, including the one-hour transfer between airport and hotel. For a couple prices start at £1,179 per person. Excursions and car hire can be booked through TUI or local operators. See tui.co.uk for more information.

:: Mallorca is the largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands, where summer temperatures typically tip over 30 degrees but coastal resorts enjoy a sea breeze. There are no Covid restrictions or vaccination requirements but passports should be valid for at least three months after departure dates.