15 September 2000

IN MENORCAS GENTLE GRIP

For an island that is roughly the same size as the Isle of Wight, Menorca, that delightful

jewel in the Balearic crown surrounded by the Mediterranean ocean, has a lot to offer.

Michael Charity has been travelling there since the 1960s and although he has

experienced many other places in the world he always hankers to return

THE first time I visited Menorca, this small sister to the dominant Balearic island of Majorca, was during the 1960s when it was a little known as a holiday destination. You reached it by flying to Barcelona then waiting your turn for an unscheduled single-engined island hopper.

Alternatively, as in my case, you drove the length of France, again to Barcelona, and boarded an ancient sea going ferry that loaded your car from the dock via a ships jib and giant net! As the boat set sail, rocking and rolling its unstabilised way towards Mahon, crying mothers and girlfriends ashore waved emotional farewells to their army conscript sons and lovers en route for two weeks military manoeuvres. With so many tears, one could be forgiven for thinking they were off to the Somme, rather than that peaceful jewel of land set in the Mediterranean ocean.

Naturally things have changed a lot since those early days. Tourism has developed apace and many English and mainland Spanish families have purchased a permanent piece of sun and tranquillity on this blue and white island. Blue from the sea, white from the startlingly bright moorish-style villas that appear to cascade from their rocky perches to the shoreline. There are well over 100 beaches and sandy bays dotted around the coastline. Some are only accessible from the sea but this still leaves plenty of others to visit for peaceful alfresco seashore picnics on this 30×15 mile quilt of land.

Being a family orientated island, less boisterous than Majorca or Ibiza, the beaches and major towns of Mahon and Cudidella are naturally busy and bustling in July and August. But spring, followed by September or October, are delightful months to experience unsullied Menorca.

A stroll along the sleek boated harbour in the island capital Mahon will take you to ancient distilleries on the quayside where one can taste the various products. The considered best buy is the local gin, more herby and less harsh than the English type. Taken with bitter lemon rather than tonic, it will evoke the warmth and flavour of this unique Catalan culture on those long dark nights back home. Mahon is also where mayonnaise was believed to have been created – Mahonaisse.

Its worth making the 20-mile trip to Ciudadela, the former Moorish capital, original centre of Menorcas leather tanning industry. Wander around the old port taking in the atmosphere of a city that in 1558 was totally destroyed by a 15,000 strong Turkish army following a nine-day siege.

A must also, is the charming still active fishing port of Fornells, the palm lined promenade of shops and restaurants is famed for its sea food. Do try the Menorcan seafood casserole, but be sure to have just one for two people. They say that even the King of Spain has been known to wade ashore from his yacht, tempted by the culinary delights.

Beside the allure of warm seas and uncrowded beaches, the other reason that has taken us back again and again, is the ease in getting there, with just a two-hour flight from most UK airports. Should you stay in the south of island, its possible to be in the sea half an hour after landing.

Even the farm gates are pretty

on Menorca, while the

windmill (top) is a restaurant

in the town of Mercadel.

Getting there

There are plenty of package holidays to Menorca but its more fun and possibly cheaper to do your own thing.

We normally head for the bay of Arenal Den Castell north of the centre of the island. Apartments and villas can be booked through Ken Doe, 15 Calverley Crescent, High Wycombe, Bucks (01494-520494). He handles the letting of several privately owned well-equipped properties on the bay.A two-bed apartment costs £280-£300/week.

Cars can be booked from about £95/week.

Flights from £95-£130.