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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
:: 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.